Zelf, a neobank that provides financial services accessible through instant messenger applications, has raised $2m in a pre-seed funding round.

The challenger bank said it would use the funds to expand its services in Spain, Germany, Poland and Italy and to establish its presence in the UK and the US.

Founded in 2019, the Latvia headquartered startup is targeting Gen Z – those born between the late 1990s and early 2010s – as its primary customer base.

Zelf does not have physical branches or even a standalone app. Instead, its services are accessible via a range of messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, Viber, WhatsApp and Telegram.

The company has scrapped physical bank cards and says customers can receive a digital Zelf card and open an IBAN account in less than 30 seconds.

The pre-seed funding round was led by Austrian venture capital fund 3VC, with Seed X and Hard Yaka also contributing.

The round also attracted individual investors including Yair Goldfinger, co-founder of ICQ and ‘inventor’ of the first internet-wide instant messaging service. Other investors include Chris Adelsbach, venture partner at Techstars and founding partner at Outrun Ventures.

Zelf says its digital Mastercard cards have been actively used by “tens of thousands of cardholders” in France since it launched in August 2020.

The startup added that its customer base has grown 70% cumulative monthly and that more than half a million customers globally have pre-ordered Zelf cards.

In keeping with its appeal to Gen Z, Zelf has also created an AI-powered voice control system which allows customers to use voice commands to request money, send invoices and other activities.

“The incredible demand is a strong encouragement to accelerate our growth and we are thrilled that the investors share our vision of a contactless and cashless society,” said Elliot Goykhman, founder and CEO of Zelf.

“We are confident that our business model of eliminating cumbersome banking apps, as well as physical plastic cards, will prove to be the winning strategy.”

Roman Scharf, partner at 3VC, said:

“Gen Z is the first smartphone generation. Cash is an alien concept in their world. As a parent, I am excited about how ZELF empowers Gen Z as consumers by seamlessly integrating with the platforms they already use and at the same time includes parents and applies technology for safe digital engagement.”


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