Neobanks that eschew physical branches for digital technology have sprung up around the world, with handy apps for budgeting, saving and transferring funds. But only one such startup that we’re aware of had to sue their chief regulator for the right to use artificial intelligence to root out suspicious activity by potentially law-breaking customers. In 2022, Bunq founder and CEO Ali Niknam won a landmark case against the Dutch central bank, opening the door for new methods of bank monitoring for problematic behavior such as money laundering.
This year brought another bold move from the Canadian-born, Amsterdam-based entrepreneur: an application for a US banking license. Although the timeline for a decision remains unclear, “[w]I am in constructive dialogue with the three regulators,” Niknam tells Quartz.
Niknam, who is 42, started his first company at 16, went to school for computer science, and in his early 20s started TransIP, a domain name and web hosting company in the Netherlands. The money he made with TransIP allowed him to fund his idea for Bunq; the company took his first outside investment in 2021.
Approval from US regulators would give Bunq bragging rights other European neobanks that have tried but have not yet obtained their own license in the US—Germany’s N26 and the UK’s Monzo and Revolution among them—along with access to the approx 5 million European expats and businesses operating in the USA.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, Bunq has gained 10 million users since launching its app in 2015. It’s especially popular with expats, digital nomads and other European hop-scotchers because the app lets you open sub-accounts to easily transact do in various countries.
Two other milestones in 2023: the company has its first full year of profitabilityand this took in another €44.5 million ($47.9 million) in funding, bringing its total capital raising over the course of the year to around $100 million, at a valuation of $1.8 billion, while deposits passed $4, 8 billion climbed.
What will 2024 bring? Look out for AI-based services that go beyond Bunq’s back office.
This story is part of Quartz’s Innovators List 2023a series that highlights the people who are deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good around the world. Get the full list here.