N26's Max Tayenthal talks strategic finance in hypergrowth & customer-centricity

Max Tayenthal, N26 co-founder & co-CEO, shares his insights on tech's role to drive finance agility in the world's first mobile bank & how strategic finance is base for successful hypergrowth.

Maximilian Tayenthal created a giant.

N26, the neobank based out of Berlin, has become one of the largest players in the digital banking space with over 7 million customers across 25 markets. Driven by the leadership of Max and his co-founder Valentin Stalf, N26 has grown rapidly in the eight years since its founding, creating the base for what we understand of neobanking today. Having just raised another $900 million in a Series E round with a valuation of over $9 billion, N26 is poised to grow and expand even further.

Max himself has taken on several roles at N26,  on top of his role as co-founder having served as CFO and now as co-CEO. Prior to founding N26, Max gained strategic and financial experience in roles at firms like CMS and Booz & Company.

In this AHA! Finance interview, Max talks about how agility in strategic finance is key for companies that are hyperscaling. Growing the finance function means having a robust strategic finance unit that directs where the company should move towards. To accomplish this, having up-to-date data and quick inputs from all relevant stakeholders is key.

Jump in and discover how Max has led N26 to great heights by building a highly performant finance unit.

N26 cofounders Max Tayenthal & Valentin Stalf

As N26’s co-founder & co-CEO, you have also been responsible for everything-Finance at the company. How have you driven the strategic empowerment of the Finance function at N26 for them to be impactful business partners to other teams in the company?

One of the most important functions of the Finance team at N26 is to drive and accelerate the delivery of N26’s strategy and global ambition through actionable financial data. Three key pillars to our approach to achieving this at N26 have been:

> A data-driven approach

> Investment in technology

> Focus on delivering to the needs of our internal stakeholders: the people of N26

Finance teams usually don’t scale and incorporate headcount as fast as other business units in hyper-growth companies. What can finance do to cope with that mismatch to continue being valuable?

Having gone through a period of hypergrowth ourselves, it is important that the back-office processes and functions also evolve as the organization does. The agile methodology and concept have been something we have adopted within our finance team, approaching evolving our processes much like how companies approach product innovation - by launching an MVP and then iterating based on the customer, or in our case, the organization’s needs and feedback.

"Finance supports the entire organization, and we should never forget that it is made up of individuals, diverse and different, each with their own level of knowledge of finance topics."

Post-COVID, has N26 changed it's forecasting strategy and process? What were the main challenges you faced and the benefits you saw later on?

Many companies faced challenges in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, as did N26. For us though, the challenge was slightly different. We had just found a new stride, stabilizing after a period of hypergrowth where we scaled our markets, customer base, and team exponentially. In doing so, we went from a Berlin start-up to a global bank present in 25 markets, serving 7 million customers, with 1,500 employees. While COVID19 meant uncertainty for many young businesses around the world, we experienced quite the opposite.

Instead of being something for millennials or urbanites, digital banking became relevant to people of all ages, backgrounds, and walks of life. This meant we had to accelerate our innovation capabilities to help deliver a banking experience that could scale and adapt to a whole range of different financial and life needs for an increasingly diverse customer base. On the backend, this meant embracing the agile concept even in functions like Finance, investing in scaling technology and internal platform solutions, to drive automation of day-to-day business processes in our Finance ERP.

N26 credit card linked to mobile.

N26 pioneered neobanking and revolutionized B2C fintech by delivering a much better user experience and also incorporating best-in-breed products into the N26 platform. What can B2B financial products for Finance teams learn from your journey?

Customer centricity is key - even when working in a more B2B context. Finance teams perform an important, business-critical function that supports the entire organization, and it is important to never forget that this is an organization made up of individuals, each of them with diverse and different roles to play, and different levels of knowledge and expertise when it comes to finance topics. The same way simplicity and a smooth user experience are key guiding principles at N26, we continue to strive for simplicity in many of our financial processes, approaching these with our own internal customers and stakeholders in mind.

N26 gained international ground like no other neobank. In our experience, the need to slice and dice the data by region, country, product line, and a segment becomes critical to manage the multinational growing complexity. Now that you operate at such a scale, what do you wish you knew when you started?

N26 has always been an extremely data-driven company, which has really allowed us to optimize a lot of our decision-making for impact. One of the most important roles of the CFO is to be a strategic advisor, enabling the organization to make data-driven decisions, especially with financial data. To do that, knowing to pull the right levers early is key, and for that, technology plays a big role. Early investment in the right tech will help drive forward intelligent automation within the Finance department, but also enable the organization to make the right decisions for future capabilities around data and insights.

Hypergrowth is something most scale-ups would wish to experience but it's difficult to be ready for it . For finance teams dealing with hypergrowth, having a robust strategic finance system in place can help you succeed in the way N26 has done.

Abacum empowers finance teams to become truly strategic partners in the organization by reducing time-to-insight with powerful automation and seamless collaboration. Request a live demo now to see the product and start your own journey.

AHA! Finance is Abacum’s interview series where we speak to finance thought leaders on all topics finance. Want to be interviewed or have an interesting topic in mind? Send us a suggestion at hello@abacum.io.

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