Meet the Stanford-educated Hungarian Pioneer of Remote Client Identification
Zsigmond Bodnár, founder and CEO of FaceKom.
Launched in 2017 with Hungary’s inaugural remote client identification solution, FaceKom has rapidly established itself as a market leader. The firm was the first in the region to offer financial institutions a comprehensive end-to-end solution. In this exclusive interview with the Budapest Business Journal, CEO Zsigmond Bodnár discusses the transformation of the company from a fledgling startup to a leading figure in Hungary’s remote client identification industry.
BBJ: You are Hungarian, but you studied technology entrpreneurship at Stanford. Why did you decide to return to found FaceKom’s predecessor in Hungary?
Zsigmond Bodnár: For me, the Central and Eastern European region is very inspiring and, in my experience, the rapid development means that there are not only great business opportunities, but also many professional, well-trained people working here. Also, of course, it is important that I grew up in Hungary; it is my home country, and although I have been to many places in the world, I feel at home here. The past period has proven that I made the right decision, as FaceKom has become the leading digital service provider in its field in Hungary, and we have plans for further expansion and listing on the stock exchange.
BBJ: Your digital customer ID solution is available in most leading domestic banks today. The expansion was triggered by an assignment seven years ago: what challenges did you face when you won the MKB tender for remote identification in 2016?
ZsB: When we won the tender for tele-identification at MKB Bank in 2016, we were proud to have our first major banking client, but we had only five weeks to deliver the product. Our IT manager doubted that the deadline could be met, but we worked together to solve the problem: we studied foreign models of how to develop software 24 hours a day. We finally delivered the product on time and when it went live, it worked fine. This hectic period brought experience to the company that has been put to good use ever since: delivering reliable solutions quickly and efficiently.
BBJ: The pandemic accelerated the digitization of banking. What changes has COVID brought to the customer base and product development?
ZsB: With the coronavirus outbreak, many companies suddenly needed software to manage their business remotely and conveniently. In January 2020, we had 13 customers; just six months later, we had 14 more. For example, we implemented our system in just eight days for a local utility company, which is unique in the world.
BBJ: In addition to digital customer identification, you launched hybrid customer services this year. These are essentially pre-installed rooms in various locations to which different service providers can connect. How do these FaceKom Points work?
ZsB: FaceKom Points are local, human-less customer services where you can conveniently do business on a large touchscreen. The solution can also be rented by a service provider, such as the digital kiosks of MBH Bank, which are already operating in Miskolc and Győr. It is also possible for several service providers to operate a FaceKom Point. We are convinced that this will help local branches in small towns to survive and spread.
A FaceKom Point digital kiosk in a MBH Bank branch in Miskolc.
BBJ: How is FaceKom Pont different from the other customer services and branches we have seen so far? What are the benefits for the public?
ZsB: At FaceKom Points, we have created optimal conditions for video customer identification and administration, so you can do your business here quickly and conveniently. The large touch screen and user-friendly interface make it ideal for customers who are reluctant to connect to the service from their mobile phone or home computer, or who may not have the right equipment or internet connection to do so. These points can even operate 24/7, allowing for a more flexible customer service.
BBJ: In what areas can FaceKom Point be used, for example in government, post, banking or other sectors?
ZsB: FaceKom Points can be used in many different areas. They can be equipped with document readers, credit card terminals, scales and address printers. For example, they can be used as small, non-stop post boxes, bank branches, government offices, utility customer services, or a combination of all these.
BBJ: What competitive advantage does FaceKom Pont bring to the domestic and international market?
ZsB: Digitalization is unstoppable, but not everyone and not every process can be integrated into a remote customer-service provider relationship. FaceKom Pont is an intermediate solution: it does not require human intervention on the ground by the service provider, yet the customer feels they have arrived in the company’s “space” and is receiving attention. For brands, a secure local branch is therefore not only a communication and brand-building opportunity, but also an important means of maintaining and retaining customer relationships. And for users, it is an easily accessible, convenient and secure way of doing business.
BBJ: What are your plans for the future?
ZsB: FaceKom is the market leader in enterprise customer identification in Hungary, but our software is plug-in, and not visible to the enduser, as it runs in the background of an application. As with FaceKom Points, we want to develop in the future in areas that are closer to the customer, so we can get into direct contact with the users. We have lots of plans, and looking back at the history of FaceKom, I’m optimistic because I see that we’re not only good at dreaming, but also at delivering.
BBJ: In the spring of 2021, FaceKom was acquired by a group of investors. What impact did this have on the company’s operations and strategy?
ZsB: Our opportunities have expanded and we are able to enter the market with a more defined growth strategy. The Central European Opportunity private equity fund (CEOMP), managed by Equilor Fund Management, is playing an active role in our efforts to go public as soon as possible and become one of the largest IT companies in Hungary. CEOMP has brought valuable experience that has helped us to operate in a more structured way, which is essential for further growth.
BBJ: What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs who want to succeed with innovative tech solutions?
ZsB: The key is to test the market before putting all your energy, money and resources into an idea, to see if there is a demand for the service or product. In most cases, even if the idea is good, it is not an opportunity because it turns out that there is no demand or it is not the right time. Timing is key. And “I think” is an expensive phrase; often very expensive.
BBJ: What does you do in your spare time?
ZsB: At the moment, I spend most of my free time with my two children, my two foster children and my pregnant wife. I don’t have time for much else!
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of June 16, 2023.
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