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Want to be a fintech unicorn? You’ll need 1.5m app downloads on average, data shows

A 2021 study reveals how many downloads European fintechs had when they 'unicorned', and who grew the most

By Isabel Woodford

Belvo’s API allows fintech companies to integrate with a wide range of financial institutions

Fintechs are now securing unicorn status with fewer downloads than ever, requiring 1.5m Android downloads on average, according to a new study by App Radar.

App Radar’s study analysed the Google Play App download data for 14 European fintechs that became unicorns last year, and ranked how many downloads they had when they “unicorned”.

At one extreme was Blockchain.com, which counted 10m+ Android downloads when it confirmed it had reached unicorn status, and on the other was Marshmallow, which became a unicorn with just 19k Android downloads.

The results prove a dramatic shift in the startup market, which has seen soaring valuations. Historically, 1.5m downloads has not been nearly enough to secure a $1bn valuation.

Revolut counted 5m global downloads when it became a unicorn in April 2018, according to SensorTower, which counts Apple App Store data. Meanwhile, Monzo had 4.5m downloads when it secured a $1bn+ valuation a few months later.

App Radar’s study shows that B2B apps had an even lower bar to winning over investors in 2021 than consumer-facing apps. Business-facing apps Pleo and Swile became unicorns last year with fewer than 200,000 downloads between them.

“When you look at the customer base of each 2021 fintech unicorn you can see how much higher the bar is for consumer-facing apps versus ones that predominantly cater to businesses,” said Thomas Kriebernegg, App Radar’s cofounder.

He added that, as a result, “there is little connection between total money raised and how many users an app has”.

Companies can pay for app store positioning to boost their download numbers, although this does not necessarily translate into active users.

Making moves in 2021

App Radar also analysed how the new unicorns performed in 2021 compared with 2020.

The fastest-growing startup in terms of customers was Austria’s Bitpanda. The crypto trading app saw a 470%  increase in Android downloads year-on-year, as well as a monthly average of 62,800 new Android customers in 2021.

Germany’s Trade Republic came in next, with a 150% hike to 1.3m new Android users across 2021. This growth may have helped secure its giant leap in valuation to $5.3bn in May, with backing from Sequoia.

Buy now, pay later provider Zilch also saw standout growth last year. The fintech claimed in September it had secured 1m downloads in 13 months across all app platforms, announcing its $2bn pricetag shortly after.

Meanwhile, Zepz (previously WorldRemit) and Starling saw their pace of growth fall in 2021.

In total, App Radar calculated there were 8.6m Android downloads last year across these 14 European fintechs.

Sifted also commissioned Apptopia to see how newer players are faring.

For instance, JP Morgan’s Chase — which entered the UK market in August — ended the year with 18,000 monthly downloads across iOS and Android.

Isabel Woodford is Sifted’s fintech correspondent. She tweets from @i_woodford and coauthors our fintech newsletter. Sign up here 

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