Zolve raises $15 million for its cross-border neobank aimed at global citizens

Millions of students and professionals leave their home nation each year for work and pursue higher education. Even after spending months in the new country, they struggle to get a credit card from local banks, and have to pay a premium to access a range of other financial services.

Banks in the U.S., or in most other countries for that matter, rely on local credit score to determine the worthiness of potential applicants. Even if an individual had a great credit score in India, for instance, that wouldn’t matter to banks in other countries.

That was the takeaway Raghunandan G, the founder of ride-hailing firm TaxiForSure (sold to local giant Ola), returned to India with after a trip. After doing more research and assembling a team, Raghunandan believes he has a solution.

On Wednesday, he announced Zolve, a neobanking platform that is aimed global citizens. The startup works with banks in the U.S., India and other countries to provide consumers access to financial products seamlessly and without paying any premium.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Raghunandan said the startup underwrites the risks, which has enabled banks in foreign countries extend their services to Zolve customers. “Consumers can open an account with us and access all banking services as if they are banking with their national bank,” he said.

As part of the announcement, Raghunandan said Zolve has raised $15 million in a Seed financing round led by Accel and Lightspeed. Blume Ventures and several high-profile angel investors including Kunal Shah (founder of Cred), Ashish Gupta (formerly the MD of Helion), Greg Kidd (known for his investments in Twitter and Ripple), Rahul Mehta (Managing Partner at DST Global), Rahul Kishore (Senior Managing Director of Coatue Capital, also participated in the round. So did Founder Collective (which has backed Airtable and Uber), in what is its first investment in an Indian startup.

“Individuals with financial identities in multiple geographies need seamless global financial solutions and we believe the team’s strong identification with the problem will enable them to deliver compelling and innovative financial experiences,” said Bejul Somaia, Lightspeed India Partners, in a statement.

Before starting Zolve, Raghunandan founded TaxiForSure, a ride-hailing firm, that he later sold to Ola for $200 million.

The startup plans to offer a range of services including a credit card and insurance to its customers later this year. It has already amassed over 5,000 customers, said Raghunandan.

Zolve offers a range of compelling features even for those who don’t plan visit a foreign land. If you’re in India, for instance, you can use Zolve to buy shares of companies listed at U.S. exchanges. You can also buy bitcoin and other cryptocurrency from exchanges based in the U.S. or Europe, said Raghunandan.

“It is an absurd reality that global citizens have to rebuild their financial profile when they move to a new country. Zolve solves this problem by helping them get fair access to a suite of modern financial tools so they can participate in the new economy on an equal footing from day one,” said David Frankel, Managing Partner at Founder Collective.

“The global citizen community is largely underserved in terms of access to financial services and we believe that there is a huge market opportunity for Zolve. Raghu has a proven track record as a founder and we are delighted to partner with him again, on his latest venture. The team’s passion and commitment are commendable and we are positive that Zolve will create tremendous value for this community,” said Anand Daniel, partner at Accel, in a statement.

This is a developing story. More to follow…

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Narmi, a fintech that helps small banks up their digital game, is looking to double headcount this year after nabbing $20 million from a backer of Salesforce and Plaid

Summary List PlacementA fintech founded by two former investment bankers has big plans for 2021 — and they all revolve around helping small banks upgrade their digital offerings. 
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These are also the financial institutions that, even before the COVID-19 pandemic began nearly a year ago, have been most hard-pressed to develop digital banking services – from remote check deposits to account openings – that can be costly to develop and require significant, long-term investment.
Narmi is a startup that’s looking to bridge that divide. The fintech offers cloud-based technology to regional and community banks that includes digital banking and account opening tools for consumers and a digital business banking service for small businesses. 
On Tuesday, New York-based Narmi announced that it had raised $20.4 million in a Series A fundraising round that was led by New Enterprise Associates, or NEA, a venture capital firm with more than $24 billion in assets that’s also invested in companies like Salesforce and Plaid. Executives from Plaid and Brex also invested in the round although their names were not disclosed.
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“We do think we have a very strong differentiation strategy,” Nikhil Lakhanpal, Narmi’s co-founder, told Insider, adding that the capital raise will allow Narmi to execute its key focuses as a company in 2021: developing more business banking digital tools, enhancing the user experience of regional and community bank customers, and doubling down on their open-source strategy (Narmi’s API code is publicly available online.)
“It’s a massive catalyst to our company in so many ways,” Lakhanpal continued.
Firsthand experience
Both Lakhanpal and Chris Griffin, Narmi’s other co-founder, experienced the tech challenges smaller banks can face when trying to reach customers online. While students at Georgetown, they led the Georgetown University Alumni and Student Federal Credit Union, with Lakhanpal as CEO and Griffin as CIO. 
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After stints in the investment banking world at Citibank and Barclays, respectively, Lakhanpal and Griffin launched Narmi in 2016. The startup counts Radius Bank, the Boston-based online community bank that was acquired by LendingClub for $185 million in February 2020, and Berkshire Bank among its customers. Lakhanpal said the company doubled headcount in 2020 and is planning on doing the same this year. 
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A big backer in NEA
NEA, meanwhile, brings both capital and experience to the table, something that Lakhanpal said was particularly valuable given the venture firm’s experience in growing companies at scale.
As for NEA’s part, it has a veteran of both the e-commerce and banking world in Liz Landsman, who helped close the round. Landsman previously headed the internet, digital, and mobile teams for Citi’s North America consumer banking business, was the chief marketing officer of E-trade, and served as the president of Jet.com, the e-commerce startup that was acquired by Walmart for $3.3 billion in 2016 (NEA was also an investor in the site.)
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