An Englishman in New...Bratislava
The tea is good, the beer is better, the FinTech scene is best of all
I am ashamed to say that as a young man I once watched a film called EuroTrip and so, sadly, while I knew it was entirely wrong, this was one of the first things I ever ‘knew’ about Bratislava.
A truly horrendous film, which somehow managed to film scenes that take place in Paris, London, Bratislava, Berlin and Rome all in – no not Hollywood – Prague. Which is, of course, one of the few European capital cities they never actually visit in the film. And what does it teach us? Bratislava is a small dark city in Eastern Europe struggling to recover from its communist past – except not at all. I am proud to say that I am Englishman in New Bratislava. And New Bratislava is indeed a fitting description. Because this beautiful Central European city has a long storied history, but is also now one where FinTech, P2p lending and startups in just about every other sector are truly thriving. In case the bold emphasis was not sufficient, or you are reading this quickly on a crowded train, let me reiterate something here very slowly and clearly. As the following information could save you both embarrassment and a trip to the A&E with a case of beer-bottle-smash-ititis next time you visit Slovakia. Bratislava is the capital city of Slovakia, which sits just across the border from Austria and is quite literally at the very geographic centre of Europe. Vienna is 40 minutes away by car. Is Vienna in Eastern Europe? No. Is Bratislava in Eastern Europe? No. Good job! And now on with the show. Innovations abound in Slovakia and FinTech is no exception. For example, in my lovely spacious flat in a building that is older than America, I enjoy the simple daily pleasure of washing my hands in a sink with one tap. Yes, you read that correctly. Here in 'communist Eastern Europe’, they have mastered the concept of putting both hot and cold water in one tap. No more burning cold hands for me! So, what did I do to deserve this life of opulence in Bratislava and how did I end up working two doors down the street from my flat at Slovakia’s largest p2p lender, Žltý melón. Well, when life gives you melons, you make melonade – which is exactly what I did. I left my job at a ‘hot’ FinTech startup and my cold commute from London to Manchester to get married to the love of my life in her native country. I knew I was going to be very happy in my newly adopted home, but – to butcher together Rihanna’s words and imperialistic British views about former community countries - I didn’t necessarily expect ‘to find FinTech in a hopeless place.’ However, an innovative FinTech and startup culture is exactly what I have found here in Bratislava. After exactly one year here I have not only learned a lot about so many things the British education system and popular culture failed to teach me, but I have also realised that while London might be the ‘Fintech capital of Europe’, it is not because firms there are pushing the envelope of innovation. Especially not when it comes to p2p lending. This is just the first in a series of blogs that will provide some lessons and harsh realities on why ordinary UK customers have been somewhat misled about the FinTech revolution taking place in the UK. Firms like Žltý melón are tiny compared to the established players like Ratesetter and Zopa in the UK, yet their approach to p2p lending is both innovative and much closer to the original principles these firms promised would give ordinary people a better deal than their banks. One lesson I learned quickly here in Slovakia is that people are modest and don’t like to ‘sell’ themselves, their ideas or boast about their successes. Which might be part of why Slovakia doesn’t get the credit and recognition it truly deserves. For example, the parachute was invented by a Slovakian, Štefan Banič, in 1913 – not by an American or British inventor. More recently, the worlds first truly flying car was built by the Slovak firm Aeromobil, with the first units scheduled to be delivered in 2018. Slovakia has also been a pioneer in the area of Eco-tech as well, with pre-orders now being taken for the world’s first self sustainable house, the EcoCapsule. Not bad for a country with just over 5 million people! So the purpose of this blog is not to ‘sell’ Žltý melón like a loud mouthed Englishman, but rather to help share a bit of information with people in the UK about what innovation looks like, when it is driven by firms that truly put the interest of consumers above their IPO valuation and FinTech hyperbole.
If you want to see what Bratislava looks like for yourself, why not watch the full video blog!
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