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Qonto 2025: Pivoting Strategy for Sustainable Growth

Updated: Mar 8

Qonto, formerly known as Finpal, was launched in France in 2017 with an international focus from day one. Just two years after its French launch, it expanded into three other markets, Spain, Germany and Italy.


In its early days, Qonto launched its solution by using Treezor's e-money license instead of going through the time-consuming procedure of applying for a banking license. This approach gave the start-up more time to concentrate on how to quickly scale, raise client awareness and cement the lead in the business banking segment, as the dominant neo-bank for freelancers and SMEs in Europe.


Celebrating its fifth year of operation, Qonto achieved a milestone reflective of its pioneering spirit and strategic acumen by acquiring its German counterpart, Penta. This move not only bolstered Qonto's market presence. Since inception Qonto’s product were built for international markets. While France is its core market, by acquiring Penta, its main competitor in Germany, Qonto places itself to growth as the country’s leading Neo-bank provider for businesses.


Experience Qonto's sustainable growth journey in the dynamic world of European fintech. Navigating digital shifts and profitability challenges, Qonto recalibrates for 2025 with strategic moves, acquisitions, and potential banking license considerations.

Source: Qonto The Profitability Challenge. C-Innovation. 2023


Navigating Challenges: Qonto's Strategic Hurdles in Digital Banking


As Qonto etched its mark in the fintech domain with a stellar $5 billion valuation during 2022 and 2023, it showcased the profound trust and confidence of its investors, bolstering its capital-raising prowess. Despite this, Qonto faces pivotal challenges in the rapidly evolving digital banking landscape, particularly around securing profitability.


The industry's narrative underscores lending as a key success driver. This evolution is characterized by a strategic pivot from traditional revenue streams to more diversified and robust financial models. For companies like Qonto, which primarily earns from interchange revenue, the absence of a credit license is becoming an increasingly significant limitation. This restriction not only hampers Qonto's appeal to larger clients but also impedes its potential to broaden its revenue streams. Those fintechs poised to thrive in the next round of market evolution are those that have already begun to adapt to these new strategic imperatives.


Experience Qonto's sustainable growth journey in the dynamic world of European fintech. Navigating digital shifts and profitability challenges, Qonto recalibrates for 2025 with strategic moves, acquisitions, and potential banking license considerations.

This necessity for diversification is exemplified by competitors like Aprila Bank, OakNorth, and fairly recent new player Allica Bank whom, despite having a considerably smaller customer base, have achieved profitability. Their success can be largely attributed to a strong focus on lending—a domain where Qonto has yet to fully capitalize. As the industry continues to reward those with a varied revenue model, particularly one that includes lending services, the pressure mounts on Qonto to adapt and deliver financial results.


Early in 2021, Qonto, had set targets to achieve profitability by the year's end 2023 and to grow its user base to 500,000 clients, with a particular emphasis on international expansion. However, as the year has passed, Qonto has yet to reach profitability and is now recalibrating its expectations, looking toward 2025 as the new horizon for achieving this milestone (Qonto most recently disclosed its financial performance for 2020, reporting a loss of €27 million for the company). Despite the positive impact that rising interest rates may have had — with industry insiders estimating a potential €100 million boost in turnover for Qonto due to the European Central Bank's rate increases — the neobank is still navigating its journey towards financial sustainability.


Experience Qonto's sustainable growth journey in the dynamic world of European fintech. Navigating digital shifts and profitability challenges, Qonto recalibrates for 2025 with strategic moves, acquisitions, and potential banking license considerations.

