Compte-Nickel: how a bold vision for financial inclusion became one of Europe’s Fintech success stories

By Philippe Collombel, Managing Partner Partech Ventures

This week Compte-Nickel signed a partnership agreement for the acquisition of 95% of its shares by BNP Paribas, marking a major milestone for this very innovative Fintech. It is also an important moment for Partech Ventures as from the very beginning, in September 2015, we backed Compte-Nickel and have been at their side, supporting them in all their strategic considerations.

Their outstanding success has proven the relevance of their bold and highly innovative business model. With its universal current account and payment service, Compte-Nickel is a real banking alternative. In less than 5 minutes, any customer can open an account, get an IBAN and receive an international credit card at a newsagent. Overdrafts are not allowed, income resources are not required, and there are no hidden costs or overseas fees. With its fully digitalized processes, Compte-Nickel provides universal online and mobile banking services in real-time. Today, it has become one of the most successful banking services in France, with 540,000 accounts created in less than three years. In terms of number of points of sale, their distribution network of 2,500 newsagents position them on par with the largest retail banking networks.

I would like to take a look back at the reasons that convinced us at Partech Ventures to invest in Compte-Nickel, at a time when few people believed in them.

The complementarity of the founding team definitely played a key role in our investment decision. We really liked the alliance between Ryad Boulanouar, a tech-savvy computer engineer and Hugues Le Bret, an ex-Société Générale banker. While Hugues has an in-depth understanding of the banking system, Ryad is a repeat entrepreneur with a very unusual profile: in particular, he designed the tech behind the Navigo subway pass, as well as the IT systems behind the e-wallet Moneo. He is at the origin of the simple and innovative Compte-Nickel high-tech solution. We worked with Ryad and Hugues to help them structure the company for growth, and last year we introduced them to Arnaud Girandon who joined the team as Managing Director.

We were also really convinced by the intuition of the founders and their understanding of an unexplored opportunity in the French banking sector. Compte-Nickel is a genuine universal retail banking service, and this social inclusion dimension has been key to their success.

Compte-Nickel customers don’t need to show a minimum level of income or provide intrusive information on their banking history. This enables people with no other access to traditional banking services to open a bank account, with full transparency and no hidden fees. The market is huge, much larger than our initial evaluation, as an estimated 6 million people in France suffer from banking exclusion. Another very interesting point is that Compte-Nickel also attracts wealthier customers who use the service as a second bank account.

What really impressed us is how the company managed to deploy its operations, thanks to the stellar execution of the teams and the efficiency of its business model. Compte-Nickel has been the fastest-growing retail banking fintech in Europe: every month, it convinces almost 30,000 additional paying customers, with no marketing investment. This is a remarkable achievement in the finance sector where the trust barrier is so high, and where so many Fintech companies pay hefty amounts in customer acquisition costs. The virality of their model is amazing and they expect to reach 2 million customers by 2020.

I would also like to point out that we were at first the only VC to invest in Compte-Nickel. At the time, it was not a clear-cut decision as Compte-Nickel proposed a traditional commercial approach where a client has to pay to become a customer. This was radically different from other emerging models that were built on converting users into customers. We were joined at the end of 2016 by Eight Roads Ventures, who had also identified the company as one of the most efficient Fintech startups in Europe.

I would like to congratulate the whole Compte-Nickel team: Ryad, Hugues, Arnaud, Michel, and Pierre. In record time, you have succeeded in building one of the best success stories in European Fintech! The Partech Team wishes you tremendous success in this new phase of your history.