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Edited Transcript of ATG1V.HE earnings conference call or presentation 11-Feb-20 12:00pm GMT

Q4 2019 Asiakastieto Group Plc Earnings Call

Helsinki Feb 13, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Asiakastieto Group Plc earnings conference call or presentation Tuesday, February 11, 2020 at 12:00:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Antti Kauppila;Head of FP&A

* Elina Stråhlman

Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CFO & Member of Executive Board

* Heikki Koivula

Asiakastieto Group Oyj - Director of Risk Decisions

* Jukka Ruuska

Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO

* Pia Katila

Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager

* Siri Bengtsson;Director of SME and Consumers

* Victoria Preger;Director of Marketing and Communications

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Conference Call Participants

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* Matti Ahokas

Danske Bank Markets Equity Research - Head of Equity Research of Finland

* Sami Sarkamies

Nordea Markets, Research Division - Senior Analyst of TMT

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Presentation

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [1]

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Good afternoon, all, and welcome to Asiakastieto's Full Year 2019 Results info. Welcome also all of you who are following this through the webcast system or listening on conference call live.

First, our management present here today. I have here with me our CEO, Jukka Ruuska.

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [2]

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Hello.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [3]

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CFO, Elina Stråhlman.

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Elina Stråhlman, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CFO & Member of Executive Board [4]

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Hello.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [5]

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Head of Planning -- Financial Planning and Analysis, Antti Kauppila.

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Antti Kauppila;Head of FP&A, [6]

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Good afternoon.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [7]

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Director of SME and Consumers, Siri Hane.

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Siri Bengtsson;Director of SME and Consumers, [8]

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Hi.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [9]

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Director of Marketing and Communications, Victoria Preger.

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Victoria Preger;Director of Marketing and Communications, [10]

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Hi.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [11]

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And Director of Risk Decisions, Heikki Koivula.

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Heikki Koivula, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - Director of Risk Decisions [12]

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Hi.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [13]

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My name is Pia Katila, I'm Asiakastieto's Investor Relations Manager. Our today's agenda is as follows: Jukka will go to full reviews of the group development and business areas, the status of Nordic integration, followed by the financials, outlook and guidance for 2020.

And after the presentation, we take first questions from our audience here in Kalasatama, Helsinki, then conference call line, and posted questions from the webcast system.

And for your information, all the presentation material is at the moment available on our investor pages.

And now please, Jukka, the stage is yours.

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [14]

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Thank you, Pia, and very warm welcome to discuss Asiakastieto's Fourth Quarter Results and naturally, also the Full Year figures from year 2019.

I will jump far less over the general part, and I will concentrate on figures, but also on resilience. And those -- some of you might remember that when we had our IPO almost 5 years ago, the IPO storyline was resilience and growth opportunities. And during these last almost 5 years, actually, the focus has been on growth opportunities, on growth. But now when the economic outlook is a bit more uncertain. So maybe it's time also to revisit a bit resilience team, respectively.

But let's start going and -- okay. And -- but before going to those topics. So it's worthwhile to note that we have an anniversary this year. So Asiakastieto is coming to the respectable age of 115 years. And here is a short description of the history. So there aren't quite many things happening since 1905. But in terms of key figures. So I think that the key thing is that the net sales on a comparable ForEx rate was growing a bit more than 11%, which is what we were expecting for, and that is something we consider fairly decent as such.

And the growth was coming from sort of usual suspects, i.e., that new services where we are contributing, let's discuss new services more. We had a good volume development, especially in our Swedish consumer business, but also the Nordic offering and cross-selling are starting to contribute.

And we will come back to the future outlook at the latter part as well.

Then in terms of integration process, it has been very fundamental thing. And something employing us fairly well, or fairly fairly much, or both in terms of Asiakastieto, you see a combination, but also with profit and consolidation and integration. It's in a mid phase. So after 1.5 years, since the acquisition of UC was closed, now we are roughly speaking at the half way. So we have reached the half of our estimated synergies.

The main emphasis has been with those cost synergies, they are faster to deliver. And therefore, we have been proceeding with those very well. There are still cost synergies to be materialized. But as said, so now we are going to focus more and more on synergies coming from sales and revenue.

In terms of Nordic business development. So we had 4.4% of our revenue coming from new services during the fourth quarter. And what is quite, quite nice, I think, that the bad raised debt from this machine. We had slight increase from the last quarter. And we are back on a level we had on our first quarter.

