Flowe CEO Ivan Mazzoleni on virtue-led fintechs and ESG
As a financial services and banking entity, Flowe focuses on the Millennial and Generation Z segments, and aims to provide users ways to improve their finances and make a positive impact on society and the planet.
It is this novel and unexpected approach that makes Italy’s newest challenger bank stand out among other new startups. But, perhaps that is not unexpected given the top executives leading the operation, which is now one of the most popular banking startups in Europe. Flowe’s CEO – or Cultural Energy Orchestrator, as he prefers to be called, Ivan Mazzoleni, is a surprising find in the world of banking.
A new standout challenger for Italy’s banking sector
Although he has an impressive background in technology and is also a self-confessed learning addict, (Mazzoleni has no less than five specialisation courses degrees from educationally elite universities including Standford, Harvard, and MIT). He is also a professional skier and a championship sports coach with an impressive alter-career that saw him manage and launch hundreds of top athletes.
And it is this part of his career that he says has influenced his leadership style the most at Flowe. Mazzoleni says, “I am the Cultural Energy Orchestrator at Flowe. It's quite strange as a job title. It was inspired by Satya Nadella. When I worked at Microsoft, he was the first CEO at the global level to reshape the chief and replace the chief with the culture. So, I try to apply the same concept because Flowe is a purpose-driven and culture-based organisation.”
He describes the culture set at Flowe as virtues, saying, “Culture is strongly related to virtues, and virtues are value-into-action through behaviours. Sport, for example, is a perfect gym for life. Sport life really shaped my mindset and my attitude. In particular, sports and especially race. They shape you as a person because you need always to try to overcome your limits, and you need to nurture a growth mindset, which is a sort of natural attitude in finding and continuously improving yourself.”
Flowe nurtures a culture of empowerment
It is this sense of self-discipline, order, and empowerment that drives Flowe as a digitally-based organisation, explains Mazzoleni, who also outlines the company’s deep commitment to sustainable practices. He explains, “The purpose [of Flowe], is to empower people to live a meaningful, sustainable, and happy life. That's our ultimate goal.”
“We would like to introduce a new paradigm for the financial world, and we are calling it the Better Being economy. We truly believe that better people shape and create a better world. It's not the contrary.”
It's an ambitious task for a startup fintech, but as Mazzoleni is no stranger to a challenge, he relishes the opportunity to prove the meaning of such values. “If you would like to obtain as a final result, improvement overall at worldwide level, you need to improve at the very single atom that is the human being - the single person.”
He then outlines the six virtues that drive Flowe’s culture and guide its leadership principles. They are;
1) Helping people thrive
2) Saying what we think and doing what we say
3) Listening to diverse voices
4) Exploring the unknown
5) Being a gamechanger
6) Making a difference
Flowe and sustainability, with ESG at its core
With such a people-oriented culture, it’s not difficult to see that the company also holds a strong sustainable ethic at its core. Mazzoleni explains that the fintech’s commitment to net-zero and sustainability was formed at the company’s inception. “It’s embedded in our DNA,” he says, “because we truly believe that no one on the planet could live without the sustainability principle and philosophy. We infuse sustainability in everything we do. We need to pursue, obviously, our economical equilibrium the P and L, but at the same time, we need to pursue the impact that we would like to produce in our society and economy on the planet.”
Flowe is also B Corp certified, which is a global movement and a quality certification on how serious companies are about their impact on the planet, not just in their message, but in the very way they operate. Thus they need to prove their sustainability commitment. It almost goes without saying that Flowe is already carbon neutral certified and a benefit company.
Human-centric principles at Flowe
And while the rest of the fintech industry rushes towards AI customer solutions and robotic learning chatbots in terms of customer servicing, Flowe has shied away from the scene, preferring instead, to focus on being as human-centric. However, the operation is far from archaic and utilises a host of state-of-the-art technologies and solutions to carry out its services. Mazzoleni describes this combination as “innovability”.
It is this part of the fintech industry that he is most passionate about – the fact that financial inclusion and more streamlined finances can literally save lives. He explains, “Did you know that the biggest cause of mobile phone usage accidents while driving happens among truck drivers?” he says, adding that the reasons for their excessive usage comes down to financial problems.
“This is because truck drivers with serious financial problems are more likely to drive more and to spend less time in recovery or have less sleep. Secondly, they are more likely to use their phones while driving and to be distracted from their problems. Ergo, if you address and fix people’s financial problems, you can impact something as seemingly random, as road accidents among truckers – and this is just one tiny example of the problems that are caused by financial issues.”
