Finance

Early Revolut backer Lakestar leads $40 million investment in French fintech startup Swan

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Swan co-founder and CEO Nicolas Benady.
Swan

European venture capital giant Lakestar, an early supporter of fintech unicorn Revolut, has emerged as a prominent backer of French fintech startup Swan.

Swan raised the funds in a series B investment led by European venture capital giant Lakestar. The latest fundraise takes Swan’s total money raised to 58 million euros. Accel, another venture capital firm, previously led Swan’s series A round in 2021.

Swan CEO and co-founder Nicolas Benady said that, when he started out, it was “incredibly complex” to integrate banking and other financial services into existing platforms that didn’t have any financial components.

“What we had in mind with our co-founders was that it shouldn’t be that complex,” he told CNBC. “If it’s easy to accept payments — like the Stripes the Adyens, the Mollies of this world enable — it should be as easy to set up banking.”

If you develop a big idea … at 2 a.m., it should be possible to come onto our website and have something up and running in the morning,” Benady added.

Swan will initially use the money to expand its operations in the Netherlands in the coming months, before later expanding its operations in the Italian market in 2024.

Benady said the Dutch market has unique features that set it apart from other European countries, making it more complex as a country to launch digital banking and payment capabilities in for its customers.

For example, the Netherlands has its own payments system, called iDEAL, which lets consumers pay online through their own bank and is supported by all the country’s major lenders including ABN Amro and ING Group.

Georgia Watson, a principal at Lakestar based in the firm’s London office, said the firm had been tracking Swan “for about a year.”

“We really like that they’re giving their clients the ability to create new product lines, new revenue lines, with attention for their end users,” she told CNBC.

She added that Swan’s clients “don’t have to think about the regulatory aspects when they want to add on new products, which can be very time consuming and create additional risk for the company.”

Swan is able to set up embedded financial solutions with businesses in as little as two weeks compared to many months for other competitors, according to Watson, who was previously with Goldman Sachs as a vice president managing the investment bank’s growth and venture deals.

Plans to forge partnerships

Luca Bocchio, partner at Accel, said Swan had proven its model was more scalable than competitors in the embedded finance world, such as Railsr and Solarisbank, which have faced struggles in their mission to plug payments and other financial products directly into companies’ platforms. Railsr earlier this year entered bankruptcy protection via a sale to a consortium of investors led by D Squared Capital.

Swan is able to handle large volumes of payments and run know-your-customer (KYC) checks with “very few people,” Bocchio told CNBC.

“Banking-as-a-service providers usually need to take care of many of their customers, who piggyback on their licenses. They need to take care of anti-money laundering, KYC and compliance costs for their customers.”

“Depending on what they’re serving, it means a high volume of requests if you’ve not created a fully automated platform,” Bocchio said. “It requires you to have lots of manual processes.”

Bocchio said that, where Swan differed to competitors was with its ability to process lots of tractions with more automated compliance processes. Railsr, he said, struggled to allocate the right number of people to figure out the challenge of developing an embedded finance experience while also considering how to scale it with compliance in mind.

Railsr, at the time of its restructuring announcement, said that it had “best-in-class technology” and would “get back to basics and manage the business methodically and constructively.”

Swan will also look to forge partnerships with more large, multinational corporates with an aggressive sales strategy following the fundraise. The company already works with the French retail chain Carrefour, which used its technology to develop a cashback project.

Swan plans to broaden its product offering out to include more payment collection methods such as direct debit and card payments, as well as new lending capabilities. As it rolls out these new products, Swan anticipates it’ll begin to serve new industries like travel, insurance and business-to-business marketplaces.

The proportion of payments that are embedded in platforms is expected to grow to 40% in the next few years, according to a note from Bain Capital Ventures. Embedded finance is expected to become a $384.8 billion market by 2029, according to data from Reportlinker.

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