Interview with Natalya Ischenko, Robocash Group COO, for Quel interet
Quel Interet is a French finance blog run by Emmanuelle Bonmalais. Emmanuelle writes about the crowdlending industry with passion, sharing her experience and useful insights. In her debut interview (with which we want to congratulate her!), she talks with Natalya Ischenko about women in fintech companies, the challenges Robocash faces and how it overcomes them.
1. Natalya, could you please introduce yourself a bit more?
I joined Robocash Group in December 2021 as the Chief Operating Officer. Regarding my professional experience, I have been in the financial field for more than 20 years, including ten years during which I worked on the creation of new financial products, the optimization of processes using new tools and innovations such as robotics, for example.
I have worked in the biggest banks in the sector, in consulting companies and, for the last two years, in the financial technology sector.
2. How did you come to Robocash?
I first worked in the international payment group. It is a fintech company, which develops payment solutions for customers and businesses.
At that time, I met the Robocash team, and my experience interested Robocash and so I work here now.
It is a pleasure to work at Robocash. It is a company that values its customers, partners and employees. We are a like-minded, tight-knit team that is constantly looking for new ways to improve our services and products. I love our team.
Since the beginning of this year we have had a lot of difficulties in the countries where we are present, but we have not given up. We have become even more stable, and our net income budget in all countries has increased.
3. We all know that (unfortunately) only few women make it to top positions, especially in the finance industry: how did you make it?
Since my youth, I have always liked to be active, to work in a team, to study a lot. I like to do the tasks in which I have to face difficulties that no one has ever solved. I like to learn new things.
I was given a lot of projects that no one wanted to do. For example, a bank had to build a quality management system from scratch. No one was interested, because it had nothing to do with business or money.
I implemented the system, which turned out to be very necessary, because it affected the customers and the efficiency of the processes. This bank is consistently at the top of the quality of customer service, and for me this was an outstanding new experience.
I had a similar story with my course at Harvard Business School in Sustainable Business Strategies. In 2019, in Russia, nobody really knew this concept. People politely hinted that there was no added value, because it was not about innovation, digitization and other things that were in vogue.
Then in 2020 all the big companies started talking about it and I created a sustainability strategy for a payment group, the company I was working at at the time.
My recipe for success is to work hard, never stop, study, love people, be honest, trust people and anticipate future trends.
4. Did you have any challenges as a woman, during your career?
No, I've never had a problem. I think I'm lucky, it's never been an obstacle for me. It is true that men have more chances, especially when you have children. You are torn between your child and your career. I took maternity leave just two weeks before the birth of my daughter and just two weeks later I returned to work. It was hard, I slept two hours a night, I felt like a bad mother. But I managed to have this wonderful experience.
I've been fortunate not to encounter any particular barriers at work because of my gender, but I know it's a problem for many women around the world.
I saw a study at a US conference last year. Globally, for most women, there are barriers to higher education and professional or business activity, even in Europe and North America. According to statistical data, for every dollar a man earns doing the same work, a woman only gets 54 cents. So there are a lot of things to improve.
5. Speaking about women, what is the proportion of female investors on Robocash?
The share of female investors on Robo.cash grew from 10% in 2019 to 15% in 2022. We are talking about active customers who are currently investing on the platform.
6. Do you personally invest on Robocash or in the p2p lending sector, and/or in anything else?
I would love to, but we have restrictions that only residents of the European Union, Switzerland and the United Kingdom can invest on the platform.
As for me, I invest in real estate. Besides, I am currently interested in the possibility of adding real estate investment products. The diversity of offers is important for investors, and I would like to meet different needs.
7. As for the French investors on Robocash, what is their share of the platform?
Among the registered users of the platform, 8% are French.
8. Have you noticed any evolution on that point in the past couple months or years?
The number of investors from France has grown from 6 to 8% over the past six months. Now France ranks 3rd after Germany and Spain.
9. What place does the French market have in your future plans, if any?
We see a growing interest from the French audience and try to interact more with the French market. We are considering the possibility of more active communication with French opinion leaders, advertising in French. We also do not exclude the idea of localizing the website into French.
10. Regarding the Robocash investors from other countries, in what countries are most of your investors from?
The long-time leader is Germany - 27% of investors. The share of Spanish and French investors is 17% and 8%.
