By Eric Auchard
LONDON (Reuters) - Smartphone-only bank Number26 is now offering its services in 17 countries in the euro zone, expanding from a smaller core of European markets it entered a year ago, it said on Tuesday.
The Berlin-based company is backed by Li Ka-shing, one of Asia's richest men and Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and an early investor in Facebook, along with other investors including Berlin's Earlybird Ventures and Zurich-based Red Alpine.
The company, which received its own banking license from German financial regulator Bafin this year, offers online accounts for cash withdrawals, savings and insurance services that users manage on their mobile phones.
It currently counts 200,000 customers in 8 countries.
Without the expense of branches or legacy computer infrastructure and by relying on selective outsourcing, mobile-first banks can challenge established banks by promising lower lending rates and higher rates on savings.
Established banks have responded by plowing more money into upgrading their own computer systems, rolling out mobile apps of their own, closing retail bank branches and investing in fintech startups.
N26, which first launched in 2015 in Germany and Austria, then moved into Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Ireland and Slovakia, is now adding the Benelux countries, the Baltics, Finland, Portugal and Slovenia. (http://reut.rs/2haPW4b)
"We have built Europe's most modern mobile bank," Number26 Chief Executive and co-founder Valentin Stalf said in a presentation at the TechCrunch Disrupt London conference.
"We are getting closer to building a truly European bank."
(Reporting By Eric Auchard; Editing by Keith Weir)