Source: Qonto The Profitability Challenge. C-Innovation. 2023


An anticipated expansion into the credit market, marked by an application for a credit establishment license in 2022, was poised to enhance Qonto's profitability prospects. However, this venture was paused as Qonto shifted focus towards developing new services through strategic partnerships, such as with as Defacto and October. The pivot from their original plan was influenced in part by regulatory demands, which, according to Sifted, required Qonto to set aside a substantial amount — around €100 million — to maintain solvency, a reserve that investors had hoped would be allocated towards growth. While the credit business initiative remains on standby, this strategic detour opens the possibility for Qonto to revisit and recalibrate its approach to credit services in the future, potentially boosting its revenue streams when it aligns with regulatory requirements and business goals.

Additionally, Qonto's goal to become the primary financial solution for one million European SMEs and freelancers by 2025 faces scalability challenges due to its current SME-focused client base. The average size of business is around 10 people, which limits Qonto capability to increase income and generate revenue from existing clients. Bigger opportunities are for Qonto towards larger enterprises for significant revenue growth.


Qonto's strategic decisions critically impact investor confidence, with profitability efforts, including banking license pursuits and potential credit business reevaluations, serving as key to its long-term success and viability. These strategic moves promise to extend Qonto's revenue diversity and market presence, bolstering investor trust.


Qonto's Strategic Actions for Profitability in 2024


In addressing its challenges and outlining strategic initiatives for enhancing profitability in 2024, Qonto operates under the regulatory framework of a payment institution license, rather than that of a traditional bank. This regulatory status requires Qonto to adopt specific measures to safeguard its customers' funds. In compliance with regulatory mandates, Qonto ensures the protection of its customers' money by segregating it from its operational funds. To effectively accomplish this, Qonto collaborates with partner banks such as Natixis and Crédit Mutuel Arkea, where it securely fences customers’ funds away from its own cash flows.


Experience Qonto's sustainable growth journey in the dynamic world of European fintech. Navigating digital shifts and profitability challenges, Qonto recalibrates for 2025 with strategic moves, acquisitions, and potential banking license considerations.

Source: Qonto The Profitability Challenge. C-Innovation. 2023


Amidst this backdrop, the contemplation of pursuing a full banking license emerges as a strategic option under review. While Qonto has not announce any intention to apply for a banking license, the possibility of doing so represents a potential strategic pivot. Such a move could considerably widen Qonto's revenue streams and client base. Transitioning from a payment institution to obtaining a full banking license, despite the regulatory complexities and operational challenges it entails, promises to amplify Qonto's revenue diversification, extend its market reach, and bolster investor confidence.


Qonto's recent strategic appointments underscore its commitment to long-term growth and international expansion. With Kenneth de Spiegeleire leading the Growth team and international markets as Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) and Anita Szarek as Chief Financial Officer (CFO), with the mission to identify new growth pillars and build best-in-class processes to sustain the company’s financial performance and rapid growth. Qonto demonstrates a deliberate approach to strengthening its executive team for navigating future challenges and opportunities.


2023 marked a year of strategic milestones for Qonto , a cornerstone of these milestones was the successful integration of Penta, a move that not only expanded Qonto's product offerings and customer base but also enhanced its competitive stance in the market. This strategic consolidation with Penta, a fellow digital banking platform for SMEs, signifies Qonto's ambition to dominate the European neobanking ecosystem by amalgamating complementary strengths. The merger has broadened Qonto's appeal, adding depth to its service portfolio and fortifying its presence, especially in the German market where Penta had established a robust footprint.


The brand consolidation in Germany, marked by Qonto's integration with Penta, signals a deliberate effort to streamline operations and solidify its brand presence. This strategic move is set to enrich customer experience and foster brand loyalty, ensuring more seamless operations and a cohesive approach within a significant European market.


Complementing this strategic consolidation, last year Qonto expanded its footprint in the French market through the acquisition of Paykrom's customer portfolio. Paykrom, which catered to entrepreneurs and independent professionals with payment and invoicing services, discontinued its operations, allowing Qonto to seize the opportunity to absorb its clientele. This move not only broadens Qonto's customer base and reach but also significantly bolsters its standing in the SME sector. By assimilating Paykrom's client network, Qonto benefits from an improved market position, reinforcing its dominance in the French SME sector and underlining its ambition to be a leading neobank for professional accounts.


