January 11, 2021 Interviews

Interview with Benedetta Arese Lucini, Co-Founder of Oval Money, a micro-savings and micro-investment app for digital natives for managing their personal finances

Benedetta Arese Lucini is the Co-Founder of Oval Money, a micro-savings and micro-investment app for digital natives for managing their personal finances.

Benedetta worked in investment banking at Morgan Stanley in London and Credit Suisse in San Francisco. She then worked for Rocket Internet in Malaysia, and she then joined Uber as General Manager Italy before starting Oval Money.

Benedetta graduated in Economics at Bocconi University, and in Quantitative Finance at University College Dublin. She also received an MBA from NYU Stern School of Business.

Q: You started your career in the start-up world, working abroad, in Silicon Valley and for Rocket Internet in Malaysia. Then, after your experience in Uber, you decided to start Oval Money together with Claudio Bedino, Edoardo Benedetto and Simone Marzola. What have you learned from your previous working experiences that is now useful with Oval Money?

Benedetta: In my previous jobs, I had the opportunity to work closely with great founders, who brought very important companies to the market, people who have truly experienced what creating and scaling a business means.

Over the years, they have taught me a lot. I think that the skills related to scaling is what I use mostly today, because Oval Money is growing and we are starting expanding into new markets.

An important attitude I’ve learned from them is resilience. To develop a company and succeed you need to work hard; things don’t happen by chance.

Moreover, I’ve learned that surrounding yourself with super smart people, smarter than yourself, is one of the best things you can do; recruiting is key as it is wonderful to work in a team of super motivated and talented people.

Q: Oval Money is a personal finance tool that allows its users to manage their money through micro-savings and micro-investment products. There are other companies, such as challenger banks, which offer very similar services. On what aspects does Oval Money differ? Why do users choose Oval Money instead of other companies?

Benedetta: Oval Money is the app that digital banks’ clients use to actually save and invest, not spend. This is our core, what we were born for and every addition to our product is tailored to democratizing savings and investment. Financial education is our mission: our aim is to lead young people to realize how important it is to start saving. Oval Money can help with that, users can start saving with € 10, giving up on very small expenses. The impact over time is very clear as the money on Oval grows.

Other companies have a different mission, they are digital banks or payment companies, that’s their mission. Moreover, Oval Money offers savings and investment products with a long-term view, as we try find solutions that can benefit our users through automatic and recurring saving and investments, which is well reflected in our app experience.

Our investment products are tailored and  thematic, able to meet the needs of a group of first-time investors. With our investment products, people can invest in things they believe in, such as: green products, diversity, renewable energy, etc.

Q: Oval Money today has more than 50 employees in two offices (Turin and London). It can be defined as a scale-up. What are the main issues you are experiencing in the growth phase? What would you suggest to founders approaching the scaling-up phase?

Benedetta: The most complicated part of growing a business is certainly managing people. In the growth phase, you need to start creating teams that work independently. Communication within the company becomes key.

My partner Edoardo is very sensitive to people management aspects, so last year we worked a lot, researching and studying organisational models used by successful companies. We really liked the model used by Spotify, so we developed our own model starting from Spotify’s and adapting it to our needs.

The basic idea is that, instead of working in teams organised by function (marketing, finance, etc), we organised teams for specific projects, and each project has people from different functions with many skills (design, back-end, front-end, marketing, etc.). In this way, the same team easily carries out a project from scratch to its conclusion, and all members of the team feel very empowered.

This is a big organisational change that we started to implement at the end of last year (2019) and we are going to conclude this year.

We always work in an agile way, the new organisational structure allows our people to change team, to move from one project to another. In this way, we maintain a shared knowledge throughout the whole company, and a very open communication and transparency.

Also, the role of us founders have changed over time. At the beginning, the four of us had an operational and hands-on approach. Slowly, we have switched to a more managerial and strategic role. And I believe this is the hardest thing a founder has to do.

When you start a company you obviously do everything by yourself, from emailing customers to ordering stationary. But as you grow, you start hiring people and delegating activities. Consequently, you need to find a way to supervise your employees without making them feel that they cannot make choices. You need to find a way to control your company, and at the same time keep the company towards the vision that you set at the beginning.

Q: You have raised approximately € 9 million in multiple fundraising rounds to date. What are the results achieved so far? What are the future developments of Oval Money?

Benedetta: One of the results I care most is the positive feedback from our customers. We have online communities in which our users write about how well they managed to save money, or how they reached their savings goals, or even how their investments are performing.

We are proud to say that more than 70% of our customers started to save and invest their money for the first time thanks to Oval Money. This is probably our biggest achievement.

Another result we are proud of is related to our ability to attract talents. In Turin (Italy) we are one of the most coveted places to work. We are always working to attract more talents, from Italy and abroad. 32% of our employees are people who moved back to Italy, in contrast with the current “brain drain” of the country.

Regarding Oval Money’s future developments, I can say that we are finalising the opening of a Spanish office scheduled for 2021.

Q: What do you think of the Italian fintech market? What developments do you expect, considering the PSD2 legislation?

Benedetta: For many fintech start-ups, the recent change in legislation is something big and quite revolutionary. Now, the ownership of financial data moves from the bank to the client, and it is the client who can choose to share its financial data with the apps she/he wants. This will allow many start-ups to grow and exist.

The UK has a 2-3-year advantage in open banking compared to the rest of Europe. Therefore, UK traditional banks have adapted to the new technological requirements faster compared to Italian market.

In Italy, traditional banks have created consortia to enable external providers (and fintech companies) to use APIs related to groups of banks. But I reckon that there is still room for improvement on the technological side, in order to give users a better experience.

The Italian fintech market is interesting. As we know, the first bank in the world was established in Italy, and for me even digital banks were created in Italy – think about Fineco and WeBank, banks giving services mostly online, in a context in which banks were mainly dominated by their branches; it was quite innovative. Unfortunately, Italian companies are behind on technological innovation and foreign companies are now entering Italy, offering advanced apps and increasingly personalised and simplified financial solutions.

But I believe that Italy possesses the right infrastructure to grow and become a strong fintech centre. Today, many of Italian fintech start-ups (or fintech companies launched by Italians) are based abroad, mainly for regulatory reasons. If the Bank of Italy promotes regulatory sandboxes as it has been in talks for a few years now this might create a change.

Q: One last question: what does it mean to be a woman in the start-up / venture capital world? What would you recommend to other women hesitant in launching their start-ups?

Benedetta: I’ve recently read some sad news about venture capital investments in companies founded by women. In 2019, investments in start-ups founded by women fell, below 3%. This is probably due to some mega rounds in companies led by men. Unfortunately, female entrepreneurship is still behind, companies founded by women are smaller.

I believe that there is an opportunity, as always. I think that male investors understand (and will understand) that there are companies where a female founder or co-founder can better read a market and its clients. For instance, in finance, half of the users are women. In other sectors, the percentage is even higher, think about healthcare or e-commerce. So, when your target market has many women, having a female presence in the team becomes relevant.

My suggestion to future female entrepreneurs is to not be discouraged: if an idea is good and there is a market for it, investors will follow.


For more info on Oval Money, visit: https://ovalmoney.com/en/