Russian Mobile Payment Startup uBank Raises $8M Series A From Runa Capital, Targets “Global” Expansion

After co-investing in Mambu, a SaaS for alternative finance providers, earlier in the month, today sees Runa Capital fund another finance-related startup: An $8 million Series A round for uBank, a mobile payment service that currently targets Russia and the wider CIS region.

The new capital will be used to “accelerate” product development and marketing, and for further global expansion. The startup is also planning to add new features to its mobile/web-based service such as enabling payments in cafés and restaurants, and peep-to-peer money loans, along with developing apps for BlackBerry 10 and Windows Phone to add to its current support for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

Russia-based uBank’s mobile payment application lets individuals pay bills and transfer funds via their mobile devices or via the Web on a PC. The app allows users to link several credit cards from different banks and use them as a source for funds — not dissimilar to PayPal’s mission but in a smartphone era. Users can charge their accounts from debit/credit cards with 0% commission and make payments for things like their mobile phone bill, internet connection, cable TV, speeding tickets, etc. It launched its mobile apps for Android and iOS in late 2012, and in two months has garnered more than 250,000 downloads, according to the company, seeing it become one of the most popular finance apps on Google Play locally.

It makes money by taking a small commission from the companies it partners with, as well as working with large and small banks to provide them with a mobile banking solution they can offer to customers.

Of note, uBank says its app is currently pre-installed on all Samsung and Fly smartphones sold in Russia and the CIS region (both are market leaders), estimated to reach 15 million smartphones, which represents a potential coup over others attempting to enter the CIS markets. In an era where app store discoverability is half the challenge, getting “on-deck” is still a significant advantage.

The mobile (and online) payments space is seriously hot right now, not least in Europe, whether it be dongle-based credit card processing for smartphones or peer-to-peer money transfers, so it’s no surprise to see more VC activity in this area. Citing research by Gartner, Runa Capital says that the worldwide mobile payment market is estimated to be worth $617 billion with 448 million users by 2016, with the number of mobile payment users growing by 46% every year. Eastern Europe in particular is expected to see the highest user growth leading up to 2016, “albeit from a smaller user base”, notes the VC.