challenger bank

Point wants to provide credit card rewards with debit cards

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Point, a new challenger bank in the U.S., is launching publicly today with an invite system. While Point is technically providing a bank account, the company focuses on rewards associated with a debit card.

“I started Point as a solution about everything that is frustrating and complicated about credit cards. The incentives between credit card companies and cardholders are misaligned,” Point co-founder and CEO Patrick Mrozowski told me.

When Mrozowski first got a credit card, he was spending a ton of money to reach a certain level of spending and unlock the sign-up bonus. At the end of the month, he ended up with credit card debt for no valid reason.

“What would American Express look like today?” he says to sum up Point’s vision. It comes down to two important principles — being in charge of your budget so that you don’t end up with debt and unlocking rewards from brands that you actually interact with.

Many challenger banks want to provide a simple banking experience for the underbanked. Point doesn’t have the same positioning. Creating a Point account is more like joining a membership program.

When you sign up, you get a debit card with some level of insurance as it’s a Mastercard World Debit card. You can expect some trip cancellation insurance, rental car insurance, purchase insurance, etc.

As the name of the startup suggests, you earn points with each purchase. You get 5x points on subscriptions, such as Spotify and Netflix, 3x points on food, grocery deliveries and ride sharing, and 1x points on everything else. Points can be redeemed for dollars — each point is worth $0.01. In addition to that, Point is going to create a feed of offers with discounts, content, events and more.

Due to its premium positioning, Point isn’t free. You have to pay $6.99 per month or $60 per year to join Point. Point doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees.

You can connect your Point account with another bank account using Plaid. It lets you top up your account using ACH transfers. Behind the scenes, Point works with Radius Bank for the banking infrastructure, an FDIC-insured bank.

The company announced earlier this month that it has raised a $10.5 million Series A led by Valar Ventures with Y Combinator, Kindred Ventures, Finventure Studio and business angels also participating.

Image Credits: Point

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Vivid is a new challenger bank built on top of solarisBank

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Meet Vivid, a new challenger bank launching in Germany that promises low fees and an integrated cashback program. The two co-founders, Alexander Emeshev and Artem Yamanov, previously worked as executives for Russian bank Tinkoff Bank.

Vivid doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and is building its product on top of well-established players. It relies on solarisBank for the banking infrastructure, a German company with a banking license that provides banking services as APIs to other fintech companies. As for debit cards, Vivid is working with Visa.

If you live in Germany and want to sign up to Vivid, you can expect a lot of features that you can find in other challenger banks, such as N26, but with a few additional features. Vivid users get a current account and a debit card. They can then manage their money from the mobile app.

The physical Vivid card doesn’t feature any identifiable details — there’s no card number, expiry date or CVV. Just like Apple’s credit card in the U.S., you have to check the mobile app to see those details. Every time you make a purchase, you receive a notification. You can lock and unlock your card from the app. The card works in Google Pay but not yet in Apple Pay.

In order to make money management easier, Vivid lets you create pockets. Those are sub-accounts presented in a grid view, like on Lydia or N26 Spaces. You can move money between pockets by swiping your finger from one pocket to another. Each pocket has its own IBAN.

You can associate your card with any pocket. Soon, you’ll also be able to share a pocket with another Vivid user. Like on Revolut, you can exchange money to another currency. The company adds a small markup fee but doesn’t share more details.

As for the cashback feature, the startup focuses on a handful of partnerships. You can earn 5% on purchases at REWE, Lieferando, BoFrost, Eismann, HelloFresh and Too Good To Go, and 10% on online subscriptions, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Nintendo Switch Online. While it’s generous, you’re limited to €20 maximum in cash back per month.

Interestingly, Vivid also wants to bring back Foursquare-style mayorship. If you often go to the same bar or café and you spend more than any other Vivid user over a two-week window, you become the mayor and receive 10% cashback.

Vivid has two plans — a free plan and a Vivid Prime subscription for €9.90 per month. Prime users receive a metal card, more cash back on everyday purchases and higher withdrawal limits.

The company plans to launch stock and ETF trading in the coming months. Vivid also plans to expand into other European countries this year.

Vivid is entering a crowded market, but already offers a solid product if everything works as expected. It’s going to be interesting to see how the product evolves and if they can attract a large user base.

