Vantage: Barzahlen

Pavlina Popova, Director of Banking at Barzahlen chats to us about bank-independent cash infrastructures

Tell us more about Barzahlen! What makes your company and your vision unique? And what is the main problem Barzahlen aims to solve?

viafintech was founded in 2011 and launched its first product “Barzahlen” under its initial European brand “viacash” in 2013 in Germany. The original idea was to enable the possibility to shop online and pay offline via a barcode in local stores. Instead of providing sensitive account or credit card information to an online shop through regular payment methods, our service does not require any personal or financial data from the end customer – except for an email address to which the barcode is sent.

Through our services, banks can also offer their customers cash withdrawal and deposit services. Our vision is to replace the traditional bank branch and, together with our retail partners, become the place where everyone can manage his or her most basic banking needs. We continuously implement new services through barcodes such as bill payment, coupon, money transfer and top-up solutions.

 

Where is Barzahlen up to in its journey? And what have been some of the key challenges in getting there?

Today, viafintech is the leading pan-European transaction platform for cash. Once our retail partner network was established, gradually covering every region in Germany, we enabled other services related to cash deposits, withdrawals and bill payments. We also launched a banking service – our most valued solution today – appreciated by many of our partner banks including N26, bunq, Hype, DKB, and TARGOBANK.

Moreover, our broad network of stores allows us to perform several other financial services – many of which are actually cashless. Our focus lies on connecting retailers with merchants. Through our brands viacash and Barzahlen we offer 21st-century platform solutions for cash deposits and withdrawals, currently in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, with more markets to come in 2020.

Connecting retailers and merchants is a typical “chicken and egg problem” and therefore very challenging when we expand our solution to new countries. Retailers often hesitate to onboard before we have a network of merchant partners and merchant partners are unable to use our service before we have a network of stores. Fortunately, this has become easier through our cooperation with international banks such as N26 and bunq as we go live together in every new country we launch in.

 

Barzahlen originated to serve cash-heavy markets such as Germany and Austria. What other markets do you see as being suitable candidates for Barzahlen’s services? Why?

Although Germany and Austria are indeed cash-heavy markets, looking at the European average of 79% of all payments at POS being made in cash, Germany’s case does not appear as exceptional anymore. Furthermore, in markets where the usage of cash is declining, it becomes more expensive to maintain a standalone cash infrastructure such as ATMs and bank branches. At the same time, there will always be cash-preferring customer segments that need to be served; this is why banks and other merchants are looking for independent cash infrastructures such as ours.

As mentioned above we are already active in the DACH region (Germany, Austria, Switzerland) as well as Italy with an overall network of 16K POS and plans to expand to Greece in 2020. Other than that, we already have General Managers for France, UK, Spain, Portugal, and Poland on board, who are working on the expansion in these countries.

 

While many companies are focused on migrating cash spend onto card or account-to-account based solutions, Barzahlen has taken a different approach, serving Europe’s many cash-dependent consumers without trying to encourage them to change their preferred payment methods. Do you expect to see more services appearing for people who prefer to stick with cash? If so, what use cases do you anticipate?

Actually, we do not see too many new services serving people that want to stick to cash as most companies do not see a lot of potential in cash for the future. Nonetheless, we do not only serve people that prefer to pay with cash – we also support customers that like to spend their money digitally while receiving it in cash. Imagine a young person that receives part of his or her salary in cash (such as waiters earning tips) but wants to make a purchase in their favorite online store. With our mobile ATM feature, it is possible for these customers to deposit their cash in real-time onto their account and then use it immediately to shop online.

 

Millennials and Generation Z are continuing to succeed the generations before them as the main users of financial products, meaning payments are likely to be gradually migrated away from cash. Do you think there will still be a place for cash-focused technology providers like Barzahlen in 3-5 years? And how do you see Barzahlen mitigating the effects of this trend?

Within the next 3-5 years, our cash services will still be in high demand, that much we know. Looking at our cooperation with banks, the more banks close down ATMs and bank branches in the next years due to cost pressures, the more they will look for other independent cash solutions in order to maintain their service offering. As the provider of the largest independent cash infrastructure, we expect viacash to remain high in demand. Nonetheless, we are already working on other products within our retail partner platform that support other use cases that are not necessarily related to cash.

 

As well as offering its services directly through its app, Barzahlen has seen success in partnering with other FinTechs, notably including N26. How has this been different from partnering with incumbent banks?

Apart from a simple store finder feature, we do not provide an app for our private banking customers. Instead, we rely on our banking partners – our service is integrated as a white label solution directly into the banking application of the cooperating banks, both online and challenger banks such as N26, bunq, DKB, Hype and more traditional banks such as TARGOBANK or Sparda-Bank.

On one hand, our cooperation with other FinTechs has been very successful since our mobile ATM feature enables cash withdrawals and deposits with the use of a smartphone which complements the service offering of partnering challengers and online banks. By supporting these banking partners, the usage of our feature grows with the increase of their customer base.

On the other hand, by integrating our solution, incumbent banks with a more traditional customer base create a new incentive for their customers to use their mobile applications. Moreover, especially retail banks often integrate our solution into different channels – including mobile, online and bank branches – and thus create a multi-channel infrastructure as they strive to offer the best service to their customers.

 

What advice would you give to FinTechs aspiring to partner with other FinTechs, or even with incumbents?

FinTechs typically have a better potential of coming up with modern disruptive solutions whereas incumbents might be more experienced in the market. Therefore, both sides can only learn and profit from each other and I would strongly recommend to both sides to continuously exchange ideas and try to collaborate. Luckily, in Germany we have a very strong FinTech scene with a multitude of events that make networking, raising funding or just getting to know each other easy – I hope this trend will filter out onto a wider European level as well.


Pavlina Popova
Director of Banking

As Director Banking at Barzahlen, Pavlina is responsible for partnerships with banks. Pavlina first submerged herself in the banking industry early on during her studies working at Landesbank in Berlin, within the risk department. After her studies, she continued as a consultant for Simon-Kucher & Partners consulting for regional banks.

At Barzahlen, Pavlina enjoys working with all kinds of different banks and contributing to the transition phase that the banking industry is currently going through.