The court case of against Lieferheld made quite some buzz in the local startup scene. A lot of companies and founders are unsure whether their online business are now at threat by the BaFin and would actually need to acquire a licence. And though it seem complicated on first sight, once you understand the background there is only very little you have to fear for your venture.

Since a law change in 2009 the BaFin, the federal authority to observe the financial markets, is in charge to observe any money-transferal-service you offer to third parties. Now as Lieferheld asks for the money from their customers at time of order but only transfers it once a month onto the merchants account, there is a gap in which Lieferheld is holding that money for a third party, money that is not its own at that point. But as they’d be free to do with that money whatever they like until that point, the court considered this - correctly in my opinion - a business that needs to be observed by the BaFin.

So the core of the problem lies in the fact that Lieferheld is holding money for a third party, that - by law in Germany - is considered a financial service and requires that you apply to certain terms (mostly be transparent on what you do with that money meanwhile). Now if your business is getting money from customers and you use that to pay your supplier this is not a financial service - this is simply called doing business. Which means if Lieferheld would have take the pizza in their own hand, handed it over to the customer themselves, they would not have the same problem - but as they would have a bunch of other problems, mainly warranty and complaints, they are not doing that. If your business instead is mostly handling connecting to party and aside from making your own fee, you also handle the money for them, you are acting as a financial provider to at least one of them.

Rule of thumb therefore is: If you are the one providing the service to your customers, you are fine charging them for it even if you have suppliers to pay for. But if you are charging not only your fees but even more money from a customer for a services provided and carried out by a third party, you should talk to a lawyer on how to adapt your terms of services to covers this.