We are proud to present our next “rocket of the week”, Christina Kehl, one of the Co-Founders of SWISS FINANCE STARTUPS (SFS), Switzerland’s first association of fintech startups. She started SFS in 2014 while she was COO at Knip, the first mobile-based insurance broker worldwide which she co-founded in Zurich in 2013. After a successful completion of a 15 million USD investment round at Knip in 2015, Christina was able to shift her focus to the fintech work at SFS. There she actively promotes the development of the Swiss fintech industry by high level financial industry and political advocacy.
As a startup founder and fintech expert, Christina is a regularly featured in the media as well as invited to speak at panel discussions, forums and conferences. She was born in Germany and studied law in Würzburg, Helsinki and Oxford. She founded her first company at the age of 19 and helped build several startups in Berlin and London before coming to Zurich in 2013.
We sat down with Christina for a conversation about her entrepreneurial path, disruption in the insurance industry and what makes the Swiss fintech and startup ecosystem special.
You studied law for seven years. What drove you to pursue an entrepreneurial career after your PhD?
I was an entrepreneur way before. I founded my first company at the age of 19 at the same time as I was starting university. It was in educational counseling, something I felt the necessity for myself at that time. Which career to pursue after leaving school, which courses to take at university? So, I thought if I need it, others need it as well – I ran this startup for 5 years. And even earlier during my high school years, while my fellow students made some money babysitting or restocking the shelves in supermarkets, I’ve always preferred to get my own projects off the ground, for example starting the school newspaper. The entrepreneurial spark has always been there. Oh – and I hated my law studies 🙂
You were one of the Co-Founders of Knip, a digital insurance manager. How did you come up with the idea?
This was basically the same story. My co-founder and I both relocated from Germany to Switzerland which forced us to take care of our insurances in this country. We felt this was first of all way too complicated and second of all completely detached from our (digital) way of life. Nowadays, we do everything via apps and online, booking travels, banking, communicating – literally everything. And suddenly in the insurance world we had to deal with all this paperwork and face-to-face meetings. And this was not only the case in Switzerland, in Germany and other countries as well. So we were convinced that we were not the only ones that wanted an easy and digital solution for insurances.
What challenges did you face disrupting the very traditional insurance industry?
It is – probably just like banking – a very traditional industry with powerful corporations that have build their environment as it is best for them, not for the customer. We as young entrepreneurs and, even worse, industry outsiders were not taken seriously at all in the beginning. We have been told over and over that this would never work and nobody would want it. And when our business model started gaining momentum and becoming more and more successful, traditional market players tried questioning our expertise and integrity. We had to prove ourselves again and again and again. However, the digitization in the insurance industry has just started with digital brokers. I am expecting much more radical changes in the very near future.
What lessons did you learn as an entrepreneur so far, personally and professionally?
Trust your gut! This sounds so simple but it is true. When you have an idea or feel the need for something, other people feel this, too. Do not hesitate just because you are not an expert, yet. Taking the customers perspective makes total sense when developing a product or service and many times ‘the expert’ is no longer able to fill the customer’s shoes.
What is the startup ecosystem like in Switzerland compared to other European hubs such as Berlin or London? What (capital) resources are available for founders?
The benefits for founders in Switzerland are pretty clear: we have highly educated people, especially in finance, health care and tech. We have major companies that today are willing to partner up with startups as innovation drivers. We have accelerator programs, a stable and healthy economy, strong networks with short distances, financial resources and the small country of Switzerland is the perfect test market for new business models. One important factor which might become more and more relevant: proven trustworthy political stability.
You were one of the founding members of Swiss Finance Startups. What is your mission and how do you help your member startups succeed?
The Swiss financial sector has been one of the best in the world for decades. However, with digitization looming, Switzerland struggled to adapt. One key reason being that Swiss startups didn’t receive proper attention in their own country. But when it comes to driving innovation, disrupting old models startups are the main players. Corporations will never turn their own system upside down. Therefore, by focussing on startup interests we foster the whole Swiss fintech ecosystem. Delivering this message was hard work but with endurance and some great partners at our side, we made fintech the most recognized startup sector in Switzerland. And just last week we achieved major milestones as Switzerland will be implementing a fintech regulation model very soon reforming an outdated banking law and finally officially acknowledging and committing to fintech as an important pillar of the Swiss financial market. Our passion for startups and fintech starts paying off!
What trends and technology developments are currently ‘hot’ in the Swiss FinTech world?
There are probably 5 main fintech sectors where Switzerland is among the best in the world: wealth management, crypto currencies, insurance, data and security.
If you are looking for something “hot”, I’d definitely say it’s blockchain and crypto! Close to Zurich in the Canton of Zug, a vibrant blockchain scene is developing in the CryptoValley Zug. Great startups like XAPO, Monetas and others are working on the future of money, which will have a great effect on our everyday lives someday.
Switzerland has a long international reputation for being a strong financial center. Is there also a Swiss way to FinTech startups?
Indeed I think there is. In Switzerland everything is a bit more down to earth. While Americans probably tend to aim for the spotlight, Swiss entrepreneurs sometimes almost hide their light under the bushel. They want to convince solely on the account of quality. Which causes problems getting the right attention on the global market. On the other hand, the label Swiss made still stands for trustworthiness, quality, reliability. Swiss startups do great work, they just don’t brag about it!
What is your life motto or favorite quote?
Exist to be happy, not to impress.
Know an inspiring doer, thinker or leader, who should be the next rocket of the week? Let us know!