Where are European startups to solve Europe’s biggest issues?

Jul 20, 2015
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On-demand Food Delivery, that’s a Silicon Valley problem. A daily gluten-free meal option, that’s a Silicon Valley problem. I don’t mean that this doesn’t have a global market potential, just that it is clearly a problem first confronted by the Bay Area, and then adapted and adopted in different markets. Two of my colleagues recently wrote on the topic (Index Ventures’ Martin Mignot & PopChef’s Francois de Fitte), and I agree that, at the intersection of two giant digital movements – on-demand & eCommerce – food delivery is an attractive venture. Yet, what I’ve seen in startups is that, the more fundamental a startup’s role in society is – Facebook with our social lives, YouTube with our entertainment, Salesforce with our commercialization of a product – the bigger the market opportunity.

Europe’s had a lot of attention on it in the past few months, given the Greek situation. Many have weighed in on how the situation affects GermanyFrance, and even The Netherlands –  – and I’m not gonna sit here and tell you that some startup should disrupt Europe, because that wouldn’t mean anything and I couldn’t BS you into believing it does. Instead, I want to talk to you about a problem that 1) Europe has, which 2) startups can solve, which 3) could be applied outside of Europe, and 4) for which Europe is an advantageous market to begin with.

1% interest on your savings. Are you kidding me?

This past week France’s financial regulatory body announced that the “Livret A” savings account (the most popular account, with 61 million active accounts in a country of 66 million) would see its 1% interest rate lowered, potentially to .75%. Livret A accounts account for more than €220 Billion, and are capped at 22.5K€ per person (an individual may only have one Livret A account). Why are so many French citizens putting their money in Livret A, despite the lack of a foreseeable benefit? There’s no better place to do so. French banks don’t promote bonds or participation in the stock market – instead, they suggest you open up a saving’s account for buying a house, a saving’s account for buying a car, etc. Low-interest, highly secure, stable.

This isn’t just a problem that France is having – last year, German bank Deutsche Skatbank, introduced negative interest rates for savings accounts in order to adapt to the ECB’s negative interest rate proposal. The Eurozone’s macroeconomy is in the slumps, and the citizens are paying for it by losing money on their life’s savings.
P2P Lending Platforms like Lending Club or Pret d’Union are already providing an opportunity for individuals to invest in other individuals, offering returns in the 7% range – of course, increased returns means increased risk – which is why there is a huge opportunity for a 3-7% interest rate, low risk opportunity for individuals looking to put their money elsewhere. The verticalization of the banking industry is happening already – wire trasnfers, payment terminals, bitcoin – however, their real money-maker is savings. They’re so confident in it that they are making people pay to store their money in banks. That’s a huge opportunity, and one that US citizens who have been traumatized by real-estate & stock market investments might be open to hearing about. Finding the middle-ground between Europe’s risk-adversity and the US’s risk-ambivalence is a billion-dollar(or euro) opportunity. Account for China & India’s rising middle-class, who need a way to invest safely in their future, and you’ve got yourself a 21st century bank.

Europe talks of promoting entrepreneurship, but won’t take the necessary action to enable entrepreneurs – that is, anyone – to succeed. The ability to climb the socio-economic ladder goes all the way up and down, and getting middle-class Europeans interested in putting their money in a place that will generate real, tangible wealth for themselves is a huge opportunity.