Using innovation to address world problems
Mazzoleni is also a passionate advocate of “Innovability” - is a fusion between innovation and sustainability. He explains “We are always looking at innovation as a powerful force to reshape the economy for a better world. Flowe is the first Italian Fintech fully cloud-native so we fully embraced the cloud revolution.
“Being fully cloud-native is helping us in reducing our carbon footprints instead of buying, handling, and so on. We have a strategic partnership with Microsoft, so we are hosted on Azure cloud services, Microsoft Azure cloud services. All our architecture, probably, I could say that currently, Flowe is probably one of the most modern architectural infrastructures in Italy, especially in the finance sector.”
Mazzoleni says Flowe is constantly evolving, building new premium offerings. The fintech has a fun subscription-based app that is free for users. But Flowe has also recently introduced Flex, - a EURO 2.5 per month subscription, and another service level called Friend, that costs EUROS 10 per month and shows customers their ‘eco balance’.
Digital transformation and Flowe innovation
As Flowe only launched in 2020, the fintech has taken full advantage of the digital transformation shift, building itself according to those parameters and making the most of remote, cloud, and intelligent technologies that have created virtual workspaces for companies.
He says, “I spent more than 10 years at Microsoft where I was the leader of the digital transformation team. I started early the digital transformation journey. From my personal point of view, one of the most important trends is that no matter the industry you are in, you are competing for the attention of different kinds of personas. You need to be deeply connected. You need to empathise with these kinds of personas that are real human beings. And, you need to use technology to provide to them an outstanding, ‘wow’ experience.”
He believed that in parallel technology and digital transformation, one of the major trends in place is the blockchain as a distributed ledger. “It's a completely new paradigm in terms of technological architecture and how to create trust within a society and within a community. Blockchain combined with entities, non-fungible tokens, the metaverse, along with the possibility to enter in a more deep and comprehensive digital landscape is going to completely reshape our society and our economy.”
Banking technology and app development
Technology is another strategical asset and a key differentiator for Flowe, thanks to the fintech’s cloud-native infrastructure and its lean and agile organisation. Mazzoleni refers to the company’s DevOps philosophy, first of all, a methodology that is already used by the likes of Spotify and Netflix. “We are very nimble in deciding the priorities; how to change that priority as well as starting and implementing new strategies and pivoting our strategy at the backend.”
In terms of front end, Flowe’s team is able to release a new version of the application every two weeks – an impressive pace in terms of development. “Most of all, we infused sustainability within our app development,” he says, referring to users having the ability to use Flowe as a translation between euros or the currency customers are using every day, into a CO2 carbon footprint.
“You can see how much you are impacting not only the economy, but also the nature, and this helps customers improve their behaviour in terms of taking care of the planet and reducing their carbon footprint.”
The premium version of Flowe’s app goes one step further and has a Friend Subscription feature. This enables users to enjoy embedded services, see their present carbon footprint, and take part in sustainability projects run, such as planting trees in Guatemala. “Thanks to our partnership with Zeroco2, an Italian startup that acts and operates in Guatemala (but not only), we are also involved in replanting trees and helping local families to be educated about how to take care of plants and enjoy their fruits as a source of food and economic exchange,” says Mazzoleni.
Working with customers to create a better world
Ultimately, Flowe is as much about technology and innovation as it is about its people and the wider spectrum of humanity. Mazzoleni could not imagine himself operating in a different environment, because the sense of purpose the bank provides him with, is, he says, inspirational. “The single biggest thing that motivates me most when I wake up early in the morning and go to work, is that at Flowe, we are helping people to fully understand how much the money they have, how they are spending and how they can automatically save a certain percentage of their money. We are also helping them to invest in their futures – and this produces an outstanding and massive impact on their lives.”
He continues “Our scope is to educate people - especially as an activist brand. We are fighting two big enemies. One is unemployment, especially here in Italy where the unemployment rate is very high. We have a goal to partner with them to fully explore and then transform their digital passion into a new profession or a new way to obtain revenues.
“The second big monster is the climate crisis. We would like to reduce the waste of energy and resources. We are going to amplify and fully exploit our banking proposition, also in synergy with the net-zero and ESG. These are major trends and all the challenger players are entering into the credit and investments landscape.”
Mazzoleni concludes, “I think that as a fintech ecosystem and industry, all players involved have a crucial role. We need to democratise access to financial instrument services. Frankly speaking, a human being without any kind of access to financial tools and services is a human being who is disengaged with society.”