German mobile bank N26 joins Europe's unicorn club with $2.7 billion valuation

Key Points
  • Tencent-backed German fintech firm N26 has raised $300 million in a funding round — valuing the mobile bank at $2.7 billion.
  • The funding exercise was led by Insight Venture Partners and backed by GIC, Singapore's sovereign fund.
  • N26 will use the investment to fund its global expansion, with a U.S. launch due early this year.
N26 CEO Valentin Stalf speaks on stage during TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin 2018 on November 30, 2018.
Noam Galai | Getty Images for TechCrunch

There's a new European unicorn in town.

German fintech firm N26 said Thursday it has raised $300 million from investors in a round of funding — valuing the online lender at $2.7 billion.

That not only puts the company among the ranks of Europe's unicorns — or private start-ups valued at more than $1 billion. It also makes it one of the most valuable unicorns in the continent.

According to data compiled by CB Insights, just six other privately held European firms can claim to top N26's market value: Global Switch, Roivant Sciences, Auto1 Group, Ottobock, The Hut Group and BGL Group.

N26's latest funding exercise was led by U.S. private equity firm Insight Venture Partners with additional backing from Singaporean sovereign wealth fund GIC. Its other backers include Chinese tech giant Tencent, German insurer Allianz and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel's venture arm Valar Ventures.

Global expansion

The company's mobile bank app is currently available in 24 European countries. It recently added the U.K. to the list, and sees itself broadening its international footprint again, with a U.S. expansion due early this year.

"Insight Venture Partners has been one of the biggest venture firms globally," N26 Chief Executive Valentin Stalf told CNBC in a phone interview. "I think it's a great addition to our investors, and launching in the U.S. in the first half of 2019, it's a great reconfirmation of doing that."

The Berlin-based fintech firm offers users a mobile app and a debit card, but doesn't have a single physical bank branch. It counts itself among a breed of digital banking challengers — Revolut, Monzo, Starling and Atom, just to name a few — that are aiming to eat away at larger lenders' customer base.

With over 2 million users signed up to the app, N26 hopes to reach 10 million customers globally "within the next couple of years," Stalf said. The investment announced Thursday will be used to fund the start-up's international expansion plans.

"The next goal is taking N26 global and transforming it from being a European company into a global company," Stalf said. "We would like the business to grow to four to six more markets other than the U.S. and Europe."

N26's boss said its focus beyond the U.S. and Europe would be on Latin America, and added that he "would not rule out" a launch in Asia further down the line.

What is fintech?
What is fintech?

IPO 'dream'

The firm has now racked up a total of more than $500 million in funding since it was founded in 2013. Insight Venture Partners is known to invest in companies that eventually go public, with its investment portfolio including the likes of Delivery Hero and DocuSign.

Stalf said that, while launching an initial public offering is a "dream" for him and his fellow co-founders, the company has no immediate plans.

"Going public will be an option I think going forward but it's also not the only option for us," he said. "This round is great for us as entrepreneurs because we are very flexible."

"We don't need to raise funds," Stalf added. "We can if the business develops well, and we will evaluate the options all the time. Going public has always been the dream for us as founders, but let's see."