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Fintech operators are chipping away at the banking system, inserting themselves in small niche markets. Each niche is too small for incumbent banks to safeguard since they focus on the main market. If banks do not innovate to sustain their markets, the fintech operators will disrupt them. Banks can directly experiment with in-house technology or adopt a wait-and-see policy and take over a fintech operator that seems to be winning. This study documents the case of Nickel, a leading payments bank in France, that was taken over by BNP Paribas. There are few studies on such takeovers of fintech firms by banks. In this article, we document an edited version of a one-hour interview with the President of Nickel and then comment on the practical lessons that emerge from this interview as well as from a review of the press and annual reports.Arvind Ashta: Could you describe your career with BNP Paribas?Thomas Courtois: I have experienced many changes throughout my career, having worked all around the world for BNP Paribas. This job variety has motivated me to stay for 22 years. The internal audit assignment enabled me to visit many countries and to oversee the work in all aspects of banking. More recently, I was the manager of all our subsidiaries in the French overseas territories. And for the last year, I have been in charge of Nickel.AA: Why did BNP choose you to head Nickel?TC: First, because I have a very broad experience within the group. Second, I also have the experience of managing business entities that are very independent of the rest of the group, in Ukraine, in the French West Indies and in the French overseas territories…


Neobanks are recent innovations in the financial landscape. They usually offer a limited range of financial products through mobile phones. This interview with the president of Nickel, France’s leading neobank, finds that it relies on a physical distribution network of tobacconists and is aimed at the financially excluded. Low costs and a human touch allow the challenger to squeeze through the incumbent banks and the other fintech challengers. The case study shows that Gandhian innovations are not restricted to developing countries and can emerge in developed countries too.

Arvind Ashta
Dr. Arvind Ashta is professor of Finance at the Burgundy School of Business, Université Bourgogne Franche-Comté in Dijon, France and is a member of its research center CEREN, EA 7477. He is a member of research associations (RRI, CERMi, PRME Anti-poverty Working Group, among others) and has been associated with the European Microfinance Platform. He has over seventy publications in international journals. He has edited «Advanced Technologies for Microfinance», co-edited «MIS in Microfinance» and «Slow Management» and authored «Microfinance: Battling a Wicked Problem» and “A Realistic Theory of Social Entrepreneurship: A Life Cycle Analysis of Micro-Finance”. He is a member of a club of micro-investors.
Based on an interview with
Mr. Thomas Courtois
President of Nickel, France’s leading neobank.
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