UPDATE: $100M deal has start-up founder eager for Trump bank reforms

NEW: Arkadi Kuhlmann, founder of Delaware-based Zenbanx, acquired last week by California-based SoFi for around $100 million, tells me he'd rather have kept the venture capital- and WSFS Bank-backed mobile currency-conversion and payments firm independent.

"We wanted to build a brand," Kuhlmann said in an interview today. "I thought we were in the right place. The U.S. payments industry needs to move aggressively, in a world where everyone's mobile. But now the regulatory world has gotten so difficult. It took forever to get a bank license and cost endless amounts of money. We needed a lot more capital to build. SoFi has raised a billion and a half. So we are with them."

Kuhlmann says he and his fellow mobile-banking and other "fin tech" developers are hoping the Trump administration will ease bank regulation so U.S. banks can better compete with state-supported Asian banks that are advancing rapidly in mobile financial technologies.

He headed the former ING Direct Bank in the 1990s and 2000s. He brought in $1 billion a month in online, mail-in and urban-coffeehouse deposits a month, until European regulators forced the bank's Dutch and Belgian owners to sell it to Capital One to raise money in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

2/8: SoFi, the San Francisco online-finance company that says it has raised more than $1 billion from SoftBank Group and other venture-capital investors, says it has acquired Zenbanx, the Claymont, Del. mobile multi-currency banking platform founded four years ago by Arkadi Kuhlmann, ex-CEO at the former ING Direct Bank.

 

 

“SoFi is paying about $100 million in stock for Zenbanx,” Bloomberg LP says here.  Two people familiar with the deal, speaking on the condition I not post their name, told me that price is in the ballpark. 

At least for now, Kuhlmann and his 25 staff in Claymont will remain with SoFi, which began as a student-loan refiancing company, Social Finance, in 2011. Zenbanx also employs around 20 in Toronto and half a dozen in California, SoFi spokeswoman Laurel Tomey told me. SoFi says it’s too early to comment on whether it will be hiring more people at the Delaware office, where there is space to grow.

MORE FROM KUHLMANN: He's confident the bank will grow its Claymont office. "SoFi needs to be national. They have an office in New York; we have a great location here, in partnership with WSFS. We plan to expand in Delaware," where a wealth of credit card bank alumni and business-friendly government -- "they lent ZenBanx money" -- has helped spawn more than a dozen fin tech startups in recent years.

 

"We're going to expand SoFi's 200,000 members with our 40,000 users and our platform," Kuhlmann added. "I think we're going to have a lot more jobs here. There's great talent in Delaware and the greater Philadelphia area. I think it's a natural.

"We're in discussions with a lot of other banks. I'm excited to see if we can keep this momentum going with SoFi's resources. They have a shot at being a big player. Especially if we can get a license." 

EARLIER: Zenbanx, founded by Kuhlmann in 2012 after Capital One Corp. acquired his former bank, raised more than $10 million from investors including China-based Tencent Holdings Inc., Recruit Strategic Partners and WSFS Bank in 2014-15.

WSFS, the Wilmington-based company that ranks among the Philadelphia area’s largest independent banks, is negotiating to offer credit cards and checking accounts using the Zenbanks platform, said Justin Dunn, WSFS director of marketing. 

Zenbanx is one of more than a dozen small Wilmington-area financial tech (fintech) companies, focused on secure