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Revolut expands bank account aggregation to Ireland

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, Finance, fintech, Mobile, neobank, Open Banking, Revolut, Startups, TrueLayer | No Comments

Fintech startup Revolut has expanded its open banking feature to Ireland. The feature first launched in the U.K. back in February. Once again, the startup is partnering with TrueLayer to let you add third-party bank accounts to your Revolut account.

The feature launch also marks the launch of TrueLayer in Ireland. For now, Revolut users can only link their Revolut account with AIB, Permanent TSB, Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland. Revolut and TrueLayer will add support to other banks in the future. Revolut currently has 1 million customers in the Republic of Ireland.

The idea behind open banking is quite simple. Many online services rely on application programming interfaces (APIs) to talk to each other. You can connect with your Facebook account on many online services, you can interact with other services from Slack, etc.

Financial institutions have been lagging behind on this front, but it is changing thanks to new regulation and technical updates. With open banking, your bank account should work more like a traditional internet service.

When you connect your bank account with Revolut, you can view your balance and past transactions from a separate tab that lists all your linked accounts. Users can also take advantage of Revolut’s budgeting features with their bank accounts.

As TechCrunch’s Steve O’Hear noted when he first covered Revolut’s open banking feature, Revolut was originally authorized for Account Information Services (AIS) by the U.K. regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority. It lets you access and display information from other financial institutions.

But the startup now has permission to carry out Payment Initiation Services (PIS). It means that you’ll soon be able to initiate transfers from your bank account directly from Revolut. It should make it much easier to top up your Revolut balance, for instance.

While this feature might seem anecdotal, Revolut wants to build a comprehensive financial hub for all your financial needs — a sort of super app for everything related to money. With open banking, you theoretically no longer have to open your traditional banking app.

Image Credits: Revolut

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Monzo confirms £60M down round, with a new pre-money valuation of £1.24B

Posted by | challenger bank, Europe, Fundings & Exits, Mobile, monzo, TC, valuation | No Comments

Monzo, the U.K. challenger bank with more than 4 million customers, has confirmed it has closed £60 million in top-up funding.

Backing the round are existing investors Y Combinator, General Catalyst, Accel, Stripe, Goodwater, Orange, Thrive and Passion Capital, along with new investors Reference Capital and Vanderbilt University.

One of fintech’s worst-kept secrets, the down round sees the bank take a 40% hit in its paper pre-money valuation compared to its previous round, now priced at £1.24 billion.

That’s likely a reflection of the current funding climate amidst the coronavirus crisis, with Monzo having to raise a bridge round at quite possibly the worst time.

I also understand from sources that a number of Monzo’s later-stage investors played hardball, in a bid to force down the challenger bank’s ticket price, perhaps after investing at the height of the funding market pre-COVID-19. What is also interesting about the new round is that the share price is the same as the bank’s last equity crowdfund, meaning that the most recent armchair investors haven’t seen a paper loss.

Monzo is also disclosing that its business banking product has now reached 25,000 signups. Launched officially in March, the business bank account is aimed at sold traders and SMEs, with both free and premium paid-for versions available, offering various feature sets.

Meanwhile, it has been a turbulent time for Monzo, as it, along with many other fintech companies, tries to insulate itself from the coronavirus crisis and resulting economic downturn.

Planned layoffs in the U.K. were communicated internally earlier this month — up to 120, but now thought to be around 80. It followed earlier U.S. layoffs and the shuttering of its Las Vegas-based customer support office, and almost 300 U.K. staff being furloughed.

Like other banks and fintechs, the coronavirus crisis has resulted in Monzo seeing customer card spend reduce at home and (of course) abroad, meaning it is generating significantly less revenue from interchange fees. The bank has also postponed the launch of premium paid-for consumer accounts, one of only a handful of known planned revenue streams, alongside lending, of course, and the more recent business banking.

Separately, in May, Monzo co-founder Tom Blomfield announced internally that he was stepping down as CEO of the U.K. challenger bank to take up the newly created role of president. His replacement is current U.S. CEO TS Anil, who now also holds the title of “Monzo UK Bank CEO,” subject to regulatory approval.

