Self-described as a technology company with a banking licence, Berlin-based Solarisbank embodies the innovative pioneer spirit of a start-up, and has since its launch in 2016. It focuses on its B2B customers’ technical needs and accelerates their digital transformation, stepping in as a trusted partner throughout the entire process.
Solarisbank empowers companies to offer their customers a variety of contextually embedded financial services. For example, let’s say online car dealership CarNext wanted to offer suitable loans to customers during the online sales process. Solarisbank’s technical solution engineers would work closely with the CarNext traders to develop an interface that connects the website to the banking-as-a-service platform.
To streamline this kind of communication, Solarisbank’s CTO implemented Slack company-wide from the beginning. ‘Slack was the most efficient way we could connect people, project teams and machines,’ says Dennis Winter, Solarisbank’s vice president of TechOps. ‘Slack’s openness as a platform allows us to integrate important work tools and achieve transparency. That’s very important, especially as we develop a wide variety of products. It became clear early on that Slack would play an important role because it could grow with our project teams.’
‘Slack was the most efficient way we could connect people, project teams and machines.’
Scaling transparent collaboration with Slack
Data security and protection are important for many companies, especially those that need to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This is especially true for banks with a full licence, like Solarisbank, who operate in a highly regulated environment. ‘For example, we need to be able to inform the German regulatory authorities where our data is stored,’ says Winter. ‘With the data residency feature in Slack’s Business+ subscription, we can simply say “in Frankfurt”.’ Slack’s retention settings are also quite helpful. ‘We can set the retention rules in Slack in such a way that all messages and files are deleted after a year, even if they were shared in one-to-one conversations.’
Slack also plays a role in the security requirements around incident management, helping to ensure secure operations and eliminate technical faults before they occur. The PagerDuty Slack integration identifies Solarisbank’s incident reports and automatically forwards them to a specific Slack channel, for transparent and efficient communication that helps to solve problems quickly.
To further streamline the process, with just a few lines of code, Solarisbank technicians created a Slack bot. When the bot is activated, a new incident ticket is automatically generated, along with a corresponding Slack channel to which the on-call technician is invited to join. With the right information available to the right people, instantly and with context, this automation speeds up the subsequent resolution process. Once the team has reached a solution, the information from the Slack channel is transferred to appropriate documentation so that it is traceable in the long term and at any time.
‘Everyone involved in incident response management – and basically the whole company – knows where to turn when they have a problem: the relevant Slack channel.’
Solarisbank triples its workforce and stays agile with Slack
Solarisbank’s workforce has tripled since its launch, now with more than 300 employees from 50 countries, and counting. For Sandra Schaarschmidt, who has been in charge of internal communication since 2017, the increase in personnel has come with an uptick in Slack participation.
‘We have a tech-savvy workforce, whose ways of working and ideas about work are open-minded and iterative,’ she says. ‘That has a great influence on our company culture and, at the same time, it differentiates us from traditional banks. For us, Slack is a manifestation of this new, open and flexible world where we can quickly contact each other and exchange information.’
On their first day, new employees receive an invitation to the Slack workspace as part of onboarding. They each have a mentor from the People and Organisation team, who introduces them and posts their photo in the #general channel. The new employee’s work team then chimes in with information on which areas and projects they’ll be working on. ‘That usually sets off a longer wave of welcomes throughout the whole project team, and immediately shows the new employee the importance of Slack,’ says Schaarschmidt. ‘They realize, “This is where communication and interaction happens. This is where I can get involved.”’
Schaarschmidt herself waits until the new employee’s second day to get in touch with them. ‘I say a quick hello, explain my role, and share more general information that’s important for them. Many use that moment to ask general questions, and then the ice is broken.’ The casual but effective Slack onboarding process has been well received. ‘I’ve already gotten feedback that the new employees generally feel well supported because they’re immediately given a number of contact points in Slack.’
‘For us, Slack is a manifestation of this new, open and flexible world where we can quickly contact each other and exchange information.’
Thanks to Slack, customers become partners
Solarisbank’s banking-as-a-service platform enables partners to integrate modern and scalable banking services into their own offerings. However, seamless integration via the technical interfaces requires close cooperation between Solarisbank developers and partners.
For Solarisbank to help customers integrate more modern and scalable banking services, its own communication must be seamless. To achieve this, both sides turn to Slack Connect, a secure way to share knowledge and effectively collaborate with external partners in Slack channels. ‘Using Slack Connect helps us to build good relationships with our partners and work very efficiently with them,’ says Bernhard Frese, Solarisbank’s lead technical solution engineer. Also, video calls via Slack’s Zoom integration offer a direct way to discuss issues and land on a solution that works for everyone.
Slack Connect is especially key during an external partner’s technical integration process with the Solarisbank platform. ‘We work in a fast-moving environment, and our partners are generally very modern and dynamic companies,’ says Frese. ‘At the beginning of the integration phase, lots of questions come up that we can answer very quickly in Slack. As a medium, email is just too slow for that.’ He cites email’s lack of transparency as a further disadvantage, whereas Slack Connect establishes a sense of closeness and familiarity. ‘Slack Connect has proved to be an efficient form of communication and collaboration for us.’
‘Things are definitely quicker with Slack. Before, a partner integration might take up to six months, but now we only need three months.’
For Solarisbank, it paid to rely on Slack from the start, serving to strengthen company culture and support effortless collaboration with partners while meeting the strict security requirements of the highly regulated banking industry.