INNOPAY CEO Shikko Nijland on the firm's growth and ambitions

02 November 2018 Authored by Consultancy.eu

Following 15 years of successful business in the transaction consulting arena, INNOPAY is looking to expand its business into new areas. Speaking to Consultancy.eu, CEO Shikko Nijland explains the importance of collaboration in the age of blockchain and FinTech, as well as how he believes INNOPAY can continue its growth path.

INNOPAY is a Dutch consultancy firm specialised in transaction consulting, leveraging digital technologies to innovate the way clients create and exchange value. Dating back to 2002, the company recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. INNOPAY has grown since its inception to become a leading player in the Netherlands, with offices in Amsterdam, Berlin and Frankfurt. According to Shikko Nijland, it is a “nice milestone to celebrate how far we have come,” however, he adds, “ there is still so much to achieve in the future.” 

As a former Accenture Partner, Nijland started at the consultancy as Managing Partner of INNOPAY Netherlands in 2012. He still leads a growing team of nearly 50 consultants from an office in the Zuidas business district in Amsterdam, and as CEO his remit expands across borders, as the firm looks to grow to become a larger international player.

“When I joined, there were eight consultants, now there are around 45 in the Netherlands, about 10 in Germany, and we’re contemplating opening offices in Sweden, the UK and France,” Nijland explains. “In the coming period, we are looking into geographical expansion. We want to create a pan-European firm in line with the needs of our clients, many of whom operate on an international basis. Organisations are welcoming the skills we have, and in particular in Scandinavia it’s easier to enter the market as non-native speakers. In places like Germany this is not the case though, so we always put down roots to create offices with a genuine local flavour.”Shikko Nijland - CEO at InnopaySince arriving in the Germany’s financial hub of Frankfurt in 2016, INNOPAY has come to work with 30+ major banks on thought leadership, including a recent collaboration with Deutsche Bank on open banking – an area of expertise for INNOPAY. According to Nijland, at the moment the threshold for collaboration in Germany is much lower than it is in many markets. This has presented INNOPAY with a key opportunity to help build a new culture there, where banking clients can take advantage of new technologies by being more willing and capable of cooperating. This tactic serves as an ideal hub for the German speaking market including Austria and Switzerland, and is partially the reason for INNOPAY ‘s rapid growth.

Collaboration is key

Nijland points toward one particular example, which he says is one of the achievements INNOPAY is most proud of, among its list of testimonials. “We are the main digital transactions consultant in the Netherlands, we helped to develop the next generation of the OV chip-card [a public transport device similar to an Oyster Card in the UK]. Around 2014, when we got involved in this project, the involved public transportation groups were not collaborating; cooperation was at an all-time low. What makes me proud was not only the product that resulted out of the process, but also that we got those groups to work together! We helped build a collaborative spirit into a network that previously lacked.”

According to Nijland, it has never been more important to foster a collaborative spirit than now, as it is impossible to get the most out of shared-ledger technologies such as blockchain if companies cannot move beyond their old winner-takes-all, dog-eat-dog attitudes towards business. The INNOPAY chief executive points toward the firm’s own landmark project iShare to illustrate this. 

The project is an industry-wide collaboration project facilitated by the firm’s Dutch office, initiated by the Top Sector Logistics, a Dutch Government grant programme to further boost the Netherlands’ profile as "the logistics gateway to Europe". The initiative’s objective is to enable all players in the logistics industry to connect with each other on the basis of mutual trust, irrespective of type, size, modality and jurisdiction.

Digital transactions

Meanwhile in banking, one of the larger regulatory requirements banks are currently facing is ‘Know Your Customer’ (KYC), which is part of anti-money laundering regulation that forces banks to identify and verify the identity of its clients. The requirements necessitate the collection of huge amounts of data from every client, including operational, legal and financial information, all of which need to be validated, alongside conducting standard background, tax and credit checks. Before KYC arrived, it was common practice for banks to take 2-3 weeks to finalise the on-boarding process for new customers.

