Mariano Belinky – Managing Partner, Santander InnoVentures
Your background briefly?
I’m Managing Partner at Santander InnoVentures – a FinTech venture capital fund fully-owned by Grupo Santander. The fund is stage-agnostic and invests both capital and resources in companies globally. It focuses on start-ups that can increase the value proposition to Santander customers across the Group’s 10 major geographies, while creating value for the companies it invests in.
I’m an alumni of McKinsey & Co. in Madrid and New York, where I worked in the CIB and Risk Management practices for over six years, and of Bridgewater Associates, a global macro hedge fund in Connecticut, where I was a Research Technology Associate for over three years. Prior to that I was an equities and equity derivatives trader in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
I also hold a BA in Computer Science and Philosophy from New York University, and conducted doctoral studies in Artificial Intelligence at Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya, focusing on complex networks, and specifically on syndication patterns in venture capital networks in the US.
How did you end up doing what you do now?
With a depth of experience across financial services – ranging from risk, to fund management, to capital markets and trading – as well as my personal and academic interest in technology and venture capital, heading up the Santander FinTech VC fund seemed like a perfect next step for me.
Your current role sounds exciting and interesting. What projects are you working on?
We have a number of exciting opportunities in the pipeline, which we can’t disclose at this time for obvious reasons. Safe to say, they’ll continue in the same vein as our previous seven investments – sustainable companies with genuine use-cases across financial services with the aim of ultimately benefiting Santander customers.
Santander has a good reputation for banking innovation, why is this?
Innovation has been a key focus of the Bank for many years, and we’re committed to an intense digital transformation in order to anticipate, with innovative and attractive solutions, customers’ new needs. Having such a high level of support from Senior Executives helps accelerate this process, while our position as a global bank enables us to identify and quickly and efficiently transfer best practices between the different markets in which we operate, adapting them to local features.
In the wider banking / innovation / fintech world, what are you excited about?
Personally – I’m really excited about AI and big data. There’s huge potential for this across financial services, particularly with the amount of data readily available to banks and other financial institutions. With the right solution, we can generate specific, actionable insight from this data which allows us to create better customer engagement, even to the point of predicting customer behaviour.
Digital-first banking (like Starling, Seco, Mondo, Atom Bank, Tandem, etc.) is another space we’re following closely – I think this sector will produce some great innovation, but only when they reach the point where they can offer a full product suite and cater to the multiple needs of the consumer. There is a lot that can be learnt from this way of serving customers.
Finally – distributed ledger technology (including blockchain) is an area we’re excited to see evolve further, as highlighted by our recent investments in Ripple, Digital Asset Holdings and Elliptic. However, rather than rushing head-first into the technology, we’re being very considered in our approach to distributed ledger technology – everything we do in the space revolves around our customers and how we can better help them and serve their needs.
Can traditional banks successfully innovate to deal with the rise of FinTech banking disrupters?
We’ve seen a lot of noise across the industry about the ‘war’ between banks and fintech disrupters – we disagree with this and Santander in general is a strong advocate of collaboration between the two parties.
Our Fintech 2.0 paper, released last year in partnership with Oliver Wyman and Anthemis, was intended as a ‘call to action’ for partnership between banks and fintech startups. New and innovative digital start-ups offer the agility required in today’s marketplace of rapidly evolving consumer expectation, but often lack the resources required to grow in a prudent manner. Large banks can bring to the table immediate scale, critical mass and access to resources and expertise.. Collaboration across the industry combines the best of both worlds, benefiting the players themselves as well as the end customer.
If you could make everyone in Banking do what you told them, what would you command them to do?
Ensure that customer service remains front of mind and at the centre of innovation strategies. We see some players within the industry get ahead of themselves in their eagerness to keep up with the latest trends, with no real thought as to the use cases for the development and how it will ultimately benefit their customers.
Will bitcoin achieve wider adoption or not? What are your thoughts on the viability of wider adoption of cryptocurencies?
The jury is still out on bitcoin and cryptocurrencies – it’s not an area Santander as a bank has focused on previously, as the currency remains volatile and (reputationally) associated with illegal practices such as money laundering.
Along with many other banks, we’ve focused on the technology underpinning bitcoin – the blockchain – and have identified over 25 use cases for this technology within financial services. This holds huge potential.
Which thought leaders do you like to read / follow?
Pascal Bouvier (Fintech influencer and Venture Partner here at Santander InnoVentures), Gareth Jones and Travis Skelly (Founder and Director of Investments at Fintech Collective), the team over at Union Square Ventures (Fred Wilson, Albert Wenger, and others), Matt Harries (Managing Director at Bain Ventures), and other influencers in the VC sector such as Dave McClure and Marc Andresseen.
How do you manage online / offline, work/life challenges?
We live in a digital world in which we’re connected 24/7, whether via smartphones, tablets or laptops. As InnoVentures invests in startups from across all Santander’s major geographies, we operate on multiple time zones and so it’s important that we’re available throughout the day. Having said that – it’s important to ensure work doesn’t invade your private life and that time is set aside for the things you love. For me, it’s cooking, playing bass and spending time with my family.