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Challenger bank Bnext revamps rewards for purchases in partner stores

Posted by | Apps, Bnext, challenger bank, Europe, Finance, Mobile, neobank, Startups | No Comments

Spanish startup Bnext is revamping its cashback program so that you can buy from partner stores directly from the Bnext app and get some money back. The company has partnered with Button and the feature is available as an open beta.

Traditional cashback portals are a bit clunky. When you find an offer that gives you 2% of your money back, you click on the offer, get redirected to the partner site and hope that your purchase will be registered. A bit later, you get some money back on the cashback website, which you need to cash out to your bank account.

If you’re using Bnext as your bank account, you’ll be able to access rewards directly from your banking app. In addition to that, you don’t get redirected to another site as you purchase goods directly from the Bnext app.

There are multiple levels. If you’re making your first purchase through the feature, you get 1% in savings on average. If you’ve made more than three purchases over the past 30 days, you get 3% in savings on average. In order to reach level 3, you need a premium Bnext subscription. With that level, you get 5% in savings on average.

Partners include AliExpress, Booking.com, eDreams, Europcar, Nike, Just Eat and more. Eventually, the startup wants to let you earn rewards from in-store purchases as well. Bnext is creating a new revenue stream with this feature as the startup will keep a share of the revenue from each transaction.

Bnext provides current accounts and payment cards. You can receive notifications for each transaction with your card, and temporarily lock and unlock your card. You don’t pay any foreign transaction fee as long as you spend less than €2,000 per month with a standard account.

The company has also put together a marketplace of fintech products. You can earn interest by lending money to small companies on October, get a loan, an insurance product and more.

Earlier this year, the startup expanded to Mexico. The company plans to roll out rewards in Mexico soon. Bnext has managed to attract a bit less than 400,000 users.

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Revolut launches Revolut Junior to help you manage allowance

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Revolut is introducing a new product specifically targeted toward kids aged 7-17 years old — Revolut Junior. Revolut Junior is a new app and service that integrates directly with the main Revolut app on the parent’s side.

Parents or legal gardians who are also Revolut users can create a Revolut Junior account for their kid. After that, your kid can download the Revolut Junior app and get a Revolut Junior card.

The new app offers a limited set of features with an interface divided in two tabs — Account and Profile. Kids can see a list of transactions in real time in the Account tab. They can configure card settings in the Profile tab. And that’s about it.

On the other end, parents can control their kids’ spending from Revolut. They can transfer money to a Revolut Junior account instantly. Parents can also access balances and transactions as well as disable some card features, such as online payments. They can also choose to receive notifications when a child is using their card.

The reason why Revolut Junior can attract a ton of users is that Revolut itself already has over 10 million users. It’s going to be easier to convince existing Revolut customers to use Revolut Junior over a custom-made challenger bank for teens, such as Kard or Step. Arguably, the biggest competitor of challenger banks for teens is still cash.

As kids grow up, chances are they’ll switch to a full-fledged Revolut account if they’ve been using Revolut Junior for years. Revolut Junior represents a great acquisition funnel as well.

Revolut Junior is only available to Premium and Metal customers in the U.K. for now. The company will eventually roll it out to more users and more countries.

Revolut plans to add more features to Revolut Junior in the future. For instance, parents will be able to set a regular allowance and financial goals. Kids will get savings options, spending reports, spending limits and more.

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Credit Sesame launches a digital banking service focused on improving credit scores

Posted by | Apps, Bank, Banking, challenger bank, credit, credit scores, Credit Sesame, Finance, Mobile | No Comments

Credit Sesame is getting into digital banking. The credit and loans company, first launched at TechCrunch Disrupt in 2010, has since grown to 15 million registered users and, in 2016, achieved profitability. To date, its focus has been on helping consumers achieve financial health by taking steps to consolidate debt and raise their credit score. Now, it’s expanding to include digital banking, but with the goal of using its better understanding of its banking customers’ finances to better personalize its credit improvement recommendations.

The new service, Sesame Cash, has many features found in other challenger banking apps, like a general lack of fees, real-time notifications, an early payday option, free access to a sizable ATM network, in-app debit card management and more. Specifically, Credit Sesame says it won’t charge monthly fees or overdraft fees, and it provides free access to more than 55,000 ATMs and a no-fee debit card from Mastercard.