But nevertheless, the same things that have been impacting the new services development during the whole period since the integration of our acquisition and integration of UC, they are still there.

So platform transformation requires resources and attention. And therefore, we are not in a full speed. But as we already communicated with our third quarter results. So we expect for this year that we are going to end up to the higher level, concerning the share of new services.

From quarter-to-quarter, the new services level can vary. So it can be volatile because we are measuring such a short period of time, i.e., 24 months from which new services are accepted as new services.

The key examples of new services launched during the fourth quarter are account insight. And account insight is utilizing bank account data. So we are -- this service, categorizing bank account data. So that we can build additional applications on top of that.

And one of those applications we have built is the affordability service on consumers, i.e., you can look at what level of debt a consumer can afford. Another important example is housing transaction service launched in Finnish market. And the very first trade, with this service, which is -- which enables digital trade of apartments was made on 19th of December.

And this is a very important add-on and part of our housing-related processes, digitalization services. Another important new service was GDPR service in Sweden. And GDPR service is a GDPR-compliant customer register outsourcing service. And what makes it specific GDPR compliant is clearly the security, but also that we have built digitalized inquiry channels when consumer orders this and wants to make that kind of inquiries, she or he is entitled according to GDPR.

And then finally, the last example is digital inbox to the Swedish market. And the background for digital inbox is that in Sweden, we have to now notify all consumers, when consumers' data is being inquired. And it means that as a whole, we have 14 million inquiries on an annual level to be made.

And a majority of those inquires or announcements, notifications are still done by good old snail mail. Which is expensive, it's not good from the sustainability point of view and this digital inbox, in which the consumers can receive these notifications digitally, it's helping on those both aspects.

But also, it is excellent channel to communicate to these consumers of our services and products.

So these were, I think, very handsome examples of our new services development during the quarter.

Then jumping to this resilience thing. And really, if -- and at some point, we are going to see different economic environment and the economic cycle will turn. And under those circumstances, it's important to understand that significant part of our revenue is coming from risk management services. And the demand for risk management services tends to grow, then things are coming more difficult. And I've been using these Lehman crisis here as an example. So we had top line growth, that was a clearly 2-digit growth during those difficult years, and it was supported or created by the need of our customers to manage risks, especially during the difficult times.

And in our service development. This is an area where we are -- have been putting and are putting a lot of effort. And here are a couple of examples. Then we have a fair share of services that are non-cyclical, i.e., that the economic cycle doesn't have that much impact. And clearly those are where the key value proposition or significant value proposition is cost saving, those are belonging to this category.

And good examples are these -- our digitalization services or data-intensive processes like the housing processes. So they are enabling significant cost savings to our customers.

And on top of that, I'd say suppose, you are also getting quite often, improved customer experience, which is sort of placing of digitalized services.

And then finally, we have a very resilient category over the business cycle, that is must-have offerings. And they are very much related to compliance and in compliance. So all have to be -- and in good days and bad days. But -- and therefore, there is that kind of steady demand for compliance services. Clearly, making a clear difference between these non-cyclical part and must-have is different because very often, our compliance services are also decreasing costs.

And I have sustainability services here as well. Because what we are foreseeing is that sustainable processes, for example, the EU sustainable finance package, is going to include sustainability aspects to the credit processes. So it will be part of the compliance in large as well.

Then jumping over to the key ratios. For fourth quarter, we had growth rate of 11.11 -- 11.1%, as already mentioned, on a comparable ForEx rates. And that growth was coming from our well growing, nicely growing Swedish consumer business.

There was a good growth, as I already discussed, from new services development, relatively speaking. And then naturally, we had our Proff acquisition contribution to growth as well.

On Finnish consumer business, we had some nosewind with the regulation that came into force in the beginning of the September i.e., this interest rate gap regulation. So it has been removing few players from the market, and it has had its impact to the volumes.

But still, we managed to grow, but on a much lower rate.

On EBITDA, our growth rate was lower than the top line. On comparable ForEx rates, 8.3%. And what we had impacting to our EBITDA growth was, first of all, this already mentioned Proff acquisition. So the profitability of Proff business by characteristics of that business is significantly lower than what is our average margin.

