Challenger banks in France
France is a key destination for many challenger banks, whether they are local or international. But, with so many new entrants in the market, will there be room for everybody? FinTech Futures is exploring the challenger bank landscape in France considering their offerings and their technology.
We’ll be revisiting and updating this list on a regular basis. If you have any additions to the list, please get in touch with our editorial team.
Last updated: 22 June 2020
Anytime is a Belgian bank with a subsidiary in France. It mainly targets SMEs, self-employed workers, start-ups and charities. In July 2014, the company launched its first products aimed at teenagers but, at the end of 2015, Anytime refocused on business accounts. As part of this solution, Anytime partnered up with another start-up, SumUp, that provides card terminals to allow small merchants to accept card payments anywhere.
Users can make online payments in France and abroad. Businesses also benefit from an accounting and an expenses management tool.
Anytime has built its own APIs to manage accounts linked to IBANs, international transfers, to emit physical or virtual MasterCard cards or even to manage users’ KYCs. Anytime also puts its APIs to the service of other companies, which enables developers to set up connections between their devices and Anytime.
In January 2021 Anytime was acquired by fellow French challenger, Orange Bank.
Société Générale launched a free account called Banxup for teenagers which connects to their parents’ pre-existing accounts with the bank in June 2020.
The app offers complete parental control. Children can send requests for money through the app “with two clicks” to their parents, who can then validate the requests “in one click”, the bank said in a statement.
Parents can see all their child’s expenses and can set limits on the bank card attached to the teen account – e.g. setting withdrawal amounts or payment ceilings, and blocking or unblocking the card.
Owned by Société Générale, this challenger was launched in 2006 and now claims to have 700,000 customers on its LinkedIn page.
With cards issued by Visa, the bank allows customers to increase their credit card limits after just three months of being on the platform and allow free international payments. The card is branded as ‘free’ and new customers will be credited €80 when they open an account with a credit card (offer last checked 24 October 2019). But if you don’t make a transaction in over a month, users face a €5 fee.
Other features include life insurance, savings and budget solutions and mortgages with fixed rates of 1.65% for up to 15 years. It’s ‘Visa Premier’ debit card, at €9 a month, allows a users to take out an overdraft of up to €2500. Insurance is automatically included in this premier card.
The bank also offers 12-17-year-olds an alternative called Kador, which includes a free credit card and free international payments.
Bunq was originally launched in the Netherlands and stepped into the French market in November 2018. The neobank had already expanded to Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. In a press release announcing its launch in France, Bunq presented itself as “the only bank that supports Maestro and Mastercards for Apple Pay”, which, they said, “offers French users the ability to pay everywhere with their mobile phone.”
Customers can open a current bank account once they have downloaded the mobile app, which gives them access to a debit card. The Premium option costs up to €7.99 ($8.96), while the Joint one costs €9.99. The bank mainly focuses on payments and does not allow any savings or overdrafts.
In November 2018, bunq also partnered up with TransferWise, allowing users to send money in 15 currencies straight from their bunq app. bunq is the second challenger bank that TransferWise has teamed up with this year. In June, the company partnered with Monzo, powering international money transfers for the digital bank’s 750,000 customers.
Bunq built its own banking system from scratch. A spokesperson from the firm previously told FintechFutures that building the key software itself, would allow the bank “to be fully independent”. Bunq launched a public API initiative in early 2017, which enables developers to set up connections between their devices and bunq through the API.
Compte Nickel is a current account service accessible to everyone, including customers banned from banks or foreign residents, and is available throughout a vast network of newsagents and tobacconists in France.
Founded in 2014 by Hugues Le Bret, former CEO of Boursorama (a digital bank launched in 1995), Compte-Nickel now counts some 1.2 million customers.
The account can be open in a few minutes with an ID, a phone number and an address. It has an IBAN number and is equipped with a Mastercard card that can be used for ATM withdrawals worldwide.
Compte Nickel has also made an important technological breakthrough by providing 100% real time information on all transactions. A customer can make withdrawals and cash deposits at the newsagents/tobacconists and also check the account status in real-time online and via SMS.
It took three years to the Financière des Paiements Électroniques (FPE), which provides the digital banking service to set up operations and obtain regulatory approval. In 2017, BNP announced its intention to buy a 95% stake in FPE.
Ditto Bank presents itself as a bank that combines “the reliability of a bank with the flexibility of a fintech.” It was launched by Travelex in February 2018. Travelex holds its own banking licence and is regulated by Authorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution.
Ditto Bank is aimed at people who need to access multiple currencies on a regular basis such as frequent travellers, expatriates and online shoppers. Its multi-currency model means customers can open current accounts in some 30 currencies.
Customers need to download an app to open current accounts, manage their money, make transfers and complete foreign exchange transactions.
For its technology, Banque Travelex uses the FMS.next core system from Profile Software, which supports the bank’s core processing, payments and treasury operations.
Crédit Agricole launched Eko in December 2017 with the entry-level plan standing at €2 a month with no income requirement to open an account.
