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Pushing Boundaries: Evangelos Kaldelis, CEO, 3S Money (MENA) According to Kaldelis, he and his team in Dubai are located at what's going to be the fintech enterprise's main point of growth for the next 12-24 months.

By Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

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3S Money
Evangelos Kaldelis, CEO, 3S Money (MENA)

According to the World Bank, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) represent about 90% of global businesses, and more than 50% of employment worldwide, with formal SMEs contributing up to 40% of national income in emerging economies. The same report also notes that access to suitable finance is one of the top hurdles SMEs face when it comes to achieving successful scaling and growth- an issue that specifically led to the birth of 3S Money, a London-based international payments platform that made its entry into Dubai in early 2023.

"When we launched 3S Money, our vision was to address the market gap and create a fairer financial world for businesses, regardless of their size and location," says Evangelos Kaldelis, 3S Money's CEO for the MENA region. "To achieve this, we built the most trusted, accessible and borderless solution that revolutionizes international payments using innovative fintech solutions, and better service levels than traditional banks. We also take pride in being able to offer speed that is 10 times faster than traditional banks, and offer competitive foreign exchange pricing, which is up to 75% cheaper than traditional banking. 3S Money thus exists for the brave businesses going beyond borders, and the boundary-pushing founders behind them."

Indeed, 3S Money's cross-border payments platform allows SME owners to send, receive and exchange business payments in over 190 countries, while also gaining access to more than 65 global currencies. "We are plugged into many different local payment systems that allow our payments to travel in real-time almost instantly, whereas a traditional bank can only access the local domestic payment system," Kaldelis adds. "Our information technology (IT) approach enables us to use different types of technology from several providers and integrate them into one platform. We replace these technologies with newer or more sophisticated options as they become available in the market. And so, we focus on small and medium-sized businesses that struggle the most to get access to fair, modern and secure payment solutions."

More than 2,700 small and medium businesses having used the 3S Money platform since its inception, and in 2022 alone, it processed over US$3 billion in client payments worldwide. And to understand the company's vision for the future of border-agnostic SME financing, it is important to first look to its past. You see, 3S Money was born out of a predicament that was precisely the same as what the startup aims to solve today. "Our journey began due to a personal challenge our founders faced when they started a business in the Netherlands, back in 2016," Kaldelis recalls. "Our co-founder, Ivan Zhiznevsky, set up a business, and got all the paperwork done on a newly incorporated company. However, he did not hold a Dutch passport. And so, when he went to sort out a bank account, he was informed by the manager that they only dealt with Dutch citizens. He received the same response at all the other banks he visited thereafter. Eventually, it took him about four months to get a bank account for a company set up in the Netherlands that is run by a foreign national! This experience thus led to the realization that many people had similar problems, especially those who want to start something in a new country or companies that want to expand their services to customers overseas."

Source: 3S Money

Following this series of unfortunate events, Zhiznevsky joined forces with Eugene Dugaev and Andrei Dikouchine to launch 3S Money in 2018. The trio's endeavors have since led to the creation of a 200-employee-strong team across six different locations: London, Riga, Luxemburg, Amsterdam, Singapore, and Dubai. Kaldelis leads the last of these offices as the CEO of 3S Money's MENA-focused branch located at the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).

However, Kaldelis confesses that 3S Money's move to the UAE wasn't really a planned undertaking. "Launching in Dubai and thus the MENA region was a coincidence!" Kaldelis says. "During the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries were shut down; however, Dubai was open, and our co-founder jumped at the opportunity upon realizing the region had room for efficient and faster customer service. Having said that, the UAE would have been an organic move for 3S Money, as it offers a business culture that is driven by diversity. Moving forward, we expect Dubai to be our main point of growth for the next 12-24 months. In terms of our goals for the MENA region, we want to extend our services to over 1,000 SMEs within the next 12 months, and help them grow outside the borders of UAE and the Middle East."

In working towards such goals, Kaldelis has made an intentional effort to stay true to 3S Money's roots by fully imbibing the emotions with which the startup was built. "We understand the mindset and challenges faced by new and budding entrepreneurs, as we have been in their shoes," Kaldelis says. "What makes us stand out is our ability to address their needs, and cater to each of their pain points. The approach we use at 3S Money is to provide a 'private bank' style of service to the frequently underbanked or unbanked SMEs. While we are a company driven by technology, we understand the importance of the human touch, and we allocate a client manager for every account to provide a tailored and personalized service. Understanding the pain points of our clients, we offer prices that they wouldn't get elsewhere. Our aim is to grow together with them."

