First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ali Niknam: Good, thanks for asking! I hope everybody reading this stays safe and healthy during these times.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined bunq
Ali Niknam: I was always fascinated by technology and bunq is not my first rodeo. I started my first company, TransIP, during my time at university, a business that went on to achieve unicorn status. I learned many lessons there that were fundamental to starting bunq. Looking at the financial situation in 2008, I knew banks with technology and innovation at their core were missing from the market. It was time to take a stance on that and bring a product people would love to the market.
How does bunq innovate?
Ali Niknam: How do we innovate? We innovate constantly and we innovate quickly! We are digital through and through our team of experienced developers are dedicated to making the bunq app the best, stress-free banking experience out there. By involving our users in our planning and using cutting-edge technology, bunq strives to offer the easiest banking experience available. We are proud to be a bank that users can actively improve and be a part of.
Our users provide us with their feedback and we use that to create features that fit their needs. For example, our users told us they wanted to plant a tree with every bunq card, so we created the SuperGreen subscription and are on track to planting our one-millionth tree by February 2021. When the community felt it should be easier to support their local communities and charities, we created Common Goals, a platform for users to join forces and pool money together for any good cause.
Front and back end developers are in dialogue with our users to make every bunq update more seamless than the last. Our community is our first point of contact for both suggestions and beta tests, such as our recent V3 update.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Ali Niknam: Business remains strong – in fact we’ve noticed our user growth to be the same if not higher during this time. Because we are fully digital, almost all work can be done from home, whilst our Amsterdam office has been turned around to accommodate the Dutch 1.5m distance guidelines. To stay safe, all of our Sofia and 90% of Amsterdam bunqers work from home.
We’ve picked up on efforts to create as much of that special vibe you felt working at our bunq offices, but in a virtual setting. For example, one of our bunqers has started an initiative for people to share their work from home environment through a selfie-video, whilst another has launched a weekly workout session.
Our users and their safety are also of top priority to us. We have adapted our services to reflect the current global crisis such as increasing our contactless limit to 50€ and providing our users with information on how they can reduce the spread of germs as they bank.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Ali Niknam: We had to make choices such as whether to launch our latest version, V3 during the pandemic – however, it was obvious with our users’ feedback and the fact that we are fully digital, that quantum leap was possible. We have stayed true to our vision to keep innovating and growing.
As a fully digital bank, we already ensure that our users have access to everything they need directly from their mobile app, but in the coming months we will continue to monitor the situation closely, and harness feedback from our community to continue innovating and enhancing our support during this time.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and bunq in the future?
Ali Niknam: This time is challenging for many businesses, and it comes with its own unique stresses, but bunq is in a position to come out of the other side stronger than before, especially as countries rush to digitise and move towards cashless structures. While more traditional banks are conformed to certain guidelines and regulations, fintech companies have the freedom and the flexibility to diversify and roll out new offerings rapidly, which is a strong point for us, and something which allows us to continue to look brightly toward the future.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ali Niknam: We run our own race! We are the bank of the free, a place where people can join a real community and lead the conversation, a place where bunqers can save the environment and plant thousands of trees, one where they can raise money for a local cause or for a national charity, all – from the touch of a button. What bunq does in the finance market is truly unique.