However, the banking app also serves a secondary purpose beyond its plan to take on traditional banks. Because the company has insights into users’ finances and repayment abilities, it will be able to offer personalized recommendations, including those for relevant credit products from its hundreds of financial institution partners.

Other features also differentiate Sesame Cash from rival challenger banks, including built-in access to view your daily credit score and a system that rewards consumers with cash incentives — up to $100 per month — for credit score improvements. The banking app includes $1 million in credit and identity theft protection, as well.

In the months following its launch, the company is planning to introduce a smart bill pay service that manages cash to improve credit and lower interest rates on credit balances, plus an auto-savings feature that works by rounding up transactions, a rewards program for everyday purchases and other smart budgeting tools.

“Through the use of advanced machine learning and AI, we’ve helped millions of consumers improve and manage their credit. However, we identified the disconnect between consumers’ cash and credit—how much cash you have, and how and when you use your cash has an impact on your credit health,” said Adrian Nazari, Credit Sesame Founder and CEO, in a statement. “With Sesame Cash, we are now bridging that gap and unlocking a whole new set of benefits and capabilities in a new product category. This underscores our mission and commitment to innovation and financial inclusion, and the importance we place in working with partners who share the same ethos,” he added.

Credit Sesame today caters to consumers interested in bettering their credit. The company says 61% of its members see credit score improvements within their first six months, and 50% see scores improve by more than 10 points during that time. Indeed, 20% see their score improve by more than 50 points during the first six months.

But one challenge Credit Sesame faces is that after consumers reach their goals, credit-wise, they may become less engaged with the Credit Sesame platform. The new banking app changes that, by allowing the company to maintain a relationship with customers over time.

Credit Sesame is a smaller version of Credit Karma, which was recently acquired by Intuit for $7 billion. Since then, it has been rumored to be another potential acquisition target for Intuit, if it didn’t proceed to go public. The banking service would make Credit Sesame more attractive to a potential acquirer, if that’s the case, as it would offer something Credit Karma did not.

The company says Sesame Cash bank accounts are held with Community Federal Savings Bank, Member FDIC.

The banking service will initially be made available to existing customers, before becoming available to the general public. The Credit Sesame mobile app is a free download for iPhone and Android.

 

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Pixpay is a challenger bank for teens focused on pocket money

Posted by | Apps, challenger bank, Europe, fintech, France Newsletter, Mobile, Pixpay, Startups | No Comments

Meet Pixpay, a French startup that wants to replace cash when you’re handing out pocket money to your kids. Anybody who is older than 10 years old can create a Pixpay account, get a debit card and manage pocket money.

Challenger banks are nothing new, but they’re still mostly targeted towards adults. If you want to create an N26 or Revolut account, you need to be at least 18 years old. You can create a Lydia account if you’re at least 14 years old with parental consent.

Pixpay, like Kard, wants to fill that gap and offer modern payment methods to teens so that you can ditch cash altogether. Parents and kids both download the Pixpay app to interact with the service.

A few days after creating an account, your child receives a Mastercard. It offers the same features that you’d expect from a challenger bank — you can customize the PIN code, lock it and unlock it, receive a notification with each transaction and restrict some features, such as limits, ATM withdrawals, online payments and payments abroad. Pixpay also lets you generate virtual cards for online payments.

In addition to some spending analytics, users can create projects and set money aside to buy an expensive thing after months of savings. Parents can also define an interest rate on a vault account to teach children how to save money. In the future, Pixpay wants to let teens collect money after a babysitting job for instance.

As for parents, they can send money instantly from the Pixpay app. You can top up your Pixpay account with your favorite debit card and send money on a regular basis (€4 per week for instance) or for one-off payment (here’s €15 for your movie ticket and fast food).

Parents can see an overview of multiple accounts in case you have multiple children using Pixpay. Eventually, the startup wants to let multiple parents manage the account of their child, which could be useful for separated couples.

Pixpay costs €2.99 per month per card. Payments and ATM withdrawals in the Eurozone are free. Transactions in foreign currencies cost 2% in foreign exchange and ATM withdrawals outside of the Eurozone cost €2.

The startup has raised $3.4 million (€3.1 million) from Global Founders Capital. The company partners with Treezor, a banking-as-a-service platform that lets you generate cards and e-wallet accounts using an API.

