The Chime Business Model – How Does Chime Make Money?

Executive Summary:

Chime is an American-based neobank that offers various financial products through its mobile applications. As a digitally enabled, Chime does not operate any physical branches. The app comes with a physical Visa debit card.

The business model of Chime is based on charging a so-called interchange fee for every transaction conducted with the card. More specifically, Visa charges a flat fee of 1.5 percent to the merchant/seller, of which Chime takes a small portion.

Founded in 2013 by banking and technology executives, the company has seen a continuous rise in user growth and adoption of its products. Today, the company counts over 8 million customers that conduct an average of 40 transactions per month.

How Chime Works

Chime is an American neobank that offers various financial products and services. As a digitally enabled bank, Chime does not operate any physical customer branches. Instead, customers use Chime’s mobile app to keep their finances in check.

Authentication and registration for accounts occur within video identification. Chime claims that accounts can be set up within 2 minutes.

On top of the digital account, users will receive a Visa debit card to be able to spend their hard-earned dollars.

Other features of the app include:

  • Detailed overview of account balance and spending history
  • Automatically setting money aside into a savings account
  • Getting paid early with direct deposits
  • No overdraft fees applied
  • Fee-free withdrawal at over 60,000 ATM’s across the US
  • Instantly being able to pay other Chime users

… and many others. The company’s appeal comes from simplifying the whole banking process from setting up an account to the removal of hidden fees.

Chime can be used by any American citizen above 18. More specifically, accounts can only be offered to members with a valid SSN, living in the United States and District of Columbia.

As opposed to its FinTech counterparts in Europe (more on that later), Chime does not possess a banking license. Instead, it teamed up with The Bancorp Bank to protect accounts against any type of default.  

A Short History Of Chime

Chime was founded in 2013 by Chris Britt (CEO) and Ryan King (CTO). Prior to starting Chime, Britt was working as an executive in the financial space, handling product development for companies like Visa or the Green Dot Corporation.

At Green Dot, Britt was focused on helping the underbanked portion of society receive and set up their first bank account.

In the early days, Chime served as a quasi-extension of someone’s existing bank account. Customers could use the free-of-charge debit card to make payments or retrieve money.

In turn, users would receive real-time updates on their spending and account balance. Even in today’s banking world, these features are not present within every banking application – let alone in 2014, when Chime finally was released to the public.

Throughout the years, Chime continued to add new features to its service while simultaneously growing their user base.

As opposed to many of its European competitors, Chime does not possess a banking license yet, despite some reports indicating that it has tried to acquire it in the past.

Right now, the company is continuing to focus on acquiring new users and branch out from its primarily low- and mid-income customer base towards bigger accounts.

How Does Chime Make Money?

Chime makes money by charging interchange fees (i.e. fees merchants pay to financial institutions) whenever their debit card is used.

In the case of Chime, merchants pay around 1.5 percent of the sale amount to Visa. A portion of that 1.5 percent is then shared with Chime.

According to CEO Britt, Chime’s users conduct an average of 40 transactions per month. And if you take into account that the average U.S. adult uses the same primary checking account for about 16 years, this can bring in an immense amount of transactions and fees over time.

Part of Chime’s appeal stems from the fact that legacy banks often charge fees on many different occasions, including ATM charges, overdraft fees, account maintenance fees, transfer fees, international fees, and non-sufficient funds (NSF) fees. Meanwhile, Chime’s users don’t pay any of these “penalty” fees.

This strategy seems to have worked out so far. Chime recently reported that it has crossed the eight million customer mark. This represents an 800 percent increase from the 1 million users the company had in 2018.

On top of that, CEO Britt claimed that most of the newly added customers come from the big banks like Wells Fargo or JPMorgan Chase.

Chime Competitors

According to a report issued by Facts and Factors Market Research, the digital bank market is expected to reach a combined valuation of $578 billion by 2027. This represents a 31 fold increase from the $18.6 valuation the market reached in 2018.

While the people using neobanks as their primary bank account remain in the single percentage digits, their increasing importance cannot be denied.

This section will therefore take a closer look at Chime’s biggest competitors in the neobank space. Nevertheless, their main competition remains to be the traditional banks like Wells Fargo or Bank Of America.

Revolut

Revolut, headquartered in London, was founded in 2015 by Nikolay Storonsky (CEO) and Vladyslav Yatsenko (CTO). Next to a digital bank account, the company offers solutions such as digital peer-to-peer payments, trading options, and budgeting tools.

Revolut monetizes consumers (and businesses alike) through monthly subscription plans, offering one free and two premium plans. Other sources of income include overdraft fees, insurance or stock commissions, interest paid on loans, or their cashback program.

As of today, the company has raised over $836 million in funding while being valued at $5.5 billion. Revolut is available in over 30 countries worldwide, making it the biggest player in the neobank space.

N26

N26 (formerly Number 26), headquartered in Berlin, was founded in 2013 by Valentin Stalf (CEO) and Maximilian Tayenthal (CFO). The company offers various banking tools for both private consumers and businesses alike.

As with Revolut, N26 monetizes its customers and businesses through premium monthly packages. Other streams of revenue include withdrawal fees, overdraft and loans, or partnership programs through cashback.

So far, N26 has raised over $682 million in venture capital with a valuation of $3.5 billion. The company has amassed over 5 million customers to date while operating in close to 30 countries.

Monzo

Monzo, a FinTech out of London, was founded in 2015 by Tom Blomfield (CEO), Tom Foster-Carter (COO), and others. It offers a variety of banking solutions such as bank accounts, savings and borrowing options, or purchasing energy plans.

Monetization occurs through subscriptions for premium or business accounts, interest on loans, and commission (e.g. when purchasing an energy plan). 

Like N26 (and frankly all other mobile banks), Monzo’s account comes with a Mastercard, which is directly connected to the mobile app.

Its last Series F funding round valued the company at $2.5 billion. As of December 2019, over 3.5 million people registered for a bank account. Currently, the company is active in its UK home market as well as the USA.

Starling Bank

Starling Bank, founded in 2014 by banking veteran Anne Boden (CEO), is another challenger bank out of London, UK. It offers current as well as business banking accounts. Furthermore, users can apply for loans and send money to others, both domestically and internationally.

Starling puts an emphasis on social good and sustainable growth. As such, ¼ of the company is still owned by the founder and employees.

As per Crunchbase, the company has raised over $323 million. Unfortunately, a valuation has not been disclosed at any of the funding rounds.

Chime Funding, Valuation & Revenue

According to Crunchbase, Chime as raised a total of $1.1 billion in nine rounds of venture capital funding.

In its latest Series E round announced in December 2019, where the company raised a whopping $700 million, Chime was valued at $5.8 billion. This represented an almost fourfold increase from its previous $1.5 billion valuation that Chime received in March 2019.

Investors into the company include the likes of DST Global, Menlo Ventures, General Atlantic, Dragoneer Investment Group, and many others.

As with any startup in high growth mode, Chime does not publicly disclose its revenue or profit numbers. But, according to a report by Forbes, a person close to the company stated that Chime expected to reach $200 million in revenues for the fiscal year 2019. This represents a fourfold increase compared to the previous year.