Digital payments foster the growth of startups and SMEs (Visa)

Digital payments boost growth for startups and SMEs according to Visa.
In the era of digital transformation, the fintech world is expanding at an unprecedented speed: digitizing and offering faster transactions helps businesses to be more competitive.
At the Milan Fintech Summit it emerged that from B2C models to innovative B2B solutions, the sector is redefining the boundaries of finance and technology.
In this exclusive interview with Eva Ruiz, Head of Fintech for Southern Europe at Visa, we explore the trends driving the demand for fintech solutions and how Visa, a giant in the payments industry, is shaping the future through its innovation agenda.
Fintech Trends What current trends are driving the demand for fintech solutions and how is Visa responding to these needs through the innovation program? The definition of Fintech has increasingly blurred boundaries just as their role is increasingly expanding.
Over the course of a few years, we have moved from a territory largely dominated by innovative B2C models in competition with traditional operators, to more B2B-oriented solutions, designed to open up new collaboration opportunities and enrich more consolidated ones, as well as to provide solutions to other non-financial sectors and high-value or new segments such as SMEs and the Gig Economy.
All the scenarios that we have seen emerge in recent years (neobanks, big data, shared economy, open banking, super apps, BNPL, crypto) now see AI as the transformation engine that can give new inputs to their growth and that of others business models as well as functionalities and user experiences to be re-imagined for existing and new use cases in payments; I am thinking of Embedded Finance, the CFO Suite and A2A transactions.
There is a lot to understand to keep pace with innovation and we have the opportunity to play a “network of networks” role, not only with our technology, but also by enabling meaningful collaboration-oriented connections between innovative Fintechs and our ecosystem of financial institutions and corporate partners.
Through Visa Innovation Program Europe, in its fifth edition in Southern Europe and the first in Italy, we offer a platform that aims to facilitate these conversations, as well as opportunities for in-depth training, mentorship and meetings with potential investors, so that fintechs can scale and consolidate their success.
How is fintech evolving in Southern European countries, highlighting its strengths and differences compared to other regions? This is an area that includes Italy, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Israel, therefore very different realities in terms of maturity of the local ecosystem, accessibility of investments, regulatory framework, approach to internationalisation.
Italy has a thriving ecosystem with huge development potential, but in the first years, in general, fintechs are less likely to expand their activities into other markets than in Spain or Israel, where the local market is not a primary focus .
Apart from this aspect, which gradually changes, access to investments is still a challenge, and it is here that, for example in Italy, actors such as the Fintech District, the Talent Garden or we, through the Visa Innovation Program Europe, can build bridges to make financing more accessible.
And then there are 3 elements that most of these countries have in common: The significant presence of cash payments offers great scope for further digitalisation of payments SMEs are a key component of their economies Non-financial businesses are starting to take responsibility for their payments value chain With the shift from the B2C model to the B2B model, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in the fintech industry.
How is Visa addressing this transition and how is it trying to facilitate new alliances between companies? At the basis of this trend is the awareness that B2B buyers are first and foremost people and as such, in their personal lives they are used to easy, immediate and fast payment solutions.
We expect B2B payments will experience an era of great digitalisation driven by new solutions created by fintechs and the emergence of new operators on the market, as well as by the so-called consumerisation, the trend towards a payment experience that is as similar as possible to that of the final consumer.
This translates into a space for growth for Italian fintechs and emerging players who, together with financial services, can offer integrated payment solutions with a benefit not only for the payments system, but for the economy in general.
At Visa, our network's open approach facilitates collaboration and ensures that network members can leverage our technology and security investments to constantly innovate and access the best innovations in the industry.
The same goes for the fintechs we have always supported by providing them access to our technology, global network, dedicated programs and expert guidance.
The future of digital payments for SMEs and Startups Could you share information on the Visa Innovation Program in Italy and give a state of the art of the program? How is this program helping to accelerate the development and adoption of innovative payment solutions and services in Italy? We are very excited about this first edition in Italy.
With 74 applications during the Open Call and 5 Fintechs currently participating in the program, we have promoted 30 presentations to customers and partners and there are currently 8 Proofs of Concepts being discussed with our customers and partners regarding seamless onboarding disruptions, SME digitalisation, digital asset or fraud management.
Conio, Fairtile, INEO, Step 4 Business and VOICEME have different capabilities and value propositions, therefore also different needs: this requires a personalized path within the program for each of them.
Additionally, they are benefiting from our global presence which facilitates introductions into other markets for those who are exploring international operations or investor meetings for those who are interested in raising funds.
Successful fintechs often incorporate distinctive cultural values.
What, in your opinion, are the cultural values that play a fundamental role in making a fintech competitive and successful? How does Visa encourage and promote these values within the innovation program? The founders and CEOs of our Fintech community consistently emphasize the importance of individual ownership and team member empowerment, a culture of conscious risk taking, indispensable when working in the field of innovation, loyalty and focus on mission and strategy.
Other values they highlight are teamwork and talent, as well as true customer centricity.
These values are very close to those of Visa, so it's a virtuous circle because, when we come together, we can join forces to expand this culture everywhere.
Fintechs are leading the way in many ways, including speed to test, fail and incorporate learning into the design process, or into communication, which tends to be very focused on progress and efficiency.
How does Visa collaborate with Italian fintechs to help them grow and scale their business? Are there examples or case studies that highlight the success of this collaboration? In addition to the Visa Innovation Program, which is the best example of how Visa can support fintechs in their evolutionary path, I would like to mention the recently announced collaboration with Afterpay, no longer a start up but a recognized unicorn.
The objective is to innovate the landscape of installment payments in Italy, France and Spain.
This collaboration brings together the experience and innovation of both companies to offer consumers flexible and seamless payment solutions.
The partnership between Visa and Afterpay represents a further step forward in Visa's commitment to improving and growing the fintech ecosystem and in Afterpay's strategy to consolidate its position in Europe.
Benefiting from the global reach of VisaNet's infrastructure, Afterpay will enable a broader base of merchants and consumers to access smart, short-term installment payments.
Visa's network What are the next steps and future directions that Visa intends to take to promote innovation in the fintech sector, especially considering the specific context of Southern European countries? We are determined to continue developing our collaborative network, which today includes 111 banks and corporate partners under the Visa Innovation Program Europe, to enable greater cooperation and help Fintechs open the right doors at the right time.
We will continue to facilitate and promote international collaboration, because Italian Fintechs have a lot to offer to other markets and we want them to be able to realize their scalability ambitions.
And we will increase focus on all B2B streams to respond, through our selected Fintechs, to increased demand from our customers and partners for solutions that help them develop new capabilities to better serve existing customers and open up to new ones segments and use cases.

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