Whatever benefits the challenger bank revolution may bring to retail banking customers, the opportunities these neobanks provide to small businesses may be even more significant. In fact, there is a growing cadre of digital-first challengers who have decided to put innovating on behalf of small business banking at the top of their priorities.
One such company is Wise, a BBVA-backed challenger based in San Mateo, California, that announced the release of its premium checking account in the U.S. this week. The new offering, available for $10 a month, enables businesses to earn up to 1% APY on deposits through a combination of a 0.5% base APY and an additional 0.1% for every $1,000 purchase using a Wise debit card. Accountholders get 25 free ACH deposits and 25 free outgoing bank transfers a month, as well as additional payments services. Among the functionalities to be added are remote check deposit, the ability to send digital checks and international wires, and support for Quickbooks.
The new offering comes in the wake of the company’s first major fundraising: a $5.7 million seed round in April led by Base10 Partners and featuring the participation of several other investors including Abstract Ventures and Backend Capital. The company told TechCrunch earlier this year that it has 1,000 business customers, with average workforces ranging from 2 to 10 employees, and “between $500,000 and $5 million in ARR (annual recurring revenue).”
Finovate audiences met Wise last year when the company made its Finovate debut at our September conference in New York. At the event, Wise co-founders Arjun Thyagarajan (CEO) and Suresh Venkatraman (CTO) demonstrated the company’s “small business banking-in-a-box” solution, and previewed additional products and services for small businesses including payments and invoicing.
From left: Wise co-founders Arjun Thyagarajan (CEO) and Suresh Venkatraman (CTO) at FinovateFall 2019.
Thyagarajan founded Wise after a stint managing product for Mojio, a platform for connected cars. Before that he was a classic serial entrepreneur, launching a personal organizer (LivingOrganized), and a pair of password management platforms (TeamsID and Gpass). But a sense that he wasn’t “doing what I really wanted to do” led him to leave the “hot startup” in search of what he called “problems that needed solving.”
“My explorations led me to FinTech and I was pleasantly surprised with the rapid advancements in technology transforming the financial industry, especially in banking and payments,” Thyagarajan wrote on the company blog last summer, looking back on his decision to launch Wise. “It got me thinking: what if we could build a banking product that can deliver on the promise of putting the customer first … And solving real world problems.”
Thyagarajan’s reflections are similar to those his co-founder Venkatraman, who in a companion post observed that Wise’s own experience as a small business trying to secure quality banking services was vindication of the company’s mission.
“The day started innocently enough as we walked into a local bank with all our paperwork in hand,” he wrote. “That was the beginning of a chase around Silicon Valley to find a bank that would take our money and open up an account. Banks would reject us for all sorts of reasons or just ignore us.”
These days, with an new offering, a big investment and a major banking partner in BBVA in hand, it looks like the fintech world might be ready to wise up.