Digital banks entered Ukraine’s financial market in 2017, shaking up the domestic banking sector.
Known as neobanks, these online banks are fast, simple to use, charge low commission and serve customers via mobile apps, making slow and bureaucratic brick-and-mortar banks look old.
But there is room for improvement. The lack of physical branches and in-person assistance can become a problem when the app glitches. Digital banks aren’t legally recognized and have to partner with traditional rivals to insure their products.
When choosing a parent bank, neobanks evaluate many factors, including assets, the size of capital and clientele, Ukrainian economist Eugene Dubogryz told the Kyiv Post.
The competition for Ukrainian customers among neobanks is growing as Ukrainians give up cash and switch to online banking services, but there is still space for new players, experts say.
Today, at least seven digital banks are operating in Ukraine. Most of them emulate the leader of the market — mobile-only bank Monobank, which, according to its co-founder Oleg Gorokhovskiy, is valued at over $1 billion today.
Here’s a guide to Ukraine’s most popular mobile banks and the people behind them.
Mobile-only Monobank, Ukraine’s first neobank, has amassed over 4.4 million clients since its foundation in 2017. Monobank uses the license of Universal Bank, owned by tycoon Serhiy Tigipko, who once was a political ally of fugitive former president Viktor Yanukovych.
Universal’s assets amount to $1.7 billion, 12th nationally. The share of Monobank in Universal’s revenue accounts for 80–90%, its CEO Iryna Starominska said in an interview with Forbes.
Monobank has seven cofounders, including Misha Rogalskiy, Oleg Gorokhovskiy and Dmytro Dubilet. Most of them occupied executive roles in PrivatBank before its nationalization in 2016. For this reason, they cannot work as top managers in Ukrainian banks or be their shareholders.
Monobank offers many services that traditional banks do. It allows users to keep and withdraw the money or put savings on deposit accounts with up to 10% per annum. But Monobank also stands out from its competitors.
For example, it allows its clients to split a restaurant bill, transfer money in one click, pay salaries, cover utilities without fees and return up to 20% of monthly expenses in the form of cashback. Monobank also plans to issue cards allowing to trade Bitcoin, the most popular cryptocurrency, and invest in shares of foreign firms.
Ukrainians Nick Izmailov and Denys Saprykin founded Sportbank in 2019 and have attracted over 300,000 users since then. Sportbank is a digital bank for people who love sport: it returns up to 10% of monthly expenses on sports equipment or fitness centers.
Sportbank is the first and the only neobank with two banking licenses — from small Oxi Bank, which has $26 million in assets, and Tigipko’s Tascombank with $941 million in assets. Sportbank founders will consider using only Tascombank’s license in the future.
Like other neobanks, Sportbank allows users to register a credit card online by adding photos of their documents to the app. The bank has only essential financial services: it offers to top up the card, transfer money, collect cashback and recharge a mobile phone.
Izmailov and Saprykin created a bank for customers, who are primarily between 18 and 35 years old. “For them, sport is a way of saying that they are taking care of themselves,” Izmailov said. The bank bets on sports to be different as its services are far behind those offered by Monobank, experts said.
In the future, Sportbank wants to introduce more incentives for its users. For example, its clients could purchase tickets for sports events inside the app or even get access to the locker room of favorite football players or win a dinner with a famous athlete.
Another neobank targetting a young audience entered the market in February 2020 and reached almost 100,000 active users in July 2021. Tigipko’s daughter Anna Tigipko, leading Izibank, invested nearly $2 million to launch the company.
Izibank operates under the banking license of Tascombank, which, like Universal Bank, belongs to TAS Group. Like all neobanks, Izibank has a lax tariff policy, offering a more extended grace period that allows customers to delay short-term loan repayments for up to 62 days.
Izibank also provides 1% cashback on all purchases and 2% cashback every Friday on cafes, clubs and restaurants. The users are not charged for money transfers, cash withdrawals and deposits from the City24 ATMs, as well as house utility payments. With Izibank, users can plan their budgets and set financial goals.
Although Izibank has a strong competitor, there is still a place for it in Ukraine, Anna Tigipko said in an interview with NV magazine in September last year. “We are very similar to Monobank in terms of concept and functionality, but I wouldn’t rush to compare us,” she said. “We are unique in terms of our story, positioning, and strategy.”
Ukrainian Todobank, launched in August 2019, focuses on convenient utility payments and offers 1% cashback on utilities.
Todobank works under the banking license of Megabank, which has $354 million in assets. Megabank’s shareholders are the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and Germany.
The founder of Todobank, Andriy Karpinsky, works at the management board of Megabank. In 2019, Gorokhovsky from Monobank accused Karpinsky of plagiarism. “The Todobank mobile app looks the same as Monobank’s. It only changed the color and removed the branded mascot cat,” he said.
Karpinsky, however, said that he started to develop Todobank back in 2015. The main difference of his app, compared to Monobank, is that it works with credit cards issued by different banks, Karpinsky said.
Neobank, which operates under the license of Concord Bank and is part of it, is a financial service for businesses, launched in July. Concord is owned by sisters Olena and Yulia Sosyedka. With assets of over $189 million, Concord ranks 39th among 71 Ukrainian banks.
Concord’s neobank offers similar services as other digital banks: deposits, money transfers, utility payments, currency exchange and 1% cashback. The bank also has its courier service that delivers physical cards directly to the clients.
According to Sosyedka, in the future, the app could serve as a cash register and would send its users notifications, reminding them to pay taxes or interest on the loan. With Neobank, entrepreneurs would also be able to give separate access to their accountant, Sosyedka said.
Ukrainian O.Bank, launched in January last year, has over 110,000 users today. It operates under the license of Idea Bank, which has $214 million in assets.
Idea Bank is owned by the Polish financial holding company Getin Holding. According to Mikhail Vlasenko, the chairman of the board at Idea Bank, the third of the bank’s new clients in 2020 came through O.Bank.
The main difference of O.Bank compared to other neobanks is a 30% cashback on subscription services from Apple and Google, including Apple Music, Google Play Music and Apple TV, and a 5% cashback on online purchases.
In September this year, one of Ukraine’s largest retailers Fozzy Group launched its digital bank — Vlasny Rakhunok (“Own Account”). It operates under the license of Vostok Bank, which has $629 million in assets.
Fozzy’s neobank offers essential financial services like money transfers and card replenishment and collects bonuses for Silpo stores’ purchases. In the future, Fozzy wants to introduce more banking services for logistics and e-commerce.
According to Kristina Karmazina, who launched Vlasny Rakhunok, Fozzy’s neobank is for those who want an “easy and amusing digital bank.”
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