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Revolut supports direct debits in the UK

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Fintech startup Revolut is adding a key feature for users who want to replace their traditional bank account altogether. You can now pay with GBP direct debits. Revolut already added EUR direct debits last year.

While most people use cards to pay for goods and services in the U.K., some businesses require you to pay with direct debit. It can be a utility bill, a gym membership or a phone contract for instance.

Compared to card transactions, direct debits pull money directly from your account and transfer it to the recipient’s account. It doesn’t go through Mastercard or Visa. Some businesses love direct debits because it’s usually cheaper than card processing fees. Direct debits also don’t have an expiry date, unlike cards.

Customers from the European Economic Area can now share their GBP account details for direct debits in the U.K. Direct debits are protected against some fraud and payment errors by the U.K. Direct Debit Guarantee.

Revolut has partnered with Modulr for this feature as it uses Modulr’s API. Business customers will also be able to take advantage of direct debits. You can now pay suppliers with your account details, which could be convenient for large sums of money for instance.

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N26 launches its challenger bank in the US

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European fintech startup N26 is now accepting customers in the U.S. The company is launching a bank account with a debit card that should provide a better experience compared to traditional retail banks.

If you’re familiar with N26, the product that is going live today won’t surprise you much. Customers in the U.S. can download a mobile app and create a bank account from their phone in just a few minutes. It’s a true bank account with ACH payments, routing and account numbers.

A few days later, you receive a debit card that you can control from the mobile app. Every time you make a transaction, you instantly receive a push notification telling you how much money you just paid. You can set up your PIN code, customize limits, turn on and off online payments, and make ATM withdrawals or payments abroad.

And that’s about all there is to know. But what about fees? Basic N26 accounts are free. There’s no monthly fee and no minimum balance. There’s no fee on transactions in a foreign currency and you get two free ATM withdrawals per month.

N26 US App and Card

N26 is going to progressively roll out signups over the summer as a sort of beta program. If you’ve signed up to the waitlist, you’ll get an invitation over the coming hours, days and weeks. There are currently 100,000 people on the waitlist. N26 will then open signups to everyone later this summer.

When N26 rolls out its final product in a couple of months, the company says that it plans to automatically find and reimburse fees the ATM operators are charging. N26 cards in the U.S. work on the Visa network instead of Mastercard.

Just like Chime, N26 will also try to let you get paid up to two days early if you get paid via direct deposit. Instead of waiting a couple of days to clear those transactions, N26 will go ahead and top up your account.

N26 US 2

White label

Behind the scenes, there are a few differences between N26 in Europe and N26 in the U.S. While N26 has a full-fledged banking license in Europe, the company has partnered with Axos Bank, which is acting as a white-label partner in the U.S.

Axos Bank essentially manages your money for you, and N26 acts as the interface between customers and their bank accounts. As a result, you get an FDIC-insured account.

N26 first partnered with a third-party company in Europe, as well. But it was a costly deal that wasn’t meant to stick around. The startup got a banking license in Germany that was good for Europe at large. In the U.S., it’s a different story, as the market is not as unified as in Europe — it’s complicated to get a license to operate in all 50 states.

“We looked at 30 players, we did some due diligence and we’re happy to partner with Axos Bank. The deals that you get in the U.S. for white-label banks are much more favorable than in Europe,” N26 co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf told me. “It’s a setup for the longer term. It’s good for a couple million customers,” Stalf added later in the conversation.

Just a start

N26 is already planning more features for the U.S. The company plans to roll out two premium plans — N26 Metal and then N26 Black.

And it sounds like there will be some changes when it comes to perks for premium users. “We took that to a separate level,” Stalf said.

And shared Spaces are finally arriving in the coming months. Spaces are sub-accounts designed to put money aside. You can swipe money from one Space to another or you can set up automated rules.

Eventually, you’ll be able to share a Space with other people so that you can save money and spend money together. It’ll work “like a WhatsApp group,” Stalf said.

N26 currently has 3.5 million customers in Europe and has raised more than $500 million in total so far. There are now a thousand people working for N26 in Berlin, 60 employees in New York, 80 people in Barcelona and a small team of five to 10 people starting soon in Vienna.

“It went from being a small company to being an international company,” Stalf said.

N26 Spaces ENUS

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