Fintech/Analysis/

What is BVNK? The mysterious fintech that’s quietly poaching talent from Revolut and Checkout.com

It emerged from obscurity with a $40m Tiger-led Series A in May — and has since been quietly poaching talent from Europe’s biggest fintechs

By Amy O'Brien

Jesse Hemson-Struthers, BVNK's cofounder and CEO

Beevank? Bavunk? Bank? If you, like us, are wondering how to pronounce the name: it’s “B.V.N.K”. 

“The horrifically cheesy history of the name is that it means ‘turning banking upside down’,” BVNK’s 24-year-old cofounder and chief product officer George Davis tells Sifted. “But if you catch any of us at office drinks, it might be ‘Bank’.”  

BVNK is not, however, actually a bank: it’s a B2B crypto payments company.

BVNK officially launched just 11 months ago, in October 2021, and didn’t take any external funding until it closed a $40m Series A led by VC of international renown Tiger Global in May. 

Even by Tiger’s standards, that’s a pretty abrupt entry onto the European fintech scene. 

What’s more, the London-HQ’d startup attracted a $340m post-money valuation for that round. That’s similar to fellow European fintechs Monese, Yokoy and Uncapped, which have all been on the scene quite a bit longer and have raised upwards of $100m in equity. 

BVNK has been growing at an eyebrow-raising pace, too. It’s increased its headcount 300% since October and its revenue by 250% — and yet when Sifted asked dozens of in-the-know European VCs and founders, barely anyone had heard about the company.

So, what is BVNK?

The Stripe of crypto 

Davis says BVNK’s mission is to be the “Stripe of crypto”, enabling transactions from fiat currencies — such as euros or US dollars — into crypto, fiat to fiat and crypto back to fiat. 

Its customers are other businesses. It sells them its API, which handles the on and off-ramping — buying and selling crypto with fiat money — for the various currencies they want to use. BVNK is targeting both “crypto-native” companies and companies that want to be able to handle crypto — say, to allow their customers to pay with bitcoin — but don’t want to have to build the infrastructure to do so themselves. 

BVNK says it has around 150 customers, although it won’t name any. It says 80% of them are payments companies — from foreign exchange businesses to standard payments providers that power ecommerce checkouts.

Further down the line, the company wants to be the go-to for large financial institutions providing crypto payments — a goal that was a big part of its pitch to investors at its Series A. 

BVNK takes a transaction fee each time money is moved through its platform, as well as foreign exchange fees. It says it’s already grown its revenue by 250% since October 2021. 

BVNK’s main competitor is London’s BCB Group, whose clients include some of the world’s biggest crypto exchanges, like Bitstamp, Coinbase and Gemini. It’s also up against smaller players like Cryptopay and Mercuryo.

A very un-2022 growth plan 

BVNK has grown its headcount 300% since its official launch in October, from 40 to 160 — and plans to boost that to 250 in the next 12 months. 

The new hires will be based across the world and well over half of them will be in product and engineering roles. BVNK will also hire people to work with local regulators as it expands into new markets. 

It’s already started expanding into North America, where it’s hired a handful of product and engineering hires on the ground. 

“This is likely a bet on ‘winning’ being driven by a land grab,” one fintech investor that wanted to remain anonymous tells Sifted about BVNK’s rapid growth and huge Series A round.

“It’s ‘cheap’ right now to expand while crypto is not so hot and thus there will be fewer newly capitalised competitors. And they’re making a big bet on a multifaceted platform which requires lots of regulatory cash.” 

It’s an unusually broad expansion plan for a European fintech within its first year of existence — and certainly a rare tactic in 2022’s bear market. 

But BVNK’s story actually began five years earlier.

A complicated history

Two of BVNK’s four-strong cofounder team, Jesse Hemson-Struthers and Donald Jackson, previously founded a cross-border payments company in 2017 in Cape Town called Coindirect. It was tailored to emerging markets: customers could bypass the clunky global Swift system (the messaging system used by banks to transfer money across borders), by transferring funds into stablecoins — cryptocurrencies that are pegged to fiat currencies like the dollar — then remitting them in euros or British pounds.

Davis says this was a profitable business and that its cofounders merged with BVNK in January this year, absorbing Coindirect’s revenue. 

There’s no record of such a merger on Companies House, and when asked about this Davis says “we can think of it more as a rebrand”. Both Hemson-Struthers and Jackson resigned from their director positions at Coindirect in August 2021. This was a week after BVNK was incorporated, two months before Davis says BVNK launched and four months before Davis says the “rebrand” took place. 

Coindirect’s existing profitability and global customer base could partly explain how just a couple of months later, BVNK’s cofounders were able to convince Tiger to invest $20m (half of the $40m Series A).

BVNK’s founders own 60% of the company, and if we take its post-money valuation and the amount Tiger invested, we can assume the US VC holds a stake of around 17%. 

Although BVNK’s HQ is in London, where around 40 employees are based, the absorption of Coindirect means its biggest chunk of staff — around 70 people — are based in Cape Town. It’s this emerging markets presence from the offset that Davis says is the company’s USP. 

“We have this really core emerging market muscle from the cross-border payments business that we’ve had for a few years,” Davis tells Sifted, adding that thanks to Coindirect, the company understands how to move money out of emerging markets to more established ones using crypto as a vehicle. 

“And the majority of the time we’ve grown based on customer demand. Our customers don’t really want to use multiple partners globally — they want to come to one place that has global access. 

“In the same way that Revolut grows very aggressively globally, because it’s important for them to have access everywhere, the same is true for us. We want parity across our European, African and Asian business.” 

A slice of the Revolut pie 

It’s not the only leaf that BVNK is taking out of Revolut’s book. Davis has been on an aggressive LinkedIn trawl pitching BVNK since May’s raise, targeted at poaching talent from Revolut as well as payments rivals like Checkout.com and more crypto-focused companies like Paysafe. It’s even poached Crypto.com’s former head of marketing, Maggie Ng, to be its chief marketing officer. 

“Getting talent from Revolut was really important for us. What we love about Revolut’s culture is the drive and the ‘Get shit done’ aspect of it,” Davis says. 

“The Series A transformed our ability to hire from large-scale fintechs.

“Everyone we hire passionately believes that crypto and fintech are going to converge, and that money will seamlessly move between the two. BVNK is really well placed to take that market because we’re combining the two together.”

Amy O’Brien is Sifted’s fintech reporter. She tweets from @Amy_EOBrien and writes our fintech newsletter — you can sign up here

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