IMD alumni disrupt digital banking with start-up
Alpian, a newcomer to the digital financial services world, is set to turn the digital banking industry on its head. Not your average bank, it will do more than just “store money” as CEO Schuyler Weiss (MBA 2017) puts it.
“Today, people need to expand their beliefs as to what a bank could, and should, do for them,” insists Weiss. “We want to grow their money by really partnering with them during that process.”
Alpian aims to offer a full range of individualized financial services for the “mass affluent” segment – people with liquid assets ranging from Sfr100k to 1mil. This group numbers 2.6 million in Switzerland alone and currently boasts Sfr 660bil in liquid assets.
The financial service company’s goal is to help the mass affluent increase their wealth at a fair price, with premium services delivered digitally. This will include the opening of an account with several currencies, access to a human advisor via a proprietary digital interface, and the option to choose between different investment mandates including execution only and advisory services.
With a strong commitment to full transparency as a unique selling proposition, Alpian hopes to compete with the big players in the mass affluent segment by putting trust as the focal point of every interaction it has with its customers.
Alpian was incubated by Reyl et Cie, a Swiss banking group with more than four decades of wealth management and private banking experience. After going solo this year, the start-up has secured Series A funding with over Sfr12mil raised from strategic technology and finance investors.
Weiss, a dual US-Swiss national who has a proven track record in digital transformation and disruptive financial technologies – he was Morgan Stanley’s youngest-ever VP within his group at only 26 years old – came to IMD to explore his entrepreneurial side. He earned an MBA with Honors in 2017 and held the position of Chief Digital Officer at Reyl et Cie before leading the charge at Alpian.
“IMD brought out my leadership qualities and prepared me well for the CEO role,” says Weiss. “I’m focused on hearing what people actually say instead of what I want to hear.”
When looking to hire a managing director, Weiss was instantly impressed with Marion Owczarczak-Fogli (EMBA 2017). Though they had both attended IMD and were active in their respective alumni communities, Weiss and Owczarczak-Fogli did not meet until the latter joined Reyl et Cie last year. She possesses strong business skills and a can-do attitude, qualities they both believe are prevalent among IMD graduates.
“The right mindset is needed for digital transformation,” says Owczarczak-Fogli, noting that this is something she learned at IMD. “The great thing about Alpian is that there was no need to convince anyone of this – Reyl et Cie was keenly aware of the need for an all-digital banking offering.”
Last year, Weiss and Owczarczak-Fogli were joined by two IMD MBA participant interns – Gianmarco Bonaita and Aamir Ahmad – as part of their studies. When Bonaita and Ahmad completed their degrees in December 2019, Weiss offered them full-time positions at the company.
“Asking Gianmarco and Aamir to join the firm on a permanent basis was a natural choice,” says Weiss. “They got to live the Alpian experience, helping to create it, drive it and build it.”
With the tremendous challenge of creating a start-up that can make it in a saturated industry, the IMD graduates have their work cut out for them.
This will mean an intense year ahead for Weiss, Owczarczak-Fogli, Bonaita and Ahmad. Alpian has just applied for a full banking license from the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA), which it expects to receive in 2021.
This gives the team only a year or so to finish developing the Alpian app and adjoined platform through which the digital financial services will be made. It will also need to ensure all other preparations are in place before welcoming Alpian’s first clients next year.
“We are all ready to roll up our sleeves and get the job done,” smiles Owczarczak-Fogli.