In 2012 Chris Zadeh and Michel Vrolijk stormed the Sprout Challenger 50 with Ohpen, tearing the asset management market wide open with a smart, lean and customer friendly online alternative. After three years Michel Vrolijk took a step back, leaving Chris Zadeh in charge of the daily management of the company.

Ohpen is not a corporation yet, but a true start-up in heart and soul. The basement of Ohpen’s monumental building smells of sweat, there is a kick-boxing ring that’s being used on a daily basis, the office lights stay regularly on at night and its 35-strong team consists mainly of technicians. Indeed, challenger Ohpen has beaten a small gap in the asset management market, with currently managing 90 million euros and holding 2.500 accounts in 9 investment funds. Everything at Ohpen is being done transparently: Ohpen offers clients options of 9 straight-forward index funds that follow various indexes.

Ohpen remains a price fighter. Their already sharp standard-fee of one percent of assets under management is reduced to a half percent, including a half percent when clients want to switch between funds. Existing clients are continuing to deposit money, resulting in the steady growth of Ohpen. The company collected even more knowledge and insight of insurance and pensions, through the acquisition of insurance company Robein. Bringing over 800 million in assets under management and a 25.000 customer base.

Conservative industry

So far a good story. But the company of Zadeh and his team really becomes sexy at its back-end. Ohpen functions on a state of the art cloud system. From the front – the website – till the back, all transactions processing, customer information processing and all data associated with banking processing; Ohpen developed everything themselves through their so-called core-banking platform. And that’s exactly the product responsible for the breakthrough of the challenger.

“We went to the market to prove that our system works. The banking world is a conservative world. As it should, due to its regulatory risks and rules. Therefore, it would never just enter a new platform. But since 2008, we have built everything with the sole purpose to offer it as a cloud service to third parties” says Aler. Ohpen focuses its cloud banking platform primarily on fund managers and investors, who wish to outsource the back-end of their transactions. The pension market also has plenty of opportunities to provide newcomers of the plug-and-play system, offering new services and products. That’s the strategic purpose of the Robein acquisition: moving into the market and gaining experience and recognition to acquire more customers for the platform.

Long standing multi-million deals

The Ohpen platform seems successful and really takes off regarding to Ohpen’s B2B-site of Ohpen.com. Since 2012 Robeco has become a client. The investment engineers of Rotterdam are quite large, but took little convincing towards the benefits of the Ohpen Platform.

When a small software development company acquires partners of these sizes, it attracts attention. But since spring, Ohpen is ready to attract more clients to their platform. Considering the fact that banking is all about trust and discretion, Ohpen will not share any names of Dutch and British parties with whom contracts are almost signed. “But assume that these are aren’t small-sized firms, and that this will concern thousands of customers who will invest through our system.” Schouten: “This way we want to connect two major parties from the banking- and insurance world, also in other European countries. This will concern managing the administration for hundreds-and-thousands of customers and multi-million deals of long standing.

Sweet spot in the market

Understandably, the acquiring new customers for its own shop does not have the top priority. “You won’t see us every time on television, like some of our competitors.” Aler smiles. “With our platform we have marked a sweet spot in the market: American and British fund managers such as Fidelity, but also European banks such as ING and Deutsche Bank, wish to offer their investment funds through their banks, but also directly to their customers. Because of this development in the market, our focus is aimed at cloud banking.”

With the breakthrough as cloud banker, Ohpen attracts attention on a global level. Amazon, the king of Cloud Computing, partnered up with Ohpen with great enthusiasm. That’s not because Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogels just happen to speak the language of the people of Amsterdam. After the banking world started to hand their IT-outsourcing contracts to the likes of IBM, HP’s and other firms of their nature, the time has come where bankers are ready for the cloud. Schouten: “This is the story we are actually to tell just now. I just received a request from Technology Industry Analyst Gartner if Ohpen may be included into their reports.”

The final breakthrough that supports Chris Zadeh and their team in their journey was announced in July by the Nederlandsche Bank (DNB). Amazon’s Cloud Web Service has been approved for usage in Dutch banks, approving storage and management of all levels of data on the AWS cloud. Schouten: “Of course our name isn’t mentioned, but it’s still a great accomplishment that we, together with Amazon, have achieved.”

Article written by Philip Bueters, originally published in Dutch, for Sprout.