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BANKING

German online bank N26 shutters US service

German online bank N26 said Thursday it was closing its operation in the United States next year, as regulators in Europe place the "fintech" start-up under increased scrutiny.

The N26 logo on a bank card.
The N26 logo on a bank card. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

N26’s 500,000 customers in the US would be able to use their services until January 11th, 2022, the bank said in a statement, after which it would cease to operate in a market it first entered in 2019.

Instead the Berlin-based operation would “sharpen its focus on its European business”, where it already operates in 24 countries and is exploring expansion into more eastern European markets.

N26 said it would also look to launch new “investment products in the coming year” to sit along side its current account service.

Founded in 2013, N26 offers free, online-only banking services to around seven million clients and is one of Germany’s most high-profile financial technology or “fintech” firms.

In October, the bank raised $900 million from private investors, and announced a plan to hire a further 1,000 employees to reinforce its product development, technology and cybersecurity teams.

READ ALSO: German online bank N26 to create 1,000 jobs

At home, N26 has been in the crosshairs of the German banking watchdog BaFin since 2018 after a local news media investigation found that it was possible to open account with forged IDs.

Earlier in the month, the regulator said it was upping its oversight operations at N26, appointing a special representative to monitor the bank’s progress towards solving issues in “risk management with regard to IT and outsourcing” identified by BaFin.

The regulator also limited the number of new customers N26 could take on to 50,000 a month until the shortcomings were addressed.

N26 was already being monitored by BaFin over failures in the start-up’s anti-money laundering system.

BaFin issued N26 with a 4.25-million-euro ($4.8-million) penalty earlier this year in connection with around 50 “suspicious transactions” the bank failed to report promptly enough.

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BANKING

‘Move into this century’: How Germany could improve its banking system

From speeding up transfers to getting rid of fees for taking out cash, here are the changes foreigners in Germany want to see to banking services.

Cash lies across a German bank card.
Cash lies across a German bank card. How can Germany's banking system be improved? Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Arne Dedert

Getting to grips with the banking system and opening accounts is a major part of settling into life abroad. 

As The Local reported earlier this week, there are lots of things to consider when choosing a bank to store your hard-earned cash in Germany. They include charges, the types of accounts, and if you meet the requirements to open the account. 

READ MORE: What are the best banks for foreigners in Germany?

We also asked readers what they’d like to see improved upon when it comes to banking in the Bundesrepublik. Here’s what they had to say. 

‘Far from modern’

Perhaps it isn’t surprising given that Germany is known for still making use of the fax machine regularly, but one of the standout points was that Germany needs to do more to modernise its services. 

Lots of readers flagged up a need to improve online banking.

Deniss, 42, in Frankfurt said: “They are definitely lagging behind in terms of offering modern online technologies to customers.”

Gondal, 37, in Böblingen, said: “They are far from modern banks. A lot actually has to be changed. German banks should provide online services.”

Mohamed Abouseif, 25, in Munich called for “more digitisation and better English-language support from banks and websites as it is a very common second language”.

Abouseif also said more German banks should offer a debit Visa/Mastercard with current accounts “that can actually be used online or in other countries instead of the Girocard (EC card) which is mostly good for grocery shopping”.

“It really surprised me that Poland has had this since I first went there in 2014, whereas Germany is still behind when it comes to implementing such things.”

Simon Slade, 69, thinks Germany needs a rethink on the “archaic” EC card – which is the country’s preferred method of card payment. 

READ ALSO: ‘They thought it was witchcraft’: The verdict on paying with card in Germany

A customer pays by card in a Berlin shop.
A customer pays by card in a Berlin shop. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Georg Wenzel

Some businesses – such as post offices or government buildings – only accept the EC card or cash.

Germany should make “real and concerted moves towards making it simple for retailers, cafes etc to accept cashless payments – for example charge them for depositing cash”, said Slade. 

In fact, lots of readers highlighted that they would like to see more banks in Germany providing English-language services. 

Dorka, 27, in Baden-Württemberg, said: “Please also be in English! Retiring this EC system completely would be also nice.”

Keshava Prasad Gubbi, 32, in Munich said he’d like banks to have “more English usage, be more open to internationals. Letters and documents in English and German would be so much more useful than having it only in German.”

J.M. in Potsdam summed up the mood about banking in Germany: “It should move into this century.”

No more fees

Lots of respondents to our survey flagged up that Germany’s fees for simply having a bank account, or for taking out your own cash put them off the system. 

“Now almost all banks have a mandatory monthly fee of minimum €7-10 for personal accounts,” said one reader. “Whereas in the UK and USA almost all personal accounts are free of charge without any minimum balance.”

READ ALSO: Why bank customers in Germany are facing higher fees

Himeel, 29, in Regensburg, said German banks needed to work on these points: “Going paperless, providing better savings options (Tagesgeldkonto) and free card transactions for frequent travellers.”

Alison, 29, in Hamburg said there shouldn’t be any fees on current accounts.

German banks generally charge you to take out cash if it’s from an ATM that isn’t your bank, although you might get a few withdrawals per month free of charge as part of the account. 

Chris in Brandenburg said being able to “use ATMs from other banks for free” would make a big difference.

A person uses their giro card at an ATM in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Benjamin Nolte

Speedier transfers

Several people questioned why transfers between different banks take longer in Germany than in most other European countries – sometimes up to three working days. 

Prince, 35, in Munich, said: “Transfers from one bank to another are very slow. It seems we are still issuing a cheque instead of online transfer.”

Sunil Kulkarni, 33, in Reutlingen, said real-time transfers are a “must in today’s world”. “A few banks already provide this option, but with an additional fee. I would prefer this service to be free for everyone.”

A few respondents to our survey brought up the issue of banks acting unreasonably.

“It’s ridiculous that they can close your bank account with only two months notice, without any reason,” said Richard, 65, in Dortmund.

Mary, 54, in Dortmund also highlighted “banks’ ability to close accounts so easily” as a problem. 

Meanwhile, the issue of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA for Americans abroad was also highlighted. The legislation, which obliges foreign banks to report back to the US tax office on any assets held in these accounts by US taxpayers, has resulted in some German banks closing accounts or turning away customers from the United States. 

J Rosenbaum said: “US citizens are very limited in the services they can use – not eligible to earn interest, no investment accounts, etc. US FATCA legislation has made US expats financial pariahs.”

READ ALSO: Why are Americans being turned away from German banks?

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Thanks to everyone who shared their experience with us. Although we weren’t able to include all the submissions, we read each of them.

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