Interview with N26 Founder & CFO Maximilian Tayenthal

Challenger banks are on the rise, with more and more digital savvy people losing faith in conventional banking methods and seeking a more customer friendly alternative. We sat down with Maximilian Tayenthal, founder, and CFO of one of the fastest growing challenger banks, N26, to talk about the digital baking revolution and the importance of creating a great user experience over all else.

N26 CFO and founder, Maximilian Tayenthal

What was the inspiration behind N26?

When N26 was founded, digitization in the financial services industry was lagging way behind, many customers lost faith in their traditional banks and user behaviour had changed dramatically towards digital solutions. We wanted to make banking fun again, simple, fast, transparent and contemporary. Our inspiration came from the likes of Spotify and Google maps, who offer a great user experience, not from traditional banks.

“We wanted to make banking fun again, simple, fast, transparent and contemporary.”

What is the company’s vision for banking?

With N26, we want to build a bank the world loves to use. Considering that, according to the Millennial Index, 7 out of 10 people surveyed  today would rather see their dentist than go to a bank branch, it is evident that banking needs to change drastically and the digital only route is a logical step.

How does your ‘real-time banking’ offering differ from traditional banking applications?

We have built N26 from scratch and designed banking for the lifestyle of today’s digital customer. We haven’t just developed another interface or marketing channel for an existing offering with outdated processes and products. This is a huge difference and the fact that over 50% of our growth today is 

based on recommendations from our customers who value the N26 user experience, is one of the proof points which shows we have the right strategy and product.

We also operate at a much lower cost base than traditional banks, without an expensive branch network and using the most modern technology. Our lean organizational structure also enables us to implement innovation and the best products on the market much faster than traditional banks.

“7 out of 10 people surveyed  today would rather see their dentist than go to a bank branch”

You have positioned yourselves as an international bank without borders, why did you take this approach?

We see a  similar demand from our customers in all markets we operate in. Though in some countries their might be slight differences on products preferred, customers around the world expect contemporary, simple, transparent and fast mobile banking and a great user experience.

How does the account opening process work?

Opening an account only takes 8 minutes. Everything is paperless and fully digital with our customers being guided through each step.

“…customers around the world expect contemporary, simple, transparent and fast mobile banking and a great user experience.”

You have over 500,000 customers across the globe right now, what caused your customer base to grow so rapidly?

As a matter of fact, more than 50% of our growth today is organic. It is based on recommendations from existing customers, primarily because they value the unparalleled N26 user experience, and access to the best banking products which we offer at much lower prices thanks to our business model.

What challenges were involved in establishing a strong global customer base?

In general, our customer base is not so diverse. They all are digital customers who are looking for a contemporary banking experience without any hassle and without high fees for products they do not need.

We have built our business in three steps: First there was the development and market launch with a partner bank, then we applied for a banking licence to be independent and thirdly, when the licence was granted, we built our own banking infrastructure and migrated our customers.

Each of these three phases of course had its challenges, yet, most of them were rather process driven. Today, the main challenge for us is to get the right people in the team as there’s a war for talent out there.

“Today, the main challenge for us is to get the right people in the team as there’s a war for talent out there.”

Can you see a future where cryptocurrencies are embraced by banks and neo-banks, such as yourselves?

At this point in time, cryptocurrencies are not a big topic for our customers and we therefore focus on products, they demand, i.e. more savings options. Yet, cryptocurrencies may be especially interesting for digital customers like ours and therefore it is a trend we carefully monitor and consider adding to our product range should we see growing demand.

If people want to get involved, how can they sign up and be part of the N26 movement?

We encourage all of our customers to share their thoughts and ideas with us, and provide multiple channels for them to get in touch. When launching new products, our customers are the first ones to test them out before we make them available to new sign ups. We also conduct surveys among our customers on a regular basis to see where we can improve. Without our customers, our product would not be as good as it is today, that’s for sure.

About Maximilian Tayenthal

Maximilian Tayenthal, born in Vienna, studied Business Administration, International Management and Law in Vienna, Rotterdam and Paris. He is also a Chartered Financial Analyst charterholder. He worked as a strategy consultant with Booz & Company, assistant to the CFO in an Austria’s largest insurance company and gained experiences in Corporate/M&A in a law firm before he founded N26, the leading Mobile Bank in Europe, together with Valentin Stalf in 2013.

Since product launch in 2015, N26 has grown to more than 500.000 banking customers across 17 European markets, raised more than 55 million USD from some of world’s renowned venture capital investors including Li Ka-Shing’s Horizon Ventures, Battery Ventures, and Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures. Currently, N26 employs more than 350 people headquartered in Berlin.