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‘Outside of the banks’: Swiss fintech startup to help customers from struggling economies

A man counts Lebanese pounds at an exchange shop, in Beirut.
A man counts Lebanese pounds at an exchange shop, in Beirut. Copyright AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File
Copyright AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File
By Anna Desmarais
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The Swiss fintech company nsave is developing an offshore bank account to help those from "distressed economies" secure their money from currency depreciation.

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A Swiss fintech called nsave is helping those from fragile economies secure their money from currency depreciation by providing them with secure accounts abroad.

Amer Baroudi, co-founder of nsave, had to flee his hometown of Damascus, Syria as a young adult. When his family resettled in a new country, he said it was a challenge to do the basics, including opening a bank account.

According to Baroudi, banks conduct risk assessments of every customer that approaches them for an account and a person’s country of origin plays a role in whether they decide to work with you.

“Where you come from is part of that risk assessment … it ranks so high that it renders you outside of the banks and helps to keep you financially excluded,” Baroudi said.

For that reason, the fintech will work with people from distressed economies.

Baroudi mentioned Lebanon as an example. Data from the World Bank shows that an inflation rate of 17 per cent, one of the highest national rates in the world, led to the lira losing roughly 98 per cent of its pre-crisis value as of February 2023.

The biggest issue for their clients is to find a place to store their money, Baroudi continued, so for now that’s what the app proposes: a simple offshore account where people can store their funds or exchange them for “harder” currencies like the euro, dollar or pound, that are less prone to rapid depreciation.

Customers download the app and then go through a comprehensive assessment that Baroudi said is based on the “strict regulations” that the company has to follow. Each client is then given a risk score and could eventually be asked for additional documents or to answer more questions.

Baroudi said they also do “continuous assessments” like any bank to protect against money laundering and fraud.

Nsave has a partnership with a regulated financial institution in Switzerland to be able to offer these accounts, Baroudi continued, but he did not disclose which one.

The startup recently gained $4 million (€3.7 million) in seed funding from Sequoia Capital and TQ Ventures, both American venture capitalist firms, and a few other partners, including the Geneva-based Foundation Genevoise pour l’Innovation Technique (FONGIT).

“Build[ing] a product compliant with strict financial regulations is no easy task … yet nsave has done just that,” George Robson with Sequoia wrote in their partnership announcement.

“We are eager to see more users reap the benefits now that the app has gone live,” he added.

Baroudi said that the goal in the future is to help people from these distressed economies to grow their money, by eventually offering investing services.

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