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Sustainable banking explained: with UK-Bulgarian challenger banking app Novus

the co-founders of Novus, Hristian Nedyalkov and Andoni Piña Sigg
Image credit: The co-founders of Novus, Hristian Nedyalkov and Andoni Piña Sigg
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After raising a total of €5M in the last nine months, Novus, the challenger banking app for conscious consumerism, has just been selected as one of the five participants in the Green FinTech Accelerator of the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). 

After the last time The Recursive reported on the development of the startup, Novus has raised nearly €1.5M through a Seedrs crowdfunding campaign and an additional €2.5M from BrightCap Ventures and fintech angel investors from the UK and Switzerland. It has also released its app on both the Apple and Google Play Store, attracting the interest of over 30K users who were already signed on the waiting list. 

To find out what stays behind this rapid endorsement from investors and users, we met with two of the co-founders of Novus, Hristian Nedyalkov and Andoni Piña Sigg. Read further to explore the niche of sustainable banking and conscious consumerism, and have a feel of what it takes to build a consumer-centric product. 

Novus, which currently operates in a beta version, is a challenger banking app that generates positive impact from everyday payments and lifestyle choices and rewards customers for developing sustainable behaviors with real-time impact points which can be tracked, saved, and spent via the app. 

Recognized growth potential and market need for conscious consumerism products

Regarding the latest investment of Novus from BrightCap, the co-founders share that the Sofia-based VC and the team of Novus have been building their relationships for quite a long time, ever since they were on the idea stage, and long before they raised their crowdfunding round. Nedyalkov explains that the BrightCap team gave them guidance and helped them build their initial strategy and product offering. The investment opportunity came naturally, both for the BrightCap Partners and the Novus co-founders.

“Investors identify the same trends we observe ourselves – that more and more people, especially from the Western world want to become conscious consumers. Our product comes to further skew that positive trend and make it more seamlessly and effortlessly than ever to be a conscious consumer. The potential to convince people who do not particularly categorize as conscious consumers and show them how easy it is to choose a sustainable way to spend and invest your finances is what attracts mission-oriented investors,” Hristian Nedyalkov shares. 

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Andoni Piña Sigg adds: “Throughout our journey, we have learned that a lot of people want to be more cautious when they consume but they don’t have the tools available to do that in an easy and flawless way. So what we are offering is a way for every single person to be able to have a positive social and environmental impact on their everyday lives without the additional complexities.”

All of that means that there is tangible user demand for products and services for conscious consumerism. One of the reasons why Novus decided to do the crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs was to connect with early adopters and supporters who can later turn to power users. And given that they are a B2C company, this made more sense as those early supporters unlocked the word-of-mouth effect and helped them gain more beta-users.

Practice what you preach: developing an ecosystem of conscious features

What makes their product offering more attractive, is that challenger banking app Novus is the first and so far the only B Corp certified digital banking company within the UK market. This gives the startup a clear competitive advantage and a market differentiation as the B Corp certification process is a very thorough one, and only companies with the highest sustainability and impact standards manage to get the certificate. 

“Only companies, which are considered social enterprises, meaning their ultimate mission is to generate positive social and environmental impact, are able to fulfill the requirements for a B Corp Certification. From a process perspective, this takes around a year of working on policies, procedures, and thousands of pages to ensure that the company generates a positive impact not only with their users but also with all of the stakeholders,” Hristian Nedyalkov outlines.

Novus on a journey to become a sustainable super app

“Our vision ever since the beginning has been to connect conscious consumers, impact projects, and sustainable brands and provide everything necessary for this ecosystem to flourish and be seamlessly connected through the lens of finance. This encompasses everything from how one spends, invests, to even how they lend,” Hristian Nedyalkov explains.

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 At the same time, they are guided by what their customers would like to see as a product so customer feedback plays a big role in their decisions about product and feature development. So far, the team of Novus has seen equally big engagement on the impact side, but at the same time, they have seen a lot of engagement on the carbon offsetting side. 

Working side-by-side with big international companies as an early-stage company

To bring its product to the end-consumers, Novus has managed to build partnerships with leading companies in the banking and payments sector, including the international transactional payment giant Visa, and the open banking and compliance platform Railsbank, as well as with the card-issuing platform Marqeta. 

“The partnership with Visa allowed us to boost its proposition and get to partner with other leading international companies such as Saatchi & Saatchi which accelerated the branding success of Novus. Railsbank, on the other side, allowed Novus not to plug into their core banking service and just utilize them as a bank in a box but helped them with the licensing part to help the team of Novus build their own core banking technology with their advice and support with the FCA and the central bank in the UK where we keep the ledgers and the money accounts,” Hristian Nedyalkov explains. 

Towards conscious lending, licensing, and development of a Bulgarian R&D team

In less than a year, challenger banking app Novus has managed to build a team of over 30 people, who work in a remote-first environment. Around half of the team is based in Bulgaria due to the strong belief of Nedyalkov in the potential of Bulgarian tech talent. The IQ, EQ, and execution capabilities are essential in a fast-paced startup that aims to create a good product and equally good work-life balance environment. 

When it comes to the immediate future of Novus, the team is looking to expand its offering beyond the UK market. They are currently having discussions with potential partners and regulators in various European countries and in the US, and Australia. 

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In the long-term future, Novus will be looking to get its own banking license as this would allow the company to get into the lending field. According to Nedyalkov sustainable lending is tightly connected to ethics. The ethics come with not overcharging and indebting people and businesses that would use these financial products. The sustainable part comes when the lending is intended for needs that have a sustainability focus. Novus is looking at both sides and is actively assessing its opportunity in the field but as of now, lending is not something that is included in the short-term plans of the company. 

 

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Elena is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive, an online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. She is keen on sharing the innovation stories that shape the regional ecosystem and has a great interest in fintech, IoT, and biotech startups. Elena is currently finishing her Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Political Science at the American University in Bulgaria.
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