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Number26, a start-up bank backed by Peter Thiel, Li Ka-shing, raises $40 million

Number26, a German start-up app-only bank, has raised $40 million, led by the venture fund founded by one of Asia's richest men, Li Ka-shing.

The billionaire's Horizon Ventures led the funding round, which included other high-profile investors such as Battery Ventures and the founding team of publicly listed German fashion site Zalando.

Existing investors Valar (Peter Thiel's VC fund), Earlybird Ventures and Redalpine Ventures, all put in about "a couple million" dollars each as well, Number26 chief executive Valentin Stalf, told CNBC in an interview on Tuesday from the MoneyConf conference in Madrid.


Number26 joins the number of mobile-only challenger banks that have popped up in recent times but appears to be quite ahead of the competition, given that it has a product on the market and a customer base now of 200,000 since launching in January 2015.

Number26 offers a current account that gives you real-time notifications of what you're spending and what areas you're spending in. But it's looking to expand its product offering to create new revenue streams. Earlier this year, the German start-up bank partnered with TransferWise, a British start-up that offers cheap international money transfers. Users of the Number26 app could use TransferWise to carry out transfers within the banking app.


Number26

This platform approach is something that Stalf said would continue. The next upcoming features will be an exchange-traded fund investment product and a savings product that is "on the interest arbitrage side." Both will be coming in a "couple of months" after Number26 completes partnerships with providers of these services, according to Stalf. He could not reveal the names of the companies as the deals are not finalized yet.

"You never leave our interface, it's always in one experience. That's very important because people don't want to sign up to three different apps. They want one hub," Stalf said, explaining the partnership approach Number26 is taking.

Another focus for the start-up is creating "automated intelligence" products, which could be similar to robo-advisors giving money advice.


Brexit putting off UK expansion?

While the funding round will be used on expanding product, another focus will be launching in other European countries "in the second half of the year." When asked if Number26 would be coming to the U.K., Stalf said that it would depend on the outcome of the country's vote on Thursday regarding its membership in the European Union.

"I think it's very unclear about how financial regulation will change if Britain decides to exit. The Brexit will bring a lot of uncertainty to us and the U.K. market and doing and activities there," Stalf said.

And given that Number26 now has one of Asia's richest men on board, it could open the door for expansion in that region, something Stalf said was "too early" to set a schedule for.


Profitability?

Number26 is not the only challenger bank around. A number from the U.K. have managed to raise money and launch. Mondo raised £6 million in the early part of the year, Atom Bank pulled in £45 million from Spain's BBVA in November, and Tandem raised £1 million via a crowdfunding campaign last month.

At the same time, Number 26 will not only need to acquire new customers, but get existing customers to switch, something that has proved difficult in many markets. But the bank's co-founder said that the business is on sound financial footing and could be profitable next year, depending on how much the start-up wants to invest in growth.

"I think you have to understand is scaling the business is a long-term thing. We have the chance to be profitable next year, but we will be also heavily investing in growth because it's a big market opportunity out there," Stalf said.