Moreover, Qonto's openness to further strategic acquisitions amidst a challenging fundraising climate demonstrates its proactive approach to growth and scalability. This readiness to explore additional acquisitions indicates Qonto's strategic vision to continuously seek opportunities that could complement its existing services, enter new markets, or acquire technological capabilities that could further differentiate its offerings. In a landscape where venture capital funding has become more scrutinized, Qonto's ability to pursue such strategic opportunities signifies its financial strength and the confidence of its investors in its long-term growth potential.


In addition to acquisition, Qonto's collaboration with IDEMIA to introduce sustainable card solutions further exemplifies its commitment to innovation and sustainability. This partnership aligns with evolving consumer preferences for eco-friendly products, positioning Qonto as a responsible player in the fintech sector and appealing to a broader, more environmentally conscious audience.


These steps are geared towards enhancing its offerings, expanding market reach, and reinforcing its sustainability commitment. Moreover, these initiatives underscore the importance of demonstrating a sustainable business model, crucial for Qonto's aim to maintain its position and foster growth in the competitive European fintech ecosystem.


C-Innovation Analysis: Navigating Qonto's 2024 Strategic Direction


As Qonto navigates the complexities of the European fintech landscape, its strategic maneuvers in 2024 are crucially aimed at securing a more diversified and robust financial standing. Central to these efforts is the necessity for Qonto to obtain a banking license. This pursuit is not merely a matter of regulatory compliance but a strategic imperative to unlock new revenue streams, particularly in lending, where Qonto has faced limitations due to its reliance on interchange revenue and a lack of a credit license.


The potential acquisition of a company with an existing banking license presents an intriguing shortcut to this goal. Such a move would allow Qonto to leapfrog the lengthy and complex process of obtaining a license from scratch, providing immediate access to a broader array of financial services and products. This strategy could significantly accelerate Qonto's path to profitability and sustainability, showcasing the model's viability to investors and stakeholders.


In the wake of 2023, Qonto's recalibration towards a 2025 profitability target highlights the critical role of strategic acquisitions and partnerships in its growth playbook. The acquisition of Penta, for instance, not only enhanced Qonto's product offerings and customer base but also solidified its market position, particularly in Germany. Similar strategic acquisitions, especially those offering regulatory advantages or key technological capabilities, could further bolster Qonto's competitive edge.


However, these ambitions come against the backdrop of a challenging fundraising environment and the pressing need to demonstrate a sustainable business model. The European Central Bank's interest rate hikes, while potentially boosting Qonto's turnover, underscore the importance of financial products that generate interest income, such as loans and advances. As such, Qonto's strategic shift towards developing new services through partnerships, while preserving capital for regulatory solvency, reflects a nuanced approach to growth that balances innovation with financial prudence.


Looking ahead, Qonto's focus on expanding its SME and freelancer client base, particularly through international growth, remains a pivotal aspect of its strategy. Yet, achieving scale and profitability will require Qonto to navigate regulatory challenges, optimize its product mix, and perhaps most critically, secure a banking license. This license is not just a regulatory badge but a key enabler for Qonto to diversify its revenue streams, enhance its value proposition, and assert its dominance in the European neobanking ecosystem.


As 2024 unfolds, Qonto's strategic decisions will undoubtedly be closely watched by the fintech community. The company's ability to adapt to the evolving digital banking landscape, coupled with its pursuit of strategic acquisitions and a banking license, will be determinative of its success and sustainability in the years to come.

 

At C- innovation we will continue following closely the ins and outs of Digital Banks, so stay tuned! 

 

Experience Qonto's sustainable growth journey in the dynamic world of European fintech. Navigating digital shifts and profitability challenges, Qonto recalibrates for 2025 with strategic moves, acquisitions, and potential banking license considerations.

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