neon is an account app and has grown rapidly since its official market launch in March 2019. As a fintech start-up based in Zurich, it has already been able to attract prominent investors from the Swiss counterpart of the show "Shark Tank". Financial technologies are symbolic of what the Greater Zurich Area stands for: world-class technology paired with Swiss reliability. We spoke with COO Patric Ammann about the ascent of the start-up and which conditions in Zurich have helped them to achieve this.
Patric, why don't you introduce us to neon?
neon is an account app. With neon you can do everything around money in everyday life: Pay by card, transfer money, receive wages, view spending statistics, manage e-bills and so on. What is special about neon is that you only use it with your smartphone and don't pay any basic fees. In addition, the customer also receives a Mastercard, which combines all the advantages of an EC and credit card: withdraw and pay worldwide, both at a cash register and online. The advantage of the card is also that there are no fees and no exchange rate surcharges abroad.
How has neon evolved since its foundation?
The first idea for neon was born in 2017, the official market launch came in March 2019. Since then we have grown considerebly. In June 2020 we were already able to welcome our 30'000th user. Along the way, there have always been successful financing rounds that have enabled us to achieve this growth. The most important milestones from a product point of view are the integration of eBill in December 2019, the elimination of fees for international payments in January 2020 and, most recently, three more: the integration of Samsung Pay, the integration of TransferWise for international transfers in over 20 currencies and the opening of accounts via photo identification (24/7, even at weekends). Especially the integration of TranserWise, an internationally known and successful fintech, has moved us forward not only from a product point of view but also as a company. We have grown and further developed internally in many areas as a team.
Why did you choose Zurich as the location for your company?
Zurich is simply the fintech hub of Switzerland. Most of the Swiss fintech companies are located here. For us, Zurich is also an ideal access to the job market to acquire experienced, qualified and motivated employees.
Did you value specific conditions for start-ups?
Start-ups are dependent on financial support from outside. In Zurich we have found a large and entrepreneurial network of investors that have provided important help in setting up neon. Zurich as a place of work does not have to be promoted to anyone, because it is simply "the" place of work in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. In Zurich, we have also established great partnerships with other fintech companies - the exchange in the start-up scene is intense and exciting.
How did investors become aware of neon?
In the beginning, we were proactive in our search and held endless pitches. That was a very demanding time. However, as soon as the first round was completed, we gained momentum. The various investor networks activated each other and so we became better known and more popular. Especially worth mentioning here is our successful participation in the founder show "Shark Tank", where we were able to attract four new investors at once.
Why don't you tell us about your experiences at "Shark Tank"?
Unfortunately, I was not there myself, but my colleagues told the team in detail about their experiences of course. It was the first time that they were all on television and they were all super nervous. The show was a great opportunity to present the product to a large audience and prominent investors. The participation is definitely an important part of our company history and changed a lot for us. The two sharks Bettina Hein and Roland Brack are still very actively involved.
How has the coronavirus crisis affected your business?
With bank branches closed throughout Switzerland, people were almost forced to look for digital banking solutions. Our completely digital opening procedure was of course a good solution, and we were able to benefit from the corona crisis to a certain extent. This positive effect was also noticeable in the number of users. We were also able to observe how the consumer behavior of our users is changing. The proportion of payments made online increased sharply. Internally, it was not a big change for us with home office and online meetings. That's the way neon has always worked - completely digitally.
Where do you see neon in ten years?
We want to become the leading mobile account provider in Switzerland and be among the top 10 Swiss retail banks according to customer base. To achieve this, we are focusing on a digital, customer-friendly and affordable offering for everyday financial life.
Which three aspects of Zurich stand out for you personally and as COO?
Zurich is a great environment that is "open to innovation" and allows us to implement ideas in a very uncomplicated way. This offers many opportunities and leaves a lot of freedom. Zurich has its finger on the pulse of Switzerland. Social or economic trends are often first felt here and last but not least, for me it simply has a great quality of life. It is modern, hip and innovative - and has a great lake. I appreciate that, especially in the summer.