“INNOPAY specialises in transaction consulting, leveraging digital technologies to innovate the way clients create and exchange value. In the coming years, we want to create a pan-European firm.”
– Shikko Nijland, CEO

Nijland expands, “Know Your Customer has changed the game in terms of customer on-boarding forever. Initially it required everyone to gather huge amounts of data on customers, and so it was accepted to wait 2-3 weeks to on-board at a bank. In the Netherlands, when app-based bank Bunq arrived, however, customers could leverage KYC and iDeal data to switch banks in 15 minutes. The rise of emerging technologies and disruptive thinking has opened a Pandora’s Box.” INNOPAY is at the heart of turning this conundrum on its head – the consultancy works with a number of banks on improving their on-boarding processes and also conducts research in the field as a means of leveraging best practices for innovating its own offerings.

Digital transaction consulting has proven a fruitful environment for INNOPAY, but according to Nijland, the company’s ability to adapt its 'niche' of interest to new markets is the true source of its longevity. He says, “We have gradually been convincing clients that even though we are new to some industries, we know how to operate contextually from a transactions perspective. Once you understand everything about exchanging data, you can use that knowledge and experience, and move into new industries. Next to the banking sector, we’re now also active in medical insurance, logistics and retail.”

Flexibility to adapt

Nijland states that this flexibility and willingness to adapt to new opportunities, was the reason that initially attracted him to INNOPAY. “When I came here it was not just doing what the customer wants us to do, but also working with your own ideas. Not in an ‘unrealistic’ way, but presenting new ideas by making use of another way of thinking. One third of our revenue still comes from our own ideas which we take to our clients. That’s what I like about working at INNOPAY.”

Since he took the helm at the advisory firm, there have been a series of changes, on both a national and international level. When he arrived, Nijland was keen to ensure that the firm would have access to the best talent, to enable him to step back from more heavy-handed management tactics.

He explained; “If you really want to stay ahead of the likes of Accenture and Capgemini, you need to attract the right talent. We work with well-known recruitment firms, and at the same time invest large amounts of resources into training them to find the human resources we needed. Also, we consciously moved our office from Schiphol to Zuidas, as we want to focus on the top 10% of the human resources market in Amsterdam. Then it was all about starting to communicate more what differentiates us. Marketing strategy has been a key aspect of our success. Along the way, the CEO acknowledges that he has changed his own style as well, moving from a leader that makes all the decisions to one that holds a more facilitative role. “Decentralising responsibilities has empowered our senior advisors to think and act in a leadership role, down the line enabling us to grow.”

The firm’s office in Amsterdam

Nijland believes that this more laissez faire approach has helped the firm to stay ahead of a rapidly changing consulting market, in terms of freeing him up to help the firm demonstrate its value to potential clients, while allowing him to enjoy that same intellectual freedom that drew him to the firm six years ago.

Staying ahead of the game

On the point of illustrating consulting work, Nijland elaborates; “I think that the world of just essential consultancy, where you deliver PowerPoint reports and analytical advice, is on the decline. What clients like to see is not just consultants who can think of smart things, but those who can create a proof of concept or a demo. We work on innovations in a very abstract area, and to make them more tangible, we build demos and prototypes. This helps leaders convince their own people that a certain intervention or transformation is a good idea. In order to do that, we set up an experience lab in our Amsterdam office.”

While the consulting firm continues to expand into new areas, INNOPAY’s CEO is concerned with how to stay ahead of the game in the Netherlands. As the digital transaction market has matured, INNOPAY has seen new competitors that seek to close the gap, and to an extent the firm is a victim of its own success, having – as Nijland says – helped to foster a new attitude of inter-business cooperation, which financial services players are now keen to explore with the help of consultancies.

“It’s a tough one, because we had a major head-start when we arrived,” Nijland reflects. “We worked on FinTech when nobody was talking about it. Likewise, with data sharing now, and the way to keep ahead, we are experts in digital transactions with an innovative edge, so we will stick to our niche, stick to the collaborative element, and keep finding those new areas. With our entrepreneurial culture, I think it should be no problem, because we believe in it.”

Highlighting this belief Nijland says, “I personally am very proud when our younger consultants, fresh from university, bring their parents in to see where they work. Although we are a boutique player, we are involved with a lot of high-impact projects, and when you see a mother come around here and be proud of her son working at our firm, that really makes my day.”

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