SoFi-Zenbanx deal accelerates fintech convergence trend

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Social Finance CEO Mike Cagney has been talking for years about adding a deposit account to an online product line that already includes student loans, mortgages and investment products.

That vision came closer to fruition Wednesday with the announcement that San Francisco-based SoFi is acquiring Zenbanx, which offers a mobile banking account designed to appeal to international travelers.

Financial terms were not disclosed. SoFi said in a press release that it expects the acquisition to close in mid-February.

The deal represents part of a trend of marketplace lenders expanding the ways they can interact with consumers. In 2015 Prosper Marketplace said it was buying Billguard, a consumer finance app maker, to engage more with customers. In April the online lender Affirm said it was acquiring the personal financial management app Sweep.

In a blog post, Cagney described the Zenbanx agreement in the context of SoFi’s ambition to become the center of its customers’ financial lives.

“Zenbanx’s focus on a fast and simple mobile experience on top of solid banking technology makes them a natural fit for SoFi and our members, who demand to be able to manage their money whenever and wherever,” Cagney said. “They’ve also been at the forefront of conversational banking built into popular message apps, an area core to our current development.”

In addition to a deposit product, SoFi plans to add a credit card and money transfer capabilities, Cagney said.

Zenbanx, founded in 2012, offers a multicurrency mobile banking account created by Arkadi Kuhlmann, who pioneered the direct banking model of offering high-yield savings accounts at ING Direct.

The Wilmington, Del.-based firm’s product allows customers to transfer money quickly between nine currencies, including the U.S. dollar, the euro, and the Japanese yen. It pitches its product as a way to save while sending money abroad, exchanging currencies or making overseas debit card purchases.

Zenbanx’s account is offered through a partnership with WSFS Bank in Delaware. The bank’s parent company said Wednesday that its partnership will continue with SoFi.

“By teaming up with SoFi and Zenbanx, we’re partnering with some of the top talent in the fintech space,” Mark A. Turner, president and CEO of WSFS Bank, said in a separate press release. “We have been working in partnership with Zenbanx for the last three years and are excited about the opportunity to continue our entrepreneurial spirit around companywide innovation, best practices and service with SoFi to bring leading-edge products to market.”

WSFS’ ownership stake in Zenbanx will convert to an ownership in SoFi, the release said.

SoFi was founded in 2011 as a student loan refinancing company. In recent years, the privately held company has added a variety of financial products in a quest to build relationships with young, upwardly mobile customers.

The majority of Zenbanx’s staff will be joining SoFi, according to Cagney. Kuhlmann will join SoFi in an executive role leading banking products.

“Zenbanx customers will be able to continue using their accounts until the new SoFi personal finance products are launched in a few months,” Cagney wrote, “at which point they’ll be transferred onto the SoFi platform.”

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