Neobanks eschewing physical branches for digital technology have cropped up all over 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 main 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 suit against the Dutch central bank, opening the door for new methods of bank monitoring for problematic behaviors like money laundering.
This year brought another bold move from the Canadian-born, Amsterdam-based entrepreneur: an application for a US banking license. Though the timeline for a decision remains unclear, “[w]e’re in constructive dialogue with the three regulators,” Niknam tells Quartz.
Niknam, who is 42, started his first company at 16 years old, 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 its first outside investment in 2021.
Approval from US regulators would give Bunq bragging rights over other European neobanks that have tried but have not yet gotten their own license in the US—Germany’s N26 and the UK’s Monzo and Revolut among them—along with access to the roughly 5 million European expats and businesses operating in the US.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, Bunq has acquired 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 in multiple countries.
Two other milestones in 2023: the company had its first full year of profitability, and it took in another €44.5 million ($47.9 million) in funding, bringing its total capital raise over the course of the year to roughly $100 million, at a valuation of $1.8 billion, while deposits climbed past $4.8 billion.
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 2023, a series that spotlights the people deploying bold technologies and reimagining the way we do business for good across the globe. Find the full list here.