I’ve been writing about the relationship that businesses and consumers have with banks for a few years now. Much of the impetus for my writing comes from my own frustration at just how bad banking is. For those of us used to the instant consumption models that we experience with e-commerce and other webscale organizations, dealing with a bank seems downright antiquated. banking is, after all, still typified by long delays (he says, waiting for a transfer from PayPal to finally clear) and a focus on paper forms, branch-based transactions, and manual processes.

One European vendor that was set up to bypass this antiquity is N26. The company calls itself the “mobile bank” and has grown rapidly in Europe off the back of the fact that it is the first player of its kind with a full European banking license. Essentially N26 took the traditional banking experience and redesigned it around the smartphone. As an example, opening a new bank account, traditionally a long and laborious process takes under 10 minutes and can completely be done on a phone. N26 users receive a Mastercard to pay cashless or withdraw cash all around the world. They can block or unblock their card with a simple click and send money instantly to friends and contacts.

N26 was founded by Valentin Stalf and Maximilian Tayethal in 2013 and launched the initial product in early 2015. Since the launch N26 has grown to more than 500.000 customers across 17 European markets. N26 currently operates in: Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain and employs 290 people. To fund all this growth, N26 has raised more than $55 million from investors including Li Ka-Shing’s Horizons Ventures, Battery Ventures, and Valar Ventures, in addition to members of the Zalando management board, Earlybird Venture Capital and Redalpine Ventures.

Go West, young man

But European dominance doesn’t seem enough for the ambitious N26 crew and the company is today announcing that US customers can sign up for a waitlist to the N26 service which will be rolling out in the middle of next year. N26 advises that the offering for US customers will be similar to the existing bank account currently available in the European market with additional services tailored to the US market.

N26 is leveraging the lessons it has learned in Europe and targeting its product for the digital-native set who are already very much attuned to living their lives in a mobile-first way. Says Valentin Stalf, Founder & CEO of N26:

We believe that N26 is a role model for the bank of the future. Customers around the globe are looking for a new banking experience, as user behavior among millennials has shifted dramatically towards a mobile experience. The US is an exciting new market which offers a huge opportunity for N26. We offer easy-to-use, transparent, and contemporary banking for all customers looking for modern, mobile banking.

N26 will initially offer a checking account with use of a card, money transfers, cash withdrawals, and features tailored to the US market, including a customer reward program. N26 operates as N26 Inc. in the US, based in New York. To comply with the regulatory framework N26 will be using a partner bank to provide its services to US customers.

Rethinking, rather than lipstick on a pig

N26 hasn’t just slapped a mobile interface onto existing banking infrastructure, which is generally the modus operandi of most existing banks with regards their mobile initiatives. Rather, the company is rethinking the way banking works within a mobile context. Simplicity is one of N26’s core values – from the signup process to accessing account statistics, every function is achievable quickly on a mobile device. Within the N26 app, cards can be locked and unlocked instantly and customers receive real-time push notifications with every transaction they make.

MyPOV

The US banking market is a notoriously complex one with significant regulatory hurdles to making things more agile. The fact that N26 is having to partner with a US bank in order to enter the US market is an indication of that. It also might be something of a handbrake on just how much innovation N26 can roll out into the market – as an example, setting up a US bank account is notoriously difficult and requires physical proof of residency and other paper forms – how much of this process N26 can circumvent remains to be seen.

It will be interesting to see how N26’s market entry goes, and whether they can really be as disruptive as they hope to be.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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