London-headquartered fintech Soldo supports 'digital foodstamp' COVID-19 response

Credit: Getty/EnricoAgostoni

London-headquartered fintech startup Soldo has repurposed its spend management tools to help local authorities in Italy with COVID-19 emergency response measures.

As a result, local authorities in Milan are set to roll out an emergency aid package using the startup's digital infrastructure to help distribute money from the Italian government's €400 million solidarity fund.

In late March, the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte announced the €400 million food stamp fund, sparked by fears of social unrest and poverty exacerbated by the lockdown. The money would be made available, Conte said at the time, to "people who do not have money to do their shopping".

Twenty-one more authorities across the country have also signed up to use the cloud-based system. The smart payment card, called Soldo Care, will work across the MasterCard network. It's designed to get cash to vulnerable sections of society quickly and accessibly, but managed centrally.

Director of social policy at the Municipality of Milan, Michele Petrelli, said that they chose to partner with Soldo because it provides a "simple solution for us to distribute funds to those in need".

"The cards can be used in a wide range of shops, large and small retailers, and we are able to reload the cards with funds as needed at no cost, which is imperative during this time of crisis," Petrelli added.

Although the venture capital-backed Soldo, founded in 2015, is headquartered in London, much of the company's engineering base is situated in Italy, and it has offices in Milan, with its 1.3 million citizens and where the COVID-19 crisis began to unfold in Europe.

The firm's core enterprise platform offers end-to-end expense management for businesses, allowing organisations to set granular budgets or other protocols for individual employees and their corporate cards, as well as providing a snapshot view for managers.

Soldo CEO, Carlo Gualandri, told Techworld that when the crisis hit, the firm transitioned to a remote working operation ahead of the official quarantine. Recognising that this crisis was set to grow, the firm explored what it could do to help, and adjusted elements of existing software to offer to local authorities.

Soldo put together the service in a few weeks based on the development of its own infrastructure, which was built to meet regulatory legal and operational notes across Europe. It's not charging for the Soldo Care scheme.

Gualandri says that this kind of payment card deployment is quicker and easier to manage than traditional versions because they can be controlled centrally, in real time. By sending out thousands of these cards and tying them to the Soldo management platform, the councils are able to gain a view of the status of these cards, and when to top them up remotely.

Additionally, the chip and pin card model is practically universally understood, and does not exclude vulnerable people who may not have access to the latest technology, poor internet access, or the technical know-how to use apps.

And, because they operate on the pre-existing MasterCard network, the infrastructure is all already taken care of – it's on the spend management side where the value is added.

In the UK, Soldo is in talks with a London borough about rolling out the Soldo Care scheme, and in Hungary, the company's in talks with the government and MasterCard on a project that would provide a stimulus to small businesses – by issuing cards where money could only be spent in local stores, as opposed to large chains.

"Hyper-targeting is a real lever that you can use in this moment," says Gualandri, "and it can be deployed very quickly and very cheaply, because at the end of the day, what we use is part of the normal fabric of day to day transactions."

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