May 25, 2021

How banks and fintechs can partner up... without falling out

For collaboration between fintechs and banks to work, new rules of engagement need to be written. Let's get creative.

When fintech startups first emerged around a decade ago, it's fair to say that banks treated them with a mixture of suspicion and apathy.

But the success of fintechs in Europe and Poland has forced the conversation along. Banks now want a piece of the pie and want to work with fintechs. The problem is, these partnerships aren't always an easy fit and I've seen both parties get burnt.

For the sake of humility, let's take my bank — BNP Paribas Bank Polska [Poland] — as a prime example.


We first started looking at collaborating with startups in 2017 to fuel our digital shift. But we found that the rules we used to screen and onboard traditional vendors just weren’t working. Given the highly-regulated environment we work in, as well as the complexity of our teams — from procurement to legal compliance to IT — the onboarding process was too laborious for the fintechs.

Did we really have to demand all this paperwork, plans and other details from such young companies? Obviously not. 

Since that bumpy start, I've come up with a simple thesis over how to create fruitful partnership: rip up the old playbook and make new rules that banks can get on board with. 

Startup Cooperation Code

For us, those news rules have taken the form of our ‘Startup Cooperation Code'.

The Code is basically a simplified purchasing process where we work together with a startup team from a proof of concept to implementation. It embodies an agile mindset, cooperation and no-silo attitude. 

Before we created the Code, it sometimes took us up to two years to start working with a startup. Now, we can start working together in as little as three months. We estimate that we've cut the procurement process and onboarding time for a new vendor by 60%.

We’ve now had 16 implementations, three framework agreements and made one investment in a startup. We're working with local players like SentiOne, Worksmile, nuDelta, Migam and many, many more. 

Before the Code, it sometimes took us up to two years to start working with a startup. Now, we can start working together in as little as three months.

The Code has also allowed us to think more broadly about innovation.

Innovation is not about shining on your own; it’s about bringing the rest of the corporation with you, including areas you wouldn't initially perceive as your biggest supporters or as innovators.

That’s why we made sure that other teams such as procurement, rights and security are included in the innovation process. Startup-powered solutions can make their day-to-day operations even easier. It makes for a surprising but incredibly fruitful alliance.

Beyond partnerships

The Code has led us to be bolder in the way we work with startups.

In January 2020, we announced our investment in a startup called Autenti. It was the first time we had ever made such an investment, and it was a historic transaction because we invested alongside two national banks and two venture capital funds. It was a timely partnership — though we did not know it at the time — Autenti’s e-signatures platform became invaluable during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

We’ve also made sure the Code is dynamic too, updating it when the pandemic hit to improve the decision funnel. During the pandemic, we also started using Booksy (yes, the beauty app) to let individuals book branch appointments. It pushed us out of our comfort zone and created real alliances. 


Overall, creating new rules and processes has made us much more accessible to young players, opening up a new world of digital products and services. That's never been more important, given over 50% of Poles use e-banking daily.

The lesson here for banks is that being bold and being adaptable is the same thing.

Paulina is Chief Innovation Officer at BNP Paribas Bank Polska. Previously she worked for science and technology parks, venture capital funds, and as an external consultant to various startups.