11. What countries grow the most on that point?
I will mention France again, since 2019 the share of French investors has grown 5 times. The percentage of Italian and Spanish customers also increased significantly.
12. P2P lending as an investment seems not to be so well known in France, compared to Germany or Spain, for example. What do you think the reason might be?
France has been the largest alternative finance market in continental Europe for almost 10 years. As for the P2P market, it has a fairly high funding volume compared to other European countries. I would say that perhaps we are talking about information coverage. The market is growing and with it the number of financial experts who understand the market. To choose the platform that suits you best, you need an opinion leader with relevant expertise who is always up to date with the latest news in the industry. Over the past year, French influencers have become more active and regularly prepare informative updates on P2P platforms. With new proven influencers, more and more people will learn about the market as a whole and about Robocash in particular.
13. Regarding Robocash (the platform as well as the group), what changes and challenges are you facing for mid and long term?
With the emergence of new players, competition in the P2P segment is also growing, and for our part we strive to firmly maintain our position in the market, providing a competitive and profitable offer. Also, these are global events, often on which we cannot influence in any way. In this case, in order to avoid any significant declines and crises, we focus on optimizing the work of existing companies within the holding. Regarding the platform, we also continue to work with the existing product, modernizing it and making it more convenient to use.
14. Knowing that a regulated platform tends to reassure investors: why are you not?
The legal entity operating our platform, Robocash d.o.o. complies with the applicable laws and regulations of the Republic of Croatia. Croatia does not have any specific legislation governing crowdfunding, as may be the case in some countries.
The platform has over 5 years of successful operation experience in Europe. Our legal team constantly monitors the market to see if any opportunity comes up that would suit our operational model without harming our investors, e.g., by requiring fees or making paperwork more complicated.
15. Is it planned?
The process of implementing regulation is a necessary step, especially after the news about the fraudulent schemes of some P2P platforms. We will be ready to comply with the regulation when it is accepted, because we are sure that it will increase investors’ trust in crowdlending and simplify the operation of P2P platforms. Once we find a suitable option for regulating our business model, we will of course use it.
16. Regarding the current global context and challenges: do you see a risk of a dropping interest rate and rising default rate due to a global recession?
As for Robo.cash, we form our business proposal based primarily on the holding needs, since the platform is an important source of funding for the Group, but not the only one. But we also monitor the actions of the Federal Reserve and the ROA in the market.
I consider the risk to be very low, because even in times of great turbulence, we manage to maintain a balance thanks to the maximum diversification of the Group. We overcame the difficulties very well in February.
17. What impact does the war in Ukraine have on Robocash?
The conflict in Ukraine doesn’t directly affect the operation of the platform. Since the beginning of the conflict, there has not been a single defaulted loan on the platform.
The money invested on the Robocash platform is directed to the holding development in Asia and is in no way transferred to or from Russia. Zaymer, representing the Group in Russia, is focused on the domestic market and is not involved in the platform operation. Notably, Zaymer has no borrowings from foreign companies and possesses enough equity to cover all current needs, and development. Additionally, the Group’s business in Asia has no relationship with Russian banks and other financial institutions, thus facing no financial risk, connected with the conflict.
We can assure our investors that their money is safe and we will maintain the expected quality standard inherent to investing with Robocash.
18. What would you say are the main risk factors for Robocash in the current context (economical as well as geopolitical), what can we expect?
Probably one of the most obvious risks is the risk of uncertainty. The outcome of the current geopolitical and economic crises, unfortunately, is not under our control. What matters is how we are prepared and respond to such challenges. Thanks to our crisis resilience, we can continue to effectively serve our customers and fulfill all obligations to them, keeping the risk factors at a low level.
19. Is there any last word you would like to say to the french and/or female investors out there?
Choose a profession out of passion, believe in yourself and in your abilities, seek all means of learning. Do not be afraid to take risks – without risk there is no great success. By investing in Robocash products, you can diversify your portfolio with short-term credits (BNPL, Buy Now Pay Later) as well as commercial credits which are represented by two companies from Kazakhstan and Singapore. I wish you good luck with your investment!
You can also watch the interview video in French on the Quel Interet channel.
Thank you, Emmanuelle, for such important and interesting questions!