A business graduate’s attempt to make the bank greener

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Julia Ménayas followed a well-defined path by leaving a business school, by becoming a partner in a venture capital company. But in March 2020, just when she heard about ‘something called Covid’, she quit to start a banking company focused on sustainability.

The launch of Helios was an ambitious initiative by the 27-year-old Parisian, who graduated from her master’s in management (MiM) at HEC Paris in 2018. During the first four months, the company only included Ménayas and her co-founder, Maeva. Courtois, working from Courtois’ kitchen, observed by the cat.

But Ménayas was motivated by a desire to pursue a career that would be about creating social value, rather than just making a profit – a prospect that came in part to her from her time in business school.

When she started at HEC Paris, she felt like one of the “lucky ones”, and the course taught her to make it a sense of social responsibility.

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Due to her professional experience, notably in start-ups as well as in venture capital and consulting, she was drawn to the technology sector. But technology has not responded to its desire to create social value. She describes the industry as “very strange”, and while there is an important social responsibility as an investor – choosing which industries and businesses will thrive, what new jobs will be created and to help shape the broader economic direction. – “somehow we didn’t own it at all,” she said.

Sunny outlook: Helios invests in industries that do not contribute to the climate crisis

Menayas then went back over what he had been taught about his MiM. “Leaving a VC – with very good lifetime earnings – was difficult,” she says. “But when it didn’t make sense in terms of [social] responsibility, I remembered what I had been taught about MiM and how we had to think not about the salary but about the value we could bring, ”she says.

Helios, which offers its services in partnership with the German banking software publisher Solaris, is somewhere “between an NGO [non-governmental organisation] in terms of aspiration and purpose ”and a business“ because we have to be sustainable in one way or another, ”Ménayas explains.

Customers pay a fee to open an account and Helios is committed to never investing their deposits in industries that contribute to the climate crisis or harm biodiversity. “We are doing just the opposite,” Ménayas says. “We only direct our funding towards industries linked to ecological transition. Symbolically, the first bank cards were made from cherry wood from sustainably managed forests in Europe.

A Visa card in cherry wood

Best of all: the company’s first bank cards are made from sustainable cherry wood

Another objective of Helios is to make consumers aware of the places where banks invest their deposits. When people think of global warming, Ménayas says, they tend to think of the impact of the auto or aircraft industries, but few look at the companies that banks finance with customers’ money.

“The banking sector turns people’s deposits into long-term investments in the real economy and, by choosing to finance industries like coal-fired power or fuel extraction, [banks] actually have a lot of responsibility for our future, ”she says.

Ménayas credits the business school with opening up opportunities and inspires it to be more daring. Along with access to a network of start-ups, VCs and entrepreneurs, HEC Paris has promoted a “learn to dare” philosophy that it says it has appreciated. “School opens your mind to build something and not fear the unknown,” Ménayas says. “It was a good starting point to leave the mainstream industry and start something more adventurous.”

Julia Ménayas © © Magali Delporte

Indeed, his advice to prospective MiM students – in addition to being curious and open to taking classes in a variety of subjects beyond finance – is to spend one-third of their time in class and two-thirds talking. with classmates, teachers and lecturers.

Tapping into this network has given Ménayas the confidence and the frame of mind to ask for help when needed, which is vital as an entrepreneur. “Being exposed to very different life stories was a good lesson because I felt it was OK for me to reach out to anyone,” she says. “At Helios, we have to build something from scratch, so we have to bring together a lot of talent, partners, investors and customers, and be able to contact anyone for help, advice. advice or resources. “

The MiM provided a lesson in more everyday skills, such as listening. There are a lot of big egos in business school, Ménayas says – something that was overlooked at the military camp where students were sent to learn teamwork. “The soldiers told us: ‘You are going to learn to be silent,’” she recalls.

Menayas says she learned to listen to others in the group, as well as to the leaders. “As a manager and co-founder now, I think I listen mostly. Starting to listen before leading has been a great career lesson.”

The teamwork experience that MiM provided has also been invaluable. “Our business today is about building the best team, a team that is 100% aligned with our goal, but also skilled at delivering tangible results,” she says. “The group work, which was very intense on the MiM, was very good training for that.

Helios is off to a good start. The first fundraising raised € 1.5 million and its 3,500 users across France, Belgium and Luxembourg have so far deposited € 8 million in current accounts, which cost € 6 per month to open. . But the company is young, and there are challenges to overcome, such as recruiting, product, acquisition, and consumer awareness of how banks are using their money.

But Ménayas remains typically ambitious: in five years, she wants Helios to employ 100-200 people and “to be much more political than we are now”. Like the new banks that emerged during the digital revolution in the sector, Helios is “on the verge” of bringing about a “sustainable banking revolution”, says Ménayas, “proving that we can do things differently, that we can build a model and, hopefully, usher in a more radical and rapid evolution of the banking sector ”.

CV

2020 Co-founder, Hélios

2018-20 Partner, Alven (venture capital firm)

2017-18 Consultant, Boston Consulting Group (six-month internship)

2017 Analyst, Knife Capital (venture capital fund – six-month internship)

2014-18 Master in management, HEC Paris (as part of a double degree in business and public management sciences at Sciences Po)

2016-17 Private Equity Analyst at Bpifrance (investment bank – 6 month internship)

2015 B2B sales at Jam (online media company – summer internship)

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