The startup looking to revamp banking in Italy

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Two of the Number26 founders, Maximilian Tayenthal (l) and Valentin Stalf (r). Photo: Number26
10:39 CET+01:00
A German startup is offering Italians and expats the chance to avoid the hassle of long queues and bureaucracy involved in opening an Italian bank account and do everything on a smartphone - and in English.

Berlin-based startup Number26 announced their expansion into Italy and five other new countries last Thursday, bringing their brand of smartphone-based banking to southern Europe, calling it the first step towards "offering a borderless banking experience across Europe".

Number26 prides itself on being able to offer a more convenient option in European countries where the technology and infrastructure are outdated and often frustrating for customers.

"These are all countries with rather bad banking experiences," a company spokeswoman told The Local.

"They are still working on old technology and the banks have large, inefficient infrastructures where certain features just aren’t available."

Users can sign up for an account within eight minutes, using a video chat function to verify their identity - so there's no need to go to a physical bank or send in forms by mail.

"An Italian citizen can open a German bank account and they don't have to travel here to do it," the spokeswoman said. “With the technology we have now it can be done, so why shouldn’t it be?"

Users receive just one piece of physical mail - their MasterCard. Transactions are tracked in real-time through an app and cards can be blocked and unblocked by the user at any time. There are no fees to hold an account, or to make a foreign transaction.

Clients' money is protected by the German Deposit Protection Fund.

Number26 launched in January of this year for Android, iOS and desktop and has more than 80,000 clients throughout Germany and Austria.

The company says it is trying to fill a need left by older, more traditional banks that have too much "bureaucracy".

“We believe it’s hard to innovate within old, rigid structures where 50-year-olds are making the decisions," said the spokeswoman.

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Number26 has been compared to the American apps Moven and Simple, which also allow users to track transactions on their phones in real time and target mainly millennials.

The Berlin app also has its eyes set on the 18-to-35 demographic, as it dives deeper into the European banking market.

"It's a scary market because it's highly regulated and you have some big players in there," said the spokeswoman, referring to long-established European banks. "In the end the users are going to decide which one is the better product."

By Emma Anderson

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