Despite looking like a challenger bank, CA’S deputy CEO Bertrand Corbeau told Money Vox that it’s an “entry-level Crédit Agricole” offering. “Eko is not an online bank, let alone a neo-bank, but […] admittedly the offer probably allows to retain customers tempted by some new players for price issues,” Corbeau said in March 2019.
In first six months of 2019, Eko’s customer base exceeded 100,000. But Corbeua estimates 25% of these are already familiar CA customers, rather than net-new.
Fortuneo, a subsidiary of banking and insurance service Crédit Mutuel Arkéa, has a similar offering to France’s Boursorama Bank. With an €80 incentive for net-new customers opening a credit card account (offer last checked 24 October 2019), it also promises no fees will be incurred on the card for payments abroad.
Issued by Mastercard, Fortuneo’s card, which was released in October 2019 and is called Fosfo, is not the only feature in the challenger’s suite. It also offers life insurance and a 1.18% fixed rate mortgage for up to 25 years. Home buyers can borrow anything between €100,000 and €1 million.
Hello Bank! is the digital banking subsidiary of one of the largest French incumbent banks, BNP Paribas. It was first launched in Belgium and Germany in May 2013, and then in France a month later. In France, Hello Bank! solely targets B2C customers.
But, the highly competitive nature of the B2C banking market in France means Hello Bank! must diversify its operations. In 2019, BNP announced that Hello Bank! would have to opt for a new strategy, in order to be profitable by 2022. So, instead of focusing solely on retail banking activities, Hello Bank! will offer new products targeted at freelancers and small business owners by the end of the year.
BNP already owns another digital bank: Compte Nickel, which BNP acquired in 2017 and which serves more than 1.3 million customers in France. In comparison, Hello Bank! recorded a bit more than 400,000 clients as of February 2019.
Kard is a bank targeting young adults. It offers the possibility to open an account and receive a card for free, track balances, manage and grow savings from the mobile app. Moreover, users can interact with their friends via a chat option.
The Paris-based fintech raised a pre-seed funding round of $3.3 million in May 2019 and is supposed to launch to market during the year.
Ma French Bank
Digital only subsidiary of La Banque Postale, Ma French Bank launched its mobile bank in July 2019 with its cheapest plans starting at €2 a month.
Cards are issued with Visa, and at the lowest level plan users can send transfers via message, split money for group gifts and all expenses are immediately categorised.
The major selling point is the promise of a human operator on the other side of the phone if anything goes wrong. However the mobile-only bank, which has a team taking calls in Lille, France, has struggled to meet satisfactory response times. According to La Revue du Digital in September 2019, the Lille team of around 60 people had been “under pressure” since the Ma French Bank launched.
Moneway, based in Villers-le-Lac in the French countryside, aims to provide financial services to a mainly young audience and claims to want to provide them with control over their financial lives.
The firm provides users with both a French international bank account number (IBAN) and bank identifier code (BIC), and allows them to set spending limits, enable or disable payments methods, and make real-time payments to friends.
Still in in a beta phase, Moneway operates as a payment service agent of Treezor, a licenced banking-as-a-service company owned by Société Générale.
Several the bank’s employees previously worked at technology and augmented reality firm Blippar, which folded in 2018 after spending all its $120 million funding, forcing investors to block further injections.
Morning has had an unusual and difficult start. Originally launched in 2013, the fintech based in the South of France, saw its authorisation suspended by the French regulator, Autorité de contrôle prudentiel et de résolution (APCR) in December 2016. The reason? Morning failed to put in place the necessary mechanisms to protect its customers’ money.
Three years down the line and Morning seems to be reborn, like a phoenix from its own ashes. Acquired by Banque Edel (a bank owned by the French giant retailer, E.Leclerc), the neobank allows users to open an account and order a Morning Pay card in less than five minutes. This Morning Pay account is free and is linked to a French IBAN. It also offers a Mastercard usable at all Mastercard network traders worldwide.
Along with the product, it offers Morning Jump, a pocket money tool for teenagers as well as
“Morning-as-a-Service”, a proprietary platform for B2B customers offering products and services as a white label option.
As part of the B2B service, Morning has built an API catalogue, which was finalised in the autumn 2018. All the technologies used by the firm are available to third parties as part of a micro-service, which means that Morning can put together new technologies and services without having to redevelop everything.
The German fintech stepped into the French market in January 2017 and now counts some 600,000 clients in the country. According to news reports, N26 has set the ambition to become the first digital bank in France and has more than 3.5 million customers in 24 markets across Europe.
Like many other digital banks, N26 offers users a current bank account, an app to manage their financial transactions as well as a MasterCard that can be used online and at ATMs. In addition, customers can benefit from zero exchange fees on card payments in any currency thanks to a partnership with TransferWise.
It also introduced MoneyBeam to its UK users in June 2019, which lets users receive or transfer up to £100 with other N26 users in the UK.
For its underlying technology, N26 uses Mambu’s flagship core system, provided on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) basis.
Like many other banks, Orange provides real-time balances, mobile payment, innovative uses and a virtual adviser that is available 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. From the outset, it offers all the common attributes of a traditional bank with a current account, a bank card, an authorised overdraft, a free complementary insurance package and a savings account.
