Interview with Alex Weber, Head of International Markets
We sat down with Alex, the current head of N26’s International department to talk more about N26’s history and some of his experiences as one of the original employees. As project lead, he spearheaded N26’s acquisition of its European banking license and its partnership with Mastercard.
Can you tell us a bit about the process behind the banking license?
Sure. I took over this project as the responsible project lead. We were responsible for handing in the application for the banking licence, answering all the questions the different regulators had. Eventually, we received our banking licence from the European Central Bank and became a principal member with Mastercard.
So basically, the project team was responsible for setting up N26 Bank that we have running today from an infrastructure, organisational and procedural perspective. Last but not least, when launching our own bank, we transferred all existing customers from our previous banking partner to our newly established bank. Since completion of this about a year ago, we have been focusing a lot on growing internationally. One year ago, I started to establish a team that has taken on the responsibility for internationalizing N26. With the banking licence we received from the ECB, we passported into all Euro currency markets. The team is working together to develop these markets and expand to further markets.
Today, what would you say is your best memory at N26?
One the most memorable days was the day we got our banking licence. I always love to remember that day. We had already worked super hard for roughly one year and the last couple of weeks were really intense. After it was granted,the whole company had a big celebration. It was really a big milestone for the company. It was also very good and memorable to have contributed and worked on that. I got to see it and experience it as a reward. Getting what the company had worked on for such a long time. It was a great moment for the whole company. A very shared celebration since the whole company worked together on that. It laid the foundation for who and what we are today.
When you joined the company, it was a startup at a very early stage. Now it is a well-known European bank that is growing fast. How does that feel different and can you tell us about that?
From a pure cultural perspective, we have managed to maintain a lot of the positive aspects of an early-stage startup. We still make quick decisions and focus on the customer and the product while keeping things simple. Simplicity is one of our core values. We still see that internally and externally, even after having grown so significantly. On the other hand side, obviously a large level of professionality and experience is also required to run the company we are today. We are a fully licenced bank, serving customers in 17 different countries. The complexity has increased and it takes a lot of talent and experience to keep it simple. What I want to say is that the simplicity within the organisation has remained fairly similar despite the increase in complexity. Therefore, in order to compensate for that, the team has fundamentally changed. It went from about 5 people when I joined to over 300 now, from everyone sitting in one room to having 2 offices with 5 floors in total. What I think makes N26 unique and what has always made it unique from a cultural perspective is the high standard we have towards our work represented by the second core value, excellence. It is driven by very experienced people that we bring in and complemented by the drive of young, hungry but very talented people. The interaction between these two groups is making a difference for us.
You said you bring new people in. How many interviews have you done since you joined the company?
It is interesting. I was checking my notes briefly on that. It has been somewhere between 600 and 700.
With so many people joining the company on a regular basis. How do you ensure that you maintain the company’s commitment to quality?
If you ask anyone working at N26 how they would describe the recruitment process, most of them would answer that it is very rigorous. The process involves several interviews before we make an offer. One of our priorities is maintaining the original culture that made us successful. In order to do that, we need to be very selective with whom we choose. From the high number of applications that we review in a month, we hire less than one percent of the people. That means we receive about 100 times more applications than people we hire. Obviously, if you calculate that we’ve hired 300 people in the last 3 years, it means we have looked through more than 30.000 people. Choosing the right 300 people out the overall number of applications, I think, is super difficult. But it is why we have that very rigorous recruiting process in place.
N26 is growing, people know the company. Before, it was more locally known. Now it is known on an international level. Do you see the difference in the number of resumes you receive and their quality?
Clearly. For us, there were a few catalysts: each funding round and the announcement of our banking licence. We were starting to attract new kinds of profiles and talent. The brand we built up worked together with investors’ trust. Finally reaching 500.000 customers and becoming a licensed bank also helped. All these aspects contribute to building a reputation as a reliable and disruptive company. On the other hand, it is also the happy customers. A lot of people apply here because they are excited customers and they feel that we focus on technology and design. It empowers everything we do and helps us fulfill our vision: building a bank the world loves to use. It is a very inspiring vision and great people from various backgrounds have joined us just because of that.
When you joined the company and the two founders told you their goal was to reinvent banking, honestly, did you believe it was possible?
What attracted me in the very beginning was that I saw they had a very ambitious vision. They are very bold founders and I think they definitely live by their values. I wanted to join something that could potentially be super disruptive. If it fails you learn a lot from it, but if it works out, you can really have some big impact. You need to buy into the vision, you need to believe that somehow it is possible. Even if the odds were against us at the beginning, I am glad we have made it to where we are today. However, even today we are still only at the beginning.
One last message?
The key message should be: if you read this and you want to redefine banking with us, you should definitely apply at N26.