Bunq, the $1.8 billion European neobank, hopes to secure license for UK expansion this year

PARIS — Dutch digital bank Bunq is hoping it will manage to secure a banking license from U.K. financial regulators later this year or early next year, the firm’s CEO and founder Ali Niknam told CNBC.

“I hope we’ll get somewhere by the end of the year, maybe early next year, because the U.K.’s processes may be slightly different to Europe because it’s a different regulatory area,” Niknam said in an interview last week at the Viva Tech conference in Paris.

“I don’t know when they’re going to say yes, but so far I have little reason to believe that we won’t be successful.”

Bunq, known for its rainbow-colored cards and a focus on so-called “digital nomads” not bound by any one country or location, initially launched in the U.K. in 2019. But the bank was forced to exit the country in late 2020 because of Brexit.

The passage of Brexit into law meant that EU-based financial institutions couldn’t rely on their own country authorizations to operate in the U.K. market. Currently, Bunq only holds a banking license with the Dutch central bank.

Challenges of reentering UK market

Now, Bunq is plotting a reentry into the U.K. market. The firm last year submitted an application with the Financial Conduct Authority for an electronic money institution license. It says a U.K. launch would allow it to tap into a “large and underserved” market of some 2.8 million British digital nomads.

That will prove difficult, though. Rival European fintech Revolut, which is based in Britain and currently has an electronic money institution license, has been trying for some years to secure its U.K. banking license.

To be sure, a banking license is different from an e-money license. The key difference is that a banking license gives firms permission to offer loans. Monzo and Starling are among the few U.K. consumer fintech platforms that hold their own bank licenses.

“We’re working as hard as we can, the U.K. regulator has been very responsive, dialogue is ongoing, I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but things seem to be moving,” Niknam told CNBC.

Founded in 2012 in Amsterdam by Dutch tech entrepreneur Ali Niknam, Bunq has since grown to become one of Europe’s largest neobanks overall, with 12.5 million users across Europe and deposits of 8 billion euros ($8.6 billion). It was last privately valued by investors at 1.65 billion euros.

Earlier this year, Bunq reported its first full year of profitability, generating 53.1 million euros in net profit in 2023. Bunq is also pursuing expansion in the United States, having previously filed for a U.S. federal bank charter in April 2023.

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