However, Orange Bank uses the same digital strategy as challenger banks, with all the operations and interactions between the customer and the bank carried out using a mobile phone. Its mobile payment and banking services are underpinned by Wirecard, a digital payments platform.
Unlike other digital banking institutions, the bank’s customers can also rely on Orange France’s network of stores. According to Orange, some 890 employees were specially trained as intermediaries in bank operations and payment services and were dispatched across 140 authorised stores in France.
But while Orange was hoping to attract its 30 million customers in France to its new bank, fewer than 250 000 accounts were open in 2018.
In fact, Orange Bank already had a difficult start and launched after considerable delays. The mobile network operator outlined its plans for a new bank as soon as January 2016, but only launched in November 2017. The reason for that was due to fact that Orange decided to put the brakes on its plans in June 2016 after finding the proposition didn’t quite meet the standards it was looking for.
Pixpay is a French start-up that has developed a European digitised banking solution for ten to 18-year-olds. It will launch on the French market in the autumn 2019.
Pixpay will comprise a mobile bank account, access to mobile payments via Apple Pay or Google Pay, a single payment card and a tracking app to help users monitor spending and manage their money.
There are incentives for parents too, as they will be able to set limits and controls on spending and introduce paid “missions” for children, such as household chores.
The firm is actively using 21 technologies for its website. These include Viewport Meta, iPhone/Mobile Compatible, and SPF.
In June 2019, Pixpay was one of the 10 start-ups selected to join Platform58, the incubator launched by the French Banque Postale with the view of developing its operations. In the future, the firm plans to expand to Spain, Italy, Benelux, Germany and Poland and may well design an offer specially targeted at students.
Qonto is a challenger bank for businesses, from freelancers to small and medium enterprises.
It was launched by Alexandre Prot and Steve Anavi in 2016 and was born from a frustration they experienced while building their first start-up, Smok.io, a connected e-cigarettes business, which they have successfully sold. At the time, they were struck by the lack of services banks could offer, hence the idea of Qonto.
Qonto stems from the need to offer a user-centric business banking solution on mobile and desktop. Customers can sign up for an account online and receive a French IBAN, as well as access to some additional features like ordering physical and virtual cards for team members and synchronising transactions with different accounting software solutions.
To do so, and instead of using a tailor-made technology solution, which would have pushed its founders to spend a lot of time on design, development, and maintenance, Alexandre Prot and Steve Anavi decided to use the off-the-shelf back office solution, Forest.
The London-based fintech is well-established in France. Starting its operations in the
country in 2017, France actually represents the second largest market for Revolut where it counts more than 550 000 customers.
Originally designed for the global traveller, Revolut offers the possibility to hold and spend different local currencies, in whatever country the client travels to, and send money to other local bank accounts in those countries without getting hit by international money transfer fees.
Offering payment as a service was fine for a while, but in order to make its business profitable, Revolut now offers three different accounts: standard, premium and metal. It also offers a money management tool, a cryptocurrencies exchange platform, a mobile insurance and an oversea medical insurance.
Revolut also has an open API, which allows users to integrate Revolut for Business accounts with third party software and in-house systems.
Earlier this year, Revolut’s CEO unveiled his plan to build a global licensing team that will be responsible for securing banking, trading and credit licences. It also joined Marcus by Goldman Sachs and Chips in integrating with Money Dashboard.
Just like Pixpay, Xaalys targets teenagers and their parents and launched to market in early 2019. The firm is led by Diana Brondel, former director of Société Générale’s international activities.
The app is split between two interfaces: one for the teenagers and one for the parents. While the former group can create online money pots, invite their friends to join in, and put some savings aside, the latter can block and unblock their children’s cards, put limits on withdrawals and decide how much and how their children spend their money.
More than a payment app – with a current account and a physical card – Xaalys aims to provide some financial education to the young generation in France.
Xaalys hopes to attract 10 000 users by the end of 2019 and 40 000 by 2020.
For now, the firm relies on the infrastructure provided by Treezor – a fintech acquired by Société Générale in September 2018 and which owns a payment institution licence.
Zelf is a Latvia-headquartered challenger. It has no card and no banking app, with all its services performed through instant messenger apps, including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, Telegram, LINE and WeChat.
The integration works by displaying buttons at the bottom of the messaging apps which will have labels such as ‘balance’ and ‘send money’.
The fintech gathered more than 60,000 sign ups ahead of its June 2020 launch in France and Spain.
CEO Elliot Goykhman worked at major banks including Deutsche Bank, Barclays and BNP Paribas, before spending the better half of the last ten years at a series of Eastern European banks including MDM Bank, B&N Bank, and Alfa-Bank.
Zelf’s default offering won’t require a physical card, but users can order one if they want. The fintech also offers two-factor authentication via an optional companion app to those users particularly concerned about security.
The fintech makes its money through interchange fees, premium account fees and – toward the end of 2020 and early 2021 – from loans, credit cards, and voice memo-activated invoices to help the gig economy.
Zelf uses French banking-as-a-service (BaaS) provider Treezor, a subsidiary of Société Générale group, to power its core offering. Treezor is planning to extend its loan underwriting capabilities, which will help facilitate some of Zelf’s later product roll outs.