Sun Finance Founder and CEO Toms Jurjevs: 'The fintech arena is changing incredibly fast'

  • 2024-07-06
  • Linas Jegelevicius

Riga-based Sun Finance, which deems itself the ‘hottest online lending platform’ and is certainly one of the most recognized brands in the industry, is set to go even hotter with the harnessing of artificial intelligence (AI) “I think it’s quite simple: the one who knows how to use AI best will get the most out of it,” Toms Jurjevs, Founder and CEO of Latvian fintech Sun Finance, told The Baltic Times Magazine.

“We've always had various tools and services available. Sun Finance utilized AI long before its popularity surged with ChatGPT. Now, with many variations of large language models and generative AI available, we are leveraging them as much as we can. AI is used throughout the company—from the call centre to data science, marketing, IT, and more,” he added.

By setting the record of highest growth rate in fintech industry in the history of FT1000, Sun Finance was acknowledged as the No. 1, the fastest growing fintech in Europe in 2021 and, in the following year, 2022, you maintained a position among the Top 3 fastest growing fintechs in Europe. How was the year 2023 for you?

In 2021, we were hoping for a good result, but being acknowledged as the number one fastest-growing fintech in all of Europe was truly unexpected. We continued to secure a spot in the Financial Times & Statista rankings in all the following years – 2022, 2023, and even 2024. However, naturally, with each passing year, it becomes more challenging to maintain a position at the top, as the growth rate tends to normalize compared to the initial years of operations. The year 2023 was particularly special for us; we continued to develop our business, and for the first time, Sun Finance completed a significant acquisition, which allowed us to expand our operations across four continents, now including Africa. At the end of the day, I am truly thankful to my team for all their efforts in making all these great things happen.

 What were the immediate takeaways from the pan-European recognition?

The FT1000 ranking focuses on European companies, but the results are followed worldwide. Taking the 1st place as the fastest-growing fintech definitely put us on the map for many fellow entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, and, of course, the media. Everyone knows Latvia is a small country—some people haven’t even heard of us—and it’s nice to be part of the group that makes people start looking for our country on the map. Yes, that’s us in the Baltics; we are a small country, but we can do big things.

Objectively, what sets Sun Finance apart from the other fintechs out there?

I would say it’s our general approach to things. In many aspects of our operations, we try not to follow the traditional path. For example, when starting Sun Finance, one of our goals was to achieve profitability as soon as possible—not because we were greedy, but because we wanted to establish a sustainable business model. Many other young companies focused primarily on showcasing skyrocketing growth rates without considering whether that growth can be sustained in the long term. Our approach likely contributed to our overall stability when COVID hit. While every company experienced some turbulence, those with solid, profitable business strategies cemented before the pandemic were more resilient and demonstrated faster recovery. Another advantage for us has been our decision-making speed. By minimizing bureaucracy, we’ve been able to adapt more quickly than others.

How did the fintech sector change over the past couple of years? In the Baltics, Europe and globally?

The processes in the fintech arena have been changing at a very fast pace, and we are seeing the widening of the fintech spectrum. This is largely due to the technological advancements flooding all types of financial aspects of our lives. Traditionally, we associated the word 'fintech' with alternatives to bank services. Now, we have regtech, insurtech, crowdfunding, and other branches that are expanding the spectrum as a whole. From a geographic perspective, I believe that anything initially restricted by geography eventually becomes available to everyone, especially if it’s a good idea from a business point of view.

What new trends are you seeing?

Being a part of an ever-evolving industry, we are seeing many trends, some of which are more visible to the public, while others are related to internal processes. One of the more visible trends that the industry experienced a while ago was the rise of buy-now-pay-later products. At the same time, the industry is experiencing advancements in virtual assistants, co-pilots, AI, generative AI, and automation.

 Are more consumers using fintech apps than ever?

Fintech apps have always provided an upper hand to their users by being fast, easy to use, and offering more flexible products. After COVID-19 hit, people became more accustomed to remote services, which boosted the popularity of fintech apps. Now, with such a variety of fintech products available, some people rely solely on these apps. However, some high net individuals may never use fintech apps, as they have been accustomed to traditional bank services for generations.

Did emerging of the current payment technologies become as normalized as banks’ credit cards?

Well, fintechs have credit cards, too! But, yes, I believe fintech companies, like Sun Finance, are demonstrating how technologically advanced and flexible they are, thus becoming as trustworthy as traditional banks’ credit card products. The good thing is that current payment technologies and credit cards are not mutually exclusive—there will always be people who prefer one or the other. 

Financial identity fraud attempts also grow. Are Sun Finance’s identity verification solutions stepping up to fight it?

Sometimes I think we are extremely lucky that our anti-fraud professionals are working for the 'good' side. They accumulate all the knowledge about fraud to stay ahead of the latest trends and outsmart the fraudsters. Naturally, they are constantly updating our solutions to address these trends. Research and experimentation for the best approaches are ongoing. In this area they just can’t take a break because we can't let fraudulent tactics surpass us.

You’ve talked to me about growing your company “from zero to hero.” You laid out a set of golden rules that work for Sun Finance amazingly. Like these, among the others: “Spend every euro as if it’s your last one; Keep out of your comfort zone; Be smart when investing in technology; Our own 80/20 rule; The CV doesn’t tell the whole story.” Do you feel now like adding some new rules to these?

Always be ready for surprises or challenges that you haven’t faced before (grins).