And the impact of Proff on a quarterly basis means that the margin-wise, it is decreasing our margin, roughly speaking, with 1 percentage point. If you take that kind of scenario that we wouldn't have had Proff, then the EBITDA would have been growing faster than top line. However, I think that so far, we have been very pleased with Proff acquisition. And we are saying that the synergy (inaudible) continues well, and we are also anticipating growth in our Proff business.

Then another thing impacting to our EBITDA growth was that we had some unusual costs during the fourth quarter. They were mostly related to the IT platform, prestudies. So we are in the middle to build or rebuild our platforms. What we are calling as our platform transformation. And it requires a lot of work and part of that work has been prestudies on platform. Renewals and those prestudies are something we are not able to capitalize. So we have been costing those expenses for the fourth quarter.

Another thing impacting to the fourth quarter are costs related to our strategy work and related exercises. As well, we have invested quite a bit to marketing on our SMEC services and the results of those marketing are going to be harvested later, i.e., during this year.

So those are the key things behind our EBITDA growth figure. Concerning to the full year, I think that the top line growth wise on a comparable ForEx rates, a bit less than 11%. And EBITDA growth has been good, 18%, once again, on a comparable ForEx rates, reflecting the rapid execution of the cost synergies as such.

Then going over to business area part. On Risk Decision, growth overall speaking, 6% [more or less] reflecting those aspects, I was already discussing, i.e., good growth in Swedish consumer, nosewind with Finnish business -- with Finnish consumer business.

And sort of moderate growth on business information. With SMEC, SME and Consumers, major part of the growth came from Proff. So Proff is organized under SMEC.

But the Swedish, both SME and Consumer, direct-to-consumer businesses were growing. The Swedish offline business, offline offering for SMEs was declining. This is not a surprise.

In Finland, that part has been already closed earlier. And in Finland, our growth expectations for direct-to-consumer was delayed, by the delayed launch of our renewed platform for direct-to-consumer business.

It's now up and running, isn't it?

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Elina Stråhlman, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CFO & Member of Executive Board [15]

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Yes, it is. Launch (inaudible).

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [16]

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Yes. So now, it's up there. And clearly, we have expectations to see the growth taking place this year. Digital processes, good solid base growth from services. And then with Customer Data Management, we have a struggling, both with the Emaileri, which has been shrinking already early, but also with our B2B sales and marketing-related services.

And I think that to a large extent, we have still the same thing, as mentioned already earlier, i.e., that the GDPR regulation has been creating that kind of -- that level of uncertainty among our customers.

They don't really know what can be used, what is compliant with GDPR. And we haven't been that successful when helping and educating our customers. So there is plenty to do and plenty to be done on that side.

Then looking at the EBITDA components. So materials and services cost grew by some 8%. Some specific data elements acquired during the last quarter.

Personnel expenses, more or less flat. However, so that there is quite a big structural change. We outsourced Affarsfakta, and we acquired Proff. So there have been the biggest changes in our headcount.

And then a significant increase in other operating expenses, and that is mostly reflecting the change of Affarsfakta cost from personnel costs to selling -- sales commission.

But it includes also these already mentioned cost related to IT platform, prestudies and synergy and so forth.

And then finally, improvement in our capitalizations, which means that we have been able to shift focus from maintenance to development, which is good. Then looking respectively, free cash flow. And after the third quarter's record cash flows. So we are back on a more ordinary numbers. However, there is seasonality in our quarterly cash flow numbers, the major impact is coming, what is our timing, schedule or invoicing.

And then during the fourth quarter also, accelerated CapEx, accelerated investment activities were impacting to our free cash flow. However, in the end, sort of for the full year, our free cash flow as a whole was EUR 32 million, which shows that we have truly strong characteristics, as when it comes to cash flow generation.

Our net debt in relation to EBITDA in the end of fourth quarter was at the level of EUR 2.7 million, which is as well, what we were expecting. And we are in a good position now, before the spring and dividend payment, which is the biggest single cash flow item for us.

Then coming to the guidance. So we have renewed our guidance for coming year. And top line wise, what we are expecting is that, that we would be close to 10%, i.e., the upper range of our long-term goal, growth range.

And the growth contribution is going to be bigger or have an extra impact during the first half because Proff was consolidated from the beginning of the third quarter last year.

EBITDA wise, what we are expecting is slight -- slightly faster growth than top line. So to use exact words, same words that we have used. So we expect it to grow somewhat faster.

