Cryptos, teamwork and fintech pushing boundaries: how Qonto is challenging European banks

The French investment banking start-up Qonto started modestly in 2017 with the aim of facilitating banking for the self-employed and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

In five short years, he reached unicorn status with a valuation of 5 billion dollars (4.4 billion euros) and became a European champion.

With offices in France, Italy, Spain and Germany, the company is bolstering its presence in Berlin and on Friday announced a deal to acquire German fintech giant Penta, which is expected to close in the coming weeks.

Qonto’s long-term ambition is to become the financing solution of choice for one million European SMEs and freelancers by 2025.

Euronews Next spoke with Qonto co-founder and CEO Alexandre Prot to find out how he plans to lead the European fintech market, the role of cryptocurrencies and the future of challenger banks.

Prot’s main issues with traditional banking services were that the apps weren’t so easy to use that it was “painful” to request a statement, it wasn’t easy to organize your finances business, such as paying employees, and that customer support could take days for a response.

“As a small business owner or founder, we struggled every day with banking and managing our finances as a small business,” he said.

He and his business partner Steve Anavi said they really wanted to create this solution that they “really wish we had ourselves in the first place”. This is what they did by launching Qonto in France.

Attacking traditional banks

The company aims to solve all these problems with better customer service and offers a no-conditions policy so that you can cancel your account with just a few clicks on your computer.

Most importantly, Qonto aims to be transparent in its fees so that there are no hidden fees or transfer fees, which many traditional banks do.

But Qonto has also expanded beyond the simple bank account and you can also use its services to simplify bookkeeping and accounting.

“A lot of what we’re doing is also new services that make it easier for small and medium-sized business owners to run businesses,” he said, adding that traditional banks don’t offer these services.

When asked if fintech companies can leapfrog traditional banks, Prot replied, “we will definitely take a bit of the traditional banking or banking market.”

“The trend is, of course, that new players will get a bigger piece of the pie. But I would say the pie is getting bigger too,” he added.

Another service offered by Qonto is the possibility of investing in cryptocurrency assets.

In June, the company partnered with Paris-based European crypto bank Coinhouse, although the reason for the partnership had nothing to do with being French tech allies.

“It’s not that we necessarily want to push crypto, it’s more that we have customers asking for it,” Prot said, adding that the company wants to offer many financial services under one roof so that it is more efficient for the user.

Although he admits that there are risks in investing in cryptos, he said that the technology behind cryptos – blockchain – is innovative and could be used by fintech companies for certain aspects of security and risk.

Become European champion

But what Prot is most excited about in the short term is conquering the European fintech scene and the acquisition of Berlin giant Penta will play a big part in that.

“Germany is the biggest market for our industry in Europe, very much related to the size of the economy and GDP,” he said.

“It’s super important for us to be very strong in Germany if we really want to be the leader in Europe.”

Prot said the deal will add an additional 50,000 customers to its current base of 250,000 freelancers and SMEs in its European markets.

While he says ‘never say never’ about seeking to create markets outside of Europe, he notes that the aim is to become an ‘even stronger European champion’ and therefore does not look at what others are doing. American fintech players.

“Right now the challenge is that, in a way, we’re probably number one in our segment,” he said.

“The question is how do you continue to grow rapidly and stay number one with an even bigger market share or position.”

Team work

One way to achieve this and continue to grow is to ensure that each of its markets in France, Spain, Italy and Germany has a bespoke product tailored to the needs of different countries.

But Qonto’s success isn’t just down to the product, which Prot says he never doubted because he knew it was something business owners and freelancers would need.

Instead, it’s all about the team. Qonto’s employees have grown to nearly 1,000 in just a few years and aim to double that number by 2025.

One of the main challenges is knowing how to structure the team, if you hire the right people and if you give them the necessary training, he said, to ensure that “the work culture is strong”. and that employees “work well together”.

The company lives by four corporate values, namely: ambition, teamwork, mastery and integrity, Prot said.

“For each of these words or these values, we really put a lot of energy and money into making sure we work well as a team because, in the end, everything we do is thanks to the crew”.