Number26 Could Be The Best Banking Experience In Europe

When I first wrote about Number26, I said that it was a bank designed for the 21st century — but all of this was on paper. The startup is launching today in Germany and Austria, with more European markets to follow. I opened a Number26 account a couple of weeks ago. Old well-established banks should be ashamed that they can’t provide the same level of user experience.

As a reminder, commercial banks in Europe suck. In the U.S., you can show up and open an account in five minutes. They will scan your ID, make you sign a couple of documents, and you will leave with a temporary debit card. In Europe, you need to make an appointment with a bank’s local branch, bring documents, fill a lot of forms and listen to a customer representative trying to upsell you. You will waste a couple of hours.

Now, I also have a French bank account with a so-called mobile-first bank (BNP Paribas-owned Hello Bank), but it doesn’t go as far as it should. There are still a lot of documents to send, and you will spend some time over the phone with a customer representative.

When I signed up for Number26, co-founder and CEO Valentin Stalf just told me to install the app on my phone and register with an invite code. The entire process is supposed to take around 8 minutes, which seems pretty accurate from my personal experience. You enter an email address, a password and some basic info. At some point, Number26 will need to verify your identity. To do this, I just had to make a video phone call and show my passport to a representative so that he could take a picture of me and my passport.

And that’s it. A few days later, my debit card was ready to use and I could transfer money to my new bank account. Number26’s banking partner (Wirecard Bank) actually holds the money and holds a German banking license — your money is safe.

But why would you need another bank account? For example, when you use your Number26’s MasterCard, you will receive a push notification to make sure that the transaction was approved and there is no fraudulent use. Everything is customizable, you can disable these push notifications, set limits or even disable online payment if you don’t need it for now. You can disable everything but the ATM feature. And reenable everything later.

But one feature makes Number26 stand out from the competition — opening and maintaining an account is free and lets you pay anywhere in the world without any foreign transaction fee. There is no hidden or additional charge. Number26 already makes money from MasterCard’s cut on every transaction — it’s transparent for the user. The company doesn’t want to scam you like your existing bank.

The Number26 app is native and well-designed. It’s only in German for now, which makes it a bit more difficult for me, but I’m sure that many other European countries would love to have a seamless bank like Number26. I called a customer representative to try and see how the experience was, he answered my question in less than two minutes.

While I won’t plan on using my Number26 card every day just yet, I can’t wait to use it when I travel in foreign countries. It’s just the beginning as there is no savings account for example. But so far, Number26 has yet to disappoint me.