And CapEx wise. So we are going to invest during this year to new services development, but also to have a full steam ahead with our platform transformation program, and it will mean that our CapEx as a whole is going to be fairly close to 10% of our revenue.

And then finally, dividend. So the entire invitation to Annual General Meeting will be published at 4:00. But on dividend, it has -- it was already stated in our interim report. And the proposal is to have a flat dividend, i.e., EUR 0.95 per share. And this proposal is reflecting our belief that we have good homes for money. So in this interest rate environment. So we believe that when investing this money to our new services development or platform transformation program and to add-on acquisitions.

So we can provide very competitive reward, returns to our owners, to our investors. And therefore, we decided not to grow, not to increase our dividend.

In comparison to our EPS, sort of actual EPS. So we are clearly well beyond 100%. If we take the comparable EPS, i.e., where we are adjusting with our goodwill.

Amortization. So it is a bit more than 80% as a payout ratio.

So these were the key topics.

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Questions and Answers

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [1]

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Yes. And then we will continue with the questions. And first, questions from our audience here in Kalasatama, Helsinki.

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Matti Ahokas, Danske Bank Markets Equity Research - Head of Equity Research of Finland [2]

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I'm Matti of Danske Bank. 3 questions, if I may. Firstly, on the impact of the Finnish interest rate cap. You mentioned in the report. So I guess, it was significant or at least meaningful. So if you could give me a figure on how much that impacted the sales in the fourth quarter? Do you want to answer that, and then I continue, or?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [3]

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That improves my possibilities to remember the questions. Yes. So -- well, it has an impact, and we have raised the impact. But putting it in a perspective. So our sort of ballpark expectation for this year when we look at the Finnish consumer business is that the impact is less -- somewhat less than 5%.

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Matti Ahokas, Danske Bank Markets Equity Research - Head of Equity Research of Finland [4]

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5% of what?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [5]

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Our Finnish consumer business. And to get the ballpark, you can go few years back and check, when we were disclosing, what was the size of our Finnish consumer business.

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Matti Ahokas, Danske Bank Markets Equity Research - Head of Equity Research of Finland [6]

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Is this in Europe being kind of one-off thing? Or it's just the kind of permanent change in the market dynamics that this business has been lost because of the interest rate cap?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [7]

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Well, let's see how it goes. So in earlier, this kind of adverse regulatory impacts. So the pattern has been such that -- well it has been that the sort of growth on the volume at the market has been sort of causing, that has been inviting to the new regulation.

And after this growth, you see the regulation to come. And then you see a fairly sudden drop, or almost immediate drop in the volumes.

But then the business development restarts at the consumer lending houses. And what you have seen is a renewed growth coming as a result of new services. And the fact that the customer demand is there.

So the customer demand doesn't vanish with the regulation. So what we are expecting is to see some level of that kind of rebounding. It's impossible to say for what is the sort of magnitude of that rebound, but we are expecting to see some level of rebound.

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Matti Ahokas, Danske Bank Markets Equity Research - Head of Equity Research of Finland [8]

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Then a question on the guidance. If you annualize the Q4 sales, you get to 8% sales growth with -- and obviously, your guidance is, well, now you quantified it a bit more, it should be probably very close to the 10%, if I read you correctly. But just by having no growth from the Q4 figures, means 8% annualized growth in 2020.

It sounds fairly unambitious, let's say, this way? Or what are you assuming in the sales growth guidance?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [9]

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Well, I would say that at least when I'm looking at our guidance historically. So it is the boldest statement we have ever made. And therefore, I have difficulties to consider it as not being ambitious per se. And let's see where we are going to end. But clearly, what we are stating, what we are guiding is that we are above the average of our long-term growth target. And I think that it's pretty good.

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Matti Ahokas, Danske Bank Markets Equity Research - Head of Equity Research of Finland [10]

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And then finally, also on the guidance. Can you quantify what somewhat means in a bit more detail in terms of the margin? I assume that EUR 35 million adjusted EBITDA margin is the starting point where one should be looking at? And then that would grow in 2020, but what does somewhat mean?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [11]

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Yes. At least my favorite terms to discuss EBITDA is to look at how fast EBITDA is growing.

And rather than looking at the margins. Because margins are a bit the interest. Because if you get sort of stuck with margins, then you can easily avoid that kind of business that is a good, healthy business like Proff business. Because it's diluting your margins. Therefore, I'm rather looking at the growth of absolute euros.

