The shared workspace that it uses as offices in the heart of Madrid provides some clue that this bank works differently. Neither large financial districts nor emblematic buildings. N26 was born six years ago in Germany under the label of fintech –companies that apply new technologies to financial and investment activities—. He opted exclusively for digital banking. It has been installed in Spain since 2018 and its CEO, Marta Echarri (Madrid, 37 years old), has become both one of the youngest executives and one of the few women with a position of responsibility in the financial sector.
After 15 years engaged in traditional banking, like JP Morgan and Merrill Lynch, she landed on a neobank. It is clear that technology is the engine of the company. Not only because it was his reason for being from the beginning, but also because it has led him to his current situation. Bet on a cloud structure, have numerous engineers on the staff or stick to a model defined by the characteristics of the internet. Everything happens in your application. In its transgressive day, now almost a banking standard. “With the pandemic, digitization has become transversal for all of society. As digital natives, we are prepared. We have a competitive advantage in the use of technology ”, says Echarri.
An advantage that it intends to take advantage of in Spain, where, in the last year, electronic commerce has grown by 52% and payment with contactless cards by 45%, according to a GFK study published by Visa. “It is very easy to attract the Spanish customer with technology. You can only impact him with new digital tools, ”explains Echarri.
If you look at the fine print, regardless of how innovation makes sense of N26, the numbers still don’t add up. It has not become a profitable company. Echarri explains that due to their nonconformity and the very high price of the projects in which they are involved. “Its development is very expensive. Right now we have invested 200 million euros in new products and functionalities. This ambition means that the bank is not profitable, although at the customer level its contribution is positive ”, he points out. In his own words, without the investors the party would have ended long ago. A party paid for by very diverse companies. From insurers like Allianz to Chinese tech giants like Tencent.
The expansionary plans Echarri describes resemble those of the big names in the financial sector. Talk about savings, credit and ecosystem of services. Perhaps in the latter, for her baptized as marketplace, its technological DNA places the bank with a certain advantage, with margin when it comes to increasing business. The intention is to take a leap towards an integration with local partners, added in the application, with which to launch the sale of investment funds, securities and crypto assets. He does not even rule out designing his own stock market platform. “Everything would be integrated thanks to an API, in such a way that the user would move their money in real time and in two clicks on the app”, He argues.
Echarri agrees that she has rarely felt discriminated against for being a woman. Which does not mean that your work life has been a bed of roses. He even confesses that he has suffered from the imposter syndrome, especially when he has changed companies or job responsibility. “The big problem for many women is their lack of ambition. They have to believe that they can go as high as they want ”, he says.
The data in Spain reflect the pending task within the organizations. Despite the fact that inclusion is on the rise, only 34% of women reach a management position. And if we only consider companies and positions related to technology, the percentage plummets to 12%, according to the report. Women in Business 2021 prepared by Grant Thornton. “Women’s talks for women is like preaching in the desert. It is preaching to the converts. You need allies to listen to you. Diversity would be the key ”, reasoned Echarri.
Business sexism is not the only one to combat. Age discrimination also hampers career advancement. And Echarri has had to suffer both extremes: gender and generational. His story reflects his success, but he remembers meetings on board of directors, totally full of ties, where his youth provoked elusive glances, reducing credit to the position of equality in which he found himself, at least in theory, with his other colleagues. “To reverse the exclusion, it would be interesting to sit with women who have just started working and, from the experience, expose them what you have lived until you get to the position where you are. Let them understand that you are not an unattainable goddess ”, concludes Echarri.