The outsider

Marcel F. Komminoth is Mr. Custombike. He runs one of the biggest biker communities in the world. Despite being an outsider, he is now getting involved in the fintech market with a new solution. A portrait of an outsider.

Hansjörg Honegger

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The meeting at the financial market supervisory authority FINMA is going well, the concept for the duty of care makes sense, the striking tattoos are concealed by the dapper business suit. Marcel F. Komminoth is feeling confident about obtaining the approval for his transaction concept. “We then exchanged business cards, when I suddenly realised: Mine has a skull and crossbones on it! I thought that everything’s over now.” The dream of a transaction platform of his own using digital identification would be over, the dream of complete independence gone.


Komminoth waited 354 days, not knowing whether his biker's insignia had seen his dreams turn to ashes. “I was extremely nervous.” The wait proved to be worthwhile: The native of Grisons is now a major player, not just to more than two million Facebook followers as Mr. CUSTOMBIKE, but also someone who is making an impression in the highly regulated fintech business. With tenacity and the right network, he now has a payment solution that covers all three pillars: Security for retailers and customers, full compliance and digital identification.


The path to this solution, which is currently being introduced at one of the four biggest banks in Switzerland, was however a long one, and as intricate as the tattoos on Komminoth’s arms. First and foremost came his “spirit” for motorcycles, for speed, for design. He converted his first moped at age 12. “Even then, I didn’t have much interest in cookie-cutter machines, I just had to convert it for my own taste.” Design without speed wasn’t an option even then, and the Cilo was pimped to do around 90 km/h. Komminoth never got caught back then, and never got involved in an accident. “I was lucky, I couldn’t afford a helmet back then.”


The courage to take risks didn’t land the 44-year-old Komminoth in a wheelchair like so many others, and instead soon found himself pouring his energy into business. After being an apprentice electrician (“I’ve never been so bored in my life”), he sold real estate and realised: I can do this! He is a salesman, can tell a good story and win people over with his charming and open manner. While he didn’t really like his real estate job, he learned a lot and earned a lot more. He used his network, broadened it and was soon noticed by the right people. He received an offer to start working at Credit Suisse as an agent to recruit wealthy new customers. A whole new world for the biker. “I bought my very first suit for the job interview.” He earned good money in the banking business over the next few years, and the former apprentice electrician kept learning, absorbing information like a sponge, while maintaining his network and remaining faithful to his passion for big motorbikes.


He built his dream machines in his spare time. Customised bikes, fantastic motorcycles, overhauled right down to the chassis – made lower, with new handlebars, all colours and shapes. Everything that wasn't run-of-the-mill. He posted pictures of his creations on Facebook as Mr. CUSTOMBIKE. He was proud to soon have 2,000 followers.


“In 2010 I had the idea of setting up a worldwide motorcycle platform. I prepared a business plan that retains its validity today,” Komminoth explains. He worked, made his bikes, helped his brother-in-law, who runs a motorcycle workshop, in the office and was also there for his family – two children and a wife who supported his plans in full. Komminoth knew: If he wanted to be successful, he needed to establish a faithful community. So Facebook and his alter ego, Mr. CUSTOMBIKE, took centre stage. “I was aiming to have 100,000 followers – I would have been extremely proud of that. Today, he adds 100,000 every month.

“Our identification system is now being introduced by a major bank”

However, it took time to get to this point, the path was rocky and paved with endless work. “I always remained authentic and posted everything myself, no-one was helping.” This isn’t a problem when you have 20,000 followers, however Komminoth’s pictures, posts and his “spirit” – his favourite word – resonated with the community. It grew. By 2015, he had 800,000 followers. He was devoting 10 to 12 hours a day to Facebook. He answered each message personally within 24 hours. Until he noticed: He couldn’t keep doing things that way. But everything was already up and running. He still posts five times a day now, and the community is happy. “You have to be authentic on social media, and that’s what most companies do wrong,” as he is convinced. This authenticity also encompasses around 22,000 motorcycle videos on custom-bike.com – all uploaded by hand. “You’ll find a film for every motorbike on our platform.”


There’s a community, the CUSTOMBIKE platform is running, but a piece was still missing from the puzzle. “There are people from all over the world buying and selling on my platform, and in some cases large sums of money are changing hands. I needed to offer a secure means of payment transaction, Paypal or credit cards just weren’t enough.” Komminoth’s idea: The sale would be processed using a payment platform and company he would create himself. The buyer orders and pays, the seller delivers and receives the money once the buyer has received the bike. Neither of them can access the money between payment and delivery. Komminoth founded CBFS – CB Financial Services AG – for this specific purpose. And realised: If he wanted to offer the requisite security, he would need to comply with regulatory provisions and offer digital identification.


“We can do what a bank does – just better and more inexpensively”

“In theory, I knew what to do. I drafted a duty-of-care concept that I submitted to FINMA.” The skull and crossbones on his CBFS business card would soon go down in history. But he didn't have the technical know-how. He found it two years ago in the form of Roland Rüttimann, a man with many years of experience in the banking industry. At the time, he provided streaming software for event managers. Komminoth quickly realised that this software satisfied his expectations of digital identification. He got Rüttimann on board and together they developed the product on which all his hopes rest today. “By offering payment processing and digital identification, we can offer the same service as a bank with a bank guarantee, just much more straightforwardly and inexpensively.” And: “Whether you’re paying for motorcycles, art or raw materials with our solution doesn’t matter. Security is provided for buyers and sellers.”


Komminoth intends to go a long way with his fintech solution. Rüttimann believes in him: “We trust each other blindly. Marcel is a real rocker: For him, honour and trust are what matters, and he’s a visionary.” Whether Komminoth really will have success in the highly competitive fintech market remains to be seen. The digital identification solution will being going live for the first customer in the next few weeks, and the CBFS solution will also be rolled out soon on his platform over the next few weeks as well. The market might react to the unconventional biker in the same way that the FINMA representative did when he handed over his business card with the skull and crossbones on it. Surprised at first, then delighted: He’d never been given such a cool card before.


Mr. Custombike

Marcel F. Komminoth, 44, is the founder and chief executive of CUSTOMBIKE AG and CB Financial Services AG. His previously worked as a real estate agent, and he spent a number of years working in different positions at Credit Suisse. Komminoth runs one of the biggest bike communities in the world with more than 2 million followers. He is married with two children and lives in Grisons.


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