And in terms of absolute euros somewhat means that it is going to grow slightly faster. And I know that is not sort of too much to say it more. But somewhat is noticeable, but not huge.

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Matti Ahokas, Danske Bank Markets Equity Research - Head of Equity Research of Finland [12]

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Yes, I think somewhat is more than slightly, as you mentioned, if I interpret it, but maybe we can continue this discussion.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [13]

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Thank you. Any other questions?

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Sami Sarkamies, Nordea Markets, Research Division - Senior Analyst of TMT [14]

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Sami Sarkamies, Nordea Markets. Some questions also from my end. Starting from the onetime costs you had in Q4. Can you give us a number on how much they were roughly related to these platform prestudies? And then your strategy review?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [15]

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The ballpark was something like EUR 300,000. Do you agree, Elina?

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Elina Stråhlman, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CFO & Member of Executive Board [16]

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Yes. And a decent, flat marketing costs.

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [17]

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And then the marketing cost comes on top of that, but...

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Sami Sarkamies, Nordea Markets, Research Division - Senior Analyst of TMT [18]

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Yes. Then moving on the synergies you discussed earlier, will you be able to extract any remaining cost synergies this year? Or will they require completion of the platform investments?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [19]

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Well, that was an excellent question because, actually, I was supposed to address that question in my presentation already. So we are going to have additional cost synergies during this year.

But what comes to the platform transformation program. So the key benefits are going to be harvested after year '21.

So the results start to be visible in our figures after 3, 4 years. We are going to define that period more closely when we are a bit more ahead in our program. And it means that those significant benefits coming from our platform transformation program are not included in the synergy goals.

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Sami Sarkamies, Nordea Markets, Research Division - Senior Analyst of TMT [20]

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Okay. And then on the revenue synergies. Have you seen any so far? Or will they mostly come after the platform renewal?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [21]

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Obviously, the platform transformation is going to trigger major benefit of our new services development. And we can develop by far more than half. I think that our estimate has been that 70% of our development can be unified for all markets where we have presence.

So it will be a huge impact. But as of now, we have launched already services to name a few. So I think that the most significant sales price is the housing valuation service, launching in Finland, which is based on the respective algorithm in Sweden.

This GDPR service in -- launch in Sweden now is another example of that kind of services, where we are cross utilizing already existing services.

Then on new services development side. So PSD2-based services are excellent examples of those. We can use exactly the same algorithm for the categorization purposes in both countries. So they are starting to contribute.

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Sami Sarkamies, Nordea Markets, Research Division - Senior Analyst of TMT [22]

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Okay. Then a couple of questions on your guidance for this year. When we think of top line growth drivers, do you anticipate any changes to sort of the drivers? Or will we see kind of like the same trends as seen in the second half of last year?

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [23]

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No major changes. So clearly, what we are expecting is a solid delivery from Risk Decision, with SME and Consumers. So we anticipate that our investments, both CapEx and marketing investments are contributing as well what we are expecting is that, that Proff is contributing. And then with the digital processes, we have very high expectations for these housing-related new services to generate growth and also new services growth. And with digital -- excuse me, with CDM customer data management, there is a combination of new services. We have just launched one new service during a significant service bearing sleeves compass. It is a new service, addressing that needs of municipalities to know the company's enterprise is operating on the region, for example, and combined with more dedicated sales effort to sell services in the field of CDM. So that we can revert this negative trend, what we have seen on CDM side.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [24]

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Thank you. Any more questions? Then we take questions over to telephone conference line, please, operator.

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Operator [25]

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(Operator Instructions) There appears to be no questions at this time.

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Pia Katila, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - IR Manager [26]

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Okay. And that was all regarding the questions. And to the end, I would like to remind you of our upcoming Investor Relations events. In week 10, we will publish our annual report for 2019. On 27th of March, we will have our AGM in Helsinki. As well as in Helsinki, our Capital Markets Day on 2nd of April. And in May 8, we will publish our Q1 Earnings. Please be kind and sign up to our events on our investor pages. And thank you. Have a nice rest of the week.

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Jukka Ruuska, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CEO [27]

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Thank you.

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Elina Stråhlman, Asiakastieto Group Oyj - CFO & Member of Executive Board [28]

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Thank you.