How Compte Nickel Revolutionised French Banking

Many things about Compte Nickel are atypical. For a start, the company has four co-founders, RyadHuguesMichel and Pierre, from wildly different backgrounds – between Ryad the relentless inventor, who was at the origin of a number of contactless payment projects, and Hugues, who came directly from the banking establishment, as ex-CEO of Boursorama and a former SocGen Communications Chief. They also met by chance, as Hugues describes in his book “No Bank”.

They started their journey in 2012. After the financial crisis, Kerviel, and other scandals, trust in the banking system was at an all-time low. Facing falling interest rates and difficulties, retail banks began to close branches, refocusing on wealthier, urban customers, and leaving entire parts of the population unaddressed, and frankly unloved.

Hugues once shared a chart with me showing that the cost of banking is the highest for those who own the least. How can that be? The founders knew there had to be a better way. Something more local, more human. A transparent service, which doesn’t push you towards an overdraft but actually stands by your side, to help you manage your budget.

Compte Nickel was born. Relying on the ubiquitous French tobacconists as its distribution channel, Compte Nickel is both local but also exceptionally technologically advanced. It gives its customers a real-time, fully transparent bank account for only 20euros per year. No extra fees, no overdraft and only 5 minutes to set up. This was revolutionary.

We had followed Compte Nickel almost since the start and when Eight Roads invested in 2016, what struck us was the culture. Compte Nickel is not a company, it’s a movement. Every member of the founding and management team shared this profound vision around changing the way banking works in France. Not only to make money. Not only to take market share. But also, to give back dignity and fairness to those who are not deemed rich enough or aspirational enough to enter a shiny bank branch.

I remember in one of my first meetings with Ryad, he had received a Christmas card from a customer. He was immensely proud of it. Who sends a Christmas card to their bank? This was proof that something was working.

Fast forward four years, Compte Nickel became a real phenomenon with 540,000 accounts opened, and nearly 2,500 tobacconists in their network. Compte Nickel found its voice, and it has now caught the eye of France’s largest bank. It’s a great move, which confirms that the future is about servicing customers in a way which is transparent and highly technological, but also human.

We send our enormous congratulations to Hugues, Ryad, Michel, Pierre and Arnaud for their great achievement, to our great co-investors Partech Ventures, and to visionary French entrepreneur Philippe Oddo who believed in the Compte Nickel story from the start.

As we say in French: Compte Nickel, bon vent!