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Banking on bunq: the banking app that wants to challenge the status quo

Bunq founder Ali Niknam. Photo: Bunq
bunq founder Ali Niknam is shaking up the banking business

They don’t do fat banker bonuses, overdrafts or loans. Built like a mirror image of the financial systems that brought on the last economic crisis, bunq is a mobile-only bank that wants to shake the foundations of the system.

If you don’t have the money to buy something, they advise you to save rather than offering a high-interest loan. Instead, for a straightforward monthly fee, they will offer you 25 interest-paying joint or solo accounts, bank cards that link to any of them, and the ability to do everything with a swipe of your mobile phone.

After all, bunq says, its mission is ‘to wake up the banking system.’

bunq was launched in 2015 by Ali Niknam after he ran into a banking system that seems to be there for consumers, but is, in fact, only trying to make it as complicated as possible.

Not any longer, says bunq. The system bills itself as the ‘bank of the free’, with three types of membership for individuals, business owners and groups. The monthly fee starts at €5 per member in a bunq Pack (four accounts of which one can be also bunq Business).


You can link cards to different accounts, have different pin numbers on the same card, transfer money internationally without extra fees through an integrated TransferWise service, and share accounts with multiple people.

The app is particularly attractive to expats as you can set up your account without visiting a branch – you don’t have to go to the country you are going to. You can do it from home, and don’t need to enter your tax identification number until 90 days after you open the account. You can come prepared and with a fully operational bank account in the country you’re going to live in.

In addition, bunq has integrated TransferWise into the app to send money home to a non-euro destination – which is up to eight times cheaper than a traditional bank. And you don’t have to pay any exchange fees if you are making payments or taking out cash abroad, saving you money on that weekend trip to London or further afield.

Anyone in the European Economic Area can open an account, and bunq is live in France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain as well as its home country of the Netherlands.

Even the word ‘bunq’ represents what the service is trying to do, because if you turn it round 180 degrees – or from the other side of the table – it reads the same. ‘We want to be on your side, and not on the bank’s side,’ the company says.’We are turning  the banking world upside down.’

In this vein, the business offers account holders the chance to choose where some of their money is invested – European green companies, for instance – and pledges to avoid products broadly considered unethical, such as tobacco. Its modern, mobile-only structure also means that it doesn’t have the problems of old ‘legacy’ software at many other banks – and the challenge of upgrading them evident in crises such as UK bank TSB’s IT meltdown a year ago.

No bonuses

The company doesn’t have bonuses either and says its lean management board is modestly rewarded – pointing out parallel controversies such as a 50% pay rise for ING chief executive Ralph Hamers, while the company was facing a huge fine for money laundering.

You won’t get an overdraft with bunq, and they don’t do loans either. ‘We believe if we seduce you or persuade you to get loans, it will ensure you die in debt,’ the bank says. ‘That’s what bunq wants to prevent. Instead, we are  working on tons of possibilities to make banking more easy, from the perspective that it’s your money.’

So you can save for a holiday with a group of friends with a joint account set up on the fly which every group member can access and use and divide the leftovers and close that account when the trip is done, for example. Or set up accounts with anyone you like. If you want a joint account with your girlfriend or partner, you set one up – and if the love is gone, you cancel it!

Whatever happens to romance, though, bunq is digging in for the long haul.

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