Related: Bolstering Bridges Between France And The GCC: A Look Back At The Inaugural Edition Of Vision Golfe

The 3S Money MENA team. Source: 3S Money

To achieve its targets for the MENA region, there could perhaps not have been a more ideal location for 3S Money than the UAE. While the country's $2.5 billion fintech sector is the largest valued in the region, its SME sector comprising of some 350,000 businesses continues to thrive- and these are statistics that Kaldelis and his team at 3S Money now hope to contribute towards. "When international companies set up branches in the UAE, it makes positive noise for the UAE ecosystem, and attracts attention to the market," Kaldelis adds. "We aspire to bring knowledge to the market, be part of the healthy competition, and attract investors and other companies from abroad to place their trust in the local economy. We are happy to be here and contribute to the country's growth story, and we are looking forward to growing our business in the years to come."

Among 3S Money's most notable international clients has been Pangaia, a UK-based sustainable fashion brand that has been donned by the likes of Bella Hadid and Justin Bieber. But the fintech startup has already added some interesting firms to its roster of UAE-based clients too. One example is outdoor advertising company, Elevision Media. "Elevision set its sights on global expansion in 2023, starting with the UK and European markets respectively, after firmly establishing itself as the regional market leader," Kaldelis explains. "However, despite its local reputation and proven track record, the company still faced a significant barrier when entering new markets and accessing local banking services. Elevision was first attracted to 3S Money by our 'all-in-one' international business banking solution- a centralized payments 'hub' that allowed them to operate financially in different jurisdictions, without the need to open individual local accounts. Equipped with 3S Money's services, Elevision Media is now fully prepared to bring its unique brand of digital advertising to cities across the world."

Now, given Kaldelis's current role in a rising fintech firm, this story would perhaps be incomplete without gauging the CEO's views on the topic of "banks versus fintechs"- a topic of raging discourse within the financial industry at large. And although one of 3S Money's main differentiating factors lies in its ability to bypass all the inefficiencies of traditional banking, Kaldelis still believes that banks and fintechs can, and should, collaborate. "As the regulatory framework would have it, fintechs would not exist without the high street banks," Kaldelis says. "Vice-versa, traditional banks are pushed to innovate because of the rise of banking as a service (BaaS) companies in the last decade. We have already seen successful collaborations like the one of Goldman Sachs with Applem and such partnerships are not only mutually beneficial, but also solidify the belief that banks and fintechs could only move forward together."

Kaldelis also appears to hold a similar open-mindedness regarding the many digital innovations happening within the fintech space. "We are in a transition period, looking to find the right use cases for artificial intelligence technologies, blockchain, and open banking," he notes. "It resembles the years in between Napster, a first-of-its-kind but unregulated platform, and Spotify, a fully-regulated, profit-sharing music platform that won the race to the top. Are the current tools and products like Bitcoin and ChatGPT a case of Napster or Spotify? Only time will tell!"

That said, it is with a future-focused attitude that Kaldelis is approaching his role at 3S Money. "The journey has only just begun," he declares. "Our vision is simple: we're building a fairer financial world, and helping businesses feel at home in every market. We therefore want to continue empowering organizations to grow internationally with fair, reliable, and unrestricted international payments, enabling them to be closer to their customers. In terms of plans ahead, we plan on raising funds to prepare for a potential initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange within the next two to three years." The MENA thus seems poised to figure heavily in this vision for the future of 3S Money- just wait and watch!

Related: Identity Matters: Here's How UAE-Based Uqudo Is Pioneering A Shift In Digital Identity Verification Processes Across The MENA

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed

Features Editor, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aalia Mehreen Ahmed is the Features Editor at Entrepreneur Middle East.

She is an MBA (Finance) graduate with past experience in the corporate sector, and was also co-founder of CyberSWIFTT- an anti-cyberbullying campaign that ran from 2017-2018 as part of the e7: Daughters of the Emirates program.

Ahmed is particularly keen on writing stories involving people-centric leadership, female-owned startups, and entrepreneurs who've beaten significant odds to realize their goals.

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