Disruption in the banking industry is not a new phenomenon and FinTechs are now an integral part of every discussion, mentioned in one breath besides traditional banks. One of such financial tech companies is N26. This neobank, or to be more precise, ‘app-only bank’ compares with Uber in the taxi business or Spotify in the music industry, and transforming the business as we know it. At the 14th Retail Banking Forum in Vienna, Valentin Stalf, CEO of N26 shared his views on how to make banking enjoyable by design and integrate products with customer-first thinking.
Interview with Valentin Stalf
What is the difference between N26 and other Neobanks that would make me want to move my account to you?
I think we have tried to build an experience that is very similar and comparable to Spotify, Uber and any other great apps that you use daily; we tried to actually build something without looking at traditional banks, but built something from scratch as you would build it for a digital native. I think we have done a pretty good job. Our customers like the product; you can, for example, sign up within five minutes, you don’t have to sign any papers, you get your card a couple of days later and I think we just tried to have a really cool digital native experience.
Besides all the new features you present, is there any similarity with a traditional bank? Do you have something in common?
I absolutely think the needs of the customers haven’t changed, customers still want to have, sometimes they have too little money, they want to have financing, sometimes they have too much money they want to invest or save, or sometimes they want to insure something. So I think the fundamental needs are very much the same as they were 20 or 30 years ago, but I think the way how you interact with your bank – whether you go to a bank branch or do you do everything on your mobile – that has changed completely. That’s what we are aiming for and what we are doing different.
And is there a challenge or issue that people find it more difficult to trust a bank that is purely digital or a mobile app?
Because all our marketing happens in the digital realm and you know having a smartphone, having Facebook and Twitter also changed how you do marketing. Ten years ago, you would have to invest 10 million euros for additional marketing campaigns, but today, people give trust if they go to the app store and they see, I don’t know, 500 reviews that are positive; suddenly you have created a brand within a very short time that is very trusted. So because we have the social media, the app store and ratings of customers, we have created trust in a very short time. And I think that’s what you can do today – it doesn’t take 10 years to create a bank; you can do it in a couple of years and you can be more trusted I would say than traditional branches.
What is your vision for the future? You have currently joined forces with TransferWise; is there any other step you would like to make?
The big focus that we have is to kind of try to build a platform of the best FinTech innovations all around the world, because we believe that we cannot be the best in every product that we are building, so we try to leverage the best companies all around the world and give our customers one-click access to these products. One example is TransferWise; I think it’s a very cool product and we try to do that for all the dimensions, meaning we do it for saving products, for investment products, for credit products and also for insurance products and that means we always select the best partners for all of these products and then we can be better than a traditional bank in every dimension.
Do you consider yourself as being a disruptor or even a competitor to a traditional bank? Or are your competitors other neobanks?
I think competition is very low in our segment. Traditional banks are very old and very slow, so there is not so much digitalization coming from them. I think we really focus on execution and our customer. We see their needs and we see that customers like our product, so they just sign up for our product without us really investing in customer acquisition and that’s cool, but I also think there are some traditional banks that are better at digitalization obviously, so that’s also a little bit of competition; you have a few neo and challenger banks in the UK, but you don’t have them so much in Central Europe.
And where do you see the future of the banking industry in general?
I believe the bankers of the future are going to be designers and product managers and not traditional bankers that you find in a bank branch. The industry is going to be much more efficient: I think there will not be banks with 100,000 employees. Our company has around 160 employees. Maybe we will have 500 or 1,000 at one point, but I don’t think you need to have 100,000. So I think the industry will be much more efficient, with many more technology-savvy people, many more risk analysts in the background, but very specific highly skilled people – not like the broad labor that today’s banks are employing.