Neobanks – Game changers, but do they really care about their customers?

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Neobanks, digital banks, challenger banks – I don’t want to get into the exact specification of how and why we classify Fintechs across this complicated taxonomy. Neobanks have gone from strength to strength in the last three years. Especially in Europe, progress has been phenomenal.

Revolut, Starling, Monzo, N26, Tide and the list goes on. But apart from a cool customer journey at onboarding, better digital banking experience, do they offer anything meaningful? Do they really care more about their customers than the traditional high street banks?

Based on the news release yesterday about Revolut launching in Australia, their customer base was set to surpass the 5 Million mark. Monzo hit 2 Million users and are growing at about 150,000 customer per month. Starling have a relatively modest customer base of 600000, and also have a reputation that their services were as good as Monzo if not better.

I think atleast some of them have grown to a scale where they can be considered as operational banks. Let us therefore quickly go through how they are doing across different aspects of digital banking.

Onboarding: This is perhaps what digital banks have all been amazing at. A few months ago, when I moved from an iPhone to an Android phone, it took me about a minute or two to move my Revolut account to the new phone. My Barclays app is still not completely set up on my new phone.

This is true if you looked at business banking accounts as well. I had to wait for weeks to get a Barclays or a HSBC business bank account, whereas opening a Tide business banking account was a breeze. This is nothing new about Neobanks – we always knew they were champions at the onboarding customer journey.

Product Offering: I have found Neobanks good at their core proposition. Revolut for example, had a phenomenal uptake for the FX card and the app they have with it. However, they have taken a narrow and a deep approach to their product offering. That’s a very startupish way of developing a proposition.

I think, it’s high time Neobanks started to cross-sell products to their clients. Their product suite has been shallow in comparison to mainstream banks. Interest rates on accounts have been lower, business bank account balances have been lower, and some of the more advanced multi-user functionalities a business bank account needs are still work in progress – and those are just a few examples in already existing products.

They have all been focusing on growth and it’s understandable why they haven’t got the breadth of product offerings. However, the execution of their core offering has been excellent. For example, the user experience on tagging and managing transactions is good on these platforms. However, integration with ATMs or services like Paypal have been missed out by some of these Neobanks.

Customer Service: This is perhaps one area that decides if Neobanks are really providing the service quality they claim. Revolut have been making headlines for several wrong reasons recently and have almost got the “Spoilt Child” tag amongst Neobanks. Monzo recently had a breakdown of systems and that caused some noise on social media. Complaints data give us a bit of a perspective of what customers feel.

With 5 Million customers Revolut had 171 FOS complaints registered

With 2 Million customers Monzo had 82 complaints registered

With 600,000 customers Starling bank had 51 complaints registered

I have seen some illogical comparisons between them and the high street banks based on the number of complaints. Some high street banks have 100,000s complaints registered with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). But they also provide so many different product lines which the Neobanks don’t.

Therefore, it can’t be a like for like comparison. Comparisons could be at a product line level between a high street bank and a Neobank, however, I am not sure if that data is available.

With a simple AUM like calculation, Barclays at £1.13 Trillion AUM is 23 times bigger than Revolut that is £50+ Billion. Revolut’s 171 complaints feels pretty low even in that sense as 171*23 is ~4000 complaints. Although Revolut took some negative PR for its recent misadventures, the number of complaints per customer is not too different between them and the other top Neobanks.

Financial Inclusion: Let us look at some of the steps towards inclusion that the Neobanks have taken. 50% of UK bank branches have shut down in the past 30 years. However, Neobanks are creating new on the ground contacts to allow for more inclusion in a seamless way. Starling bank have partnered with Royal mail to accept cash from their customers. Monzo used paypoint in a similar manner creating over 30,000 points for customers to deposit cash.

They are also looking to be more inclusive from an age perspective. Less than 5% of Monzo’s customer base are over 60 years old, and that data can improve. Monzo, Revolut and Starling bank are all ramping up efforts to reach out to people of all age groups. This also makes commercial sense as people in their 60s generally are richer than people in their 20s.

As we can clearly see that, based on the data, Neobanks have just arrived. They have a long way to go before data can categorically drive conclusions on how well they have done (or not). With China’s Techfins piling money into the Neobanks of the west, may be it will not be long before we see Neobanks punching above their weight against high street competition.

Whether they compete with the mainstream banks is one question, but whether they will keep their culture of innovation and customer centred approach intact as they grow is yet another question.


Arunkumar Krishnakumar is a Venture Capital investor at Green Shores Capital focusing on Inclusion and a podcast host.

I have no positions or commercial relationships with the companies or people mentioned. I am not receiving compensation for this post.

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A Thinktank Fintech initiative out of Greece

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an English proverb that is not at all outdated. Small countries are developing regulatory frameworks to embrace and take advantage of the so-called “future technologies” because it will enable them to play vital roles in the 4th and 5th industrial revolution. As tech accelerates, it is expected that one generation may actually live through two major revolutions.

Smaller countries, policy-making organizations and think tanks are actively building the next layer to welcome the socio-economic changes that are inevitable.

A Greek think tank, To Diktio, was founded in 2013 with a European focus. To Diktio (the network in the Greek) is a member of the Foundation of Progressive Studies based in Brussels and focused on proposing reforms in Greece and Europe. I would like to thank the President of To Diktio, Anna Diamantopoulou[1] for reaching out to me. We can only grow through collaboration – see partnerships of ToDiktio, here.

To Diktio hosted yesterday a Fintech focused event for its members during which a very thorough Fintech report was presented by Dr. Kourouthanassis, of the Ionian University and Dr. Doukidis, of the University of Athens; and several policy reforms were suggested. I had the honor and pleasure to review the report (in Greek) and also participate virtually in the event to share some of my insights on Fintech global trends and the first necessary steps for Greece to dive into the Fintech opportunity which is much broader than simply reforming banking services (see video here – in Greek only).

The 40-page report offered a thorough overview of Fintech subsectors and also of the policies that have enabled countries to become Fintech hubs.

Naturally, mentioning first the FCA as an early pioneer in the Fintech. Highlighting that the first European Union country that developed a regulatory framework for “specialized banks”, was Lithuania.

The UK and Japan, are the leaders in establishing frameworks to facilitate the Open Banking movement.

Regulatory sandboxes exist in the UK since 2016 and only this summer the Central Bank of Spain announced a Fintech sandbox to be launched.

In Europe, only the UK launched Project Innovate last year to facilitate the dialog between Fintechs and regulators to innovate in the interest of consumers. Only in Australia, there is a comparable setup of the Capital markets authorities who setup as early as 2015, an Innovation Hub program to encourage the cooperation of regulators and innovators.

Fintech pulse

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Based on the Greek Fintech report, already in 2018, the median size of M&A fintech deals in Europe has nearly tripled from last year.

 

 

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Challenger banks, a European specialty, are the ones that have absorbed large Fintech investments; Revolut, Atom Bank, and N26.

 

 

Revolut has already opened offices in Greece, this past Spring. The penetration in the Greek market is remarkable. By the end of 2017, Revolut had acquired 55,000 customers in Greece, making Greece the 4th largest country/client for Revolut after the UK, France, and Lithuania. Revolut is planning to triple the customer base in Greece.

The first homegrown Greek challenger bank is PraxiaBank. The two also homegrown e-money companies are Viva Wallet and Tora Wallet. Viva is already well established with 60k retails clients and 280k business clients and 30mil euros of transactions only for 2018.

As expected several payment Fintechs have presence and business in Greece. Payments are the most mature but thin margin Fintech subsector. From the 375+ payment businesses with EU passporting, ten have reps in Greece and 9 have licenses to operate in Greece. From the 170+ e-payment Fintechs with EU passporting, 3 have a presence in Greece.

The largest Greek telco, OTE, has a new subsidiary Cosmote payments with a plain vanilla topup card. But what is more interesting is to watch what OTE does with their dormant insurance license and their newly acquired full banking license.

Opportunity via Fintech

The low hanging Fintech opportunity in Greece lies in alternative funding for SMEs. Greece is one of the few EU countries that lacks a crowdfunding and P2P lending framework.

The Greek government needs to launch a Digital ID platform borrowing design elements and tech from Estonia and India. Combining this with a basic regulatory reform for alternative lending, would be a short and long-term strategic move. In a traumatized economy that is recovering from foreign investments in real estate, Digital identities and access to alternative funding would make magic.

[1] Anna Diamantopoulou, has served in the Greek parliament for 11yrs and as European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities (1999-2004). She has served as Minister of Education, Lifelong Learning and Religious Affairs and as the Minister of Development, Competitiveness and Shipping. She active in several European think tanks.

Efi Pylarinou is a Fintech thought-leader, consultant and investor. 

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