Ohpen CEO Matthijs Aler on his company’s qualities and goals
In mid-April of this year, NPM Capital acquired a minority stake in Netherlands-based FinTech company Ohpen (pronounced ‘open’). Established in 2009 by a team of experienced bankers and software developers, the Ohpen platform administers savings and investment accounts for banks, investment institutions and insurers. CEO Matthijs Aler on the three qualities that characterise this ‘Tesla of savings and investment administration companies’: reliability, flexibility and compliance.
Ohpen is kind of an unusual name. Where did it originate?
“When we were planning to launch this company 10 years ago, our aim was to create an open company culture and to build a platform that would enable our clients to access data in a very user-friendly way. Hence the idea of being ‘open.’ But we were told that URL was already taken, so we added a silent ‘h,’ as in Wehkamp and Ohra. It later turned out that Dutch people have a hard time pronouncing the name correctly: they tend to turn it into ‘Ophen’, where the ‘ph’ is pronounced as an ‘f,’ so it can be tricky.”
Over the past decade, you have grown from a start-up to a company with more than 100 employees and offices in Amsterdam and Barcelona. What is your secret?
“For starters, we offer the financial world a service that did not previously exist: a software platform that’s managed in the cloud and that enables banks to administer savings and investment accounts. In other words, we take over all banking processes related to savings and investments from the bank and incorporate them into a single, centralised ‘factory.’ This leads to significant cost savings, as it means you no longer require a data centre for that part of your services, with expensive servers and software and so on. Also, the product we offer is not only new, but also very clever.”
Could you expand on that?
“Before a bank or insurance company decides to outsource such an important part of its services, they want to be 100% certain that the platform is secure and always available and that the data – including the savings balance and the interest – are always correct. They also feel it’s important to be able to very quickly and easily exchange their own data with our platform. We happen to tick all those boxes, which makes us appealing as a business partner. We also make sure that our clients always comply with the latest laws and regulations, without charging any additional fees. So it all hinges on reliability, flexibility and compliance.”
Why did you choose to only administer savings and investment accounts? Surely if you can do that, you could easily add current accounts to your roster of services? Or loans?
“That’s right, but it’s a strategic choice not to spread ourselves too thin; that is to say, to prevent our capabilities and focus from becoming too fragmented, so you end up not being truly good at anything. We have therefore decided to focus on savings and investments, so we can be the Tesla of savings and investment account administration. We believe that if you focus on one specific product, you will become an expert and eventually an authority on that product. I should add that savings is by no means a niche product: there are tens of millions of savings accounts in the Netherlands alone.”
You currently serve mainly medium-sized banks – including LeasePlan Bank, Knab and the Volksbank subsidiaries ASN Bank and SNS. Have the major Dutch banks not shown an interest in your services?
“I think medium-sized banks are that little bit quicker to embrace innovation than the larger banks. But it is our challenge and my personal mission to ensure that we add one of the three major Dutch banks – Rabobank, ING or ABN AMRO – to our clientele. In fact, we’re working very hard on that right now. We will also be further expanding our client base: this year we will be teaming up with a leading pension provider, who will administer the investments forming part of the pensions.”
Do you have any plans for international growth?
“We’ve got our work cut out for us with everything we have going on here in the Netherlands right now, so I would say not in the foreseeable future, no. There’s also the fact that some of our clients and prospects in the Netherlands also operate internationally, so if one of those clients were to ask us specifically to manage the administration of one of their foreign subsidiaries, we would certainly be willing to see if we could come to some sort of arrangement. It’s not a problem from a technology viewpoint, as we have proved in the past that our platform can easily be adapted to foreign markets. It does mean, however, that we will need to develop additional functionalities to accommodate such services.”
How unique is your concept? Wouldn’t your competitors be able to provide the same type of service?
“There are a number of global and European players that also provide software applications related to savings and investments, such as Oracle. The only thing is that none of those applications are developed for the cloud – that is what makes our particular software unique. Of course, we have noticed that some of our competitors are trying everything to tweak those existing software applications to make them more similar to ours, but it tends to feel as they’re trying to fit a square into a cylinder-shaped hole. The agility and quality of the interface between the website or the bank’s system and our transaction-processing system are unparalleled.”
Final question: why did you choose NPM Capital as your new shareholder?
“Our clients are interested in continuity, and we ourselves are also looking for continuity in terms of our relationships with investors. NPM Capital’s long-term horizon gives us the peace of mind we need. We are also convinced that NPM gives business owners the freedom to run their business, without any urgent need to take over. We don’t have to account for every step we take, and they understand that we know better than anyone how to run our company. A third reason is that Ohpen had a strong preference for a Dutch partner, so as to keep communications and interaction as clear as possible. That happens to be something our clients value as well. So we were very confident from the start that this partnership would work out, and in recent months we’ve become more convinced of that than ever.”
Read the press release ‘NPM Capital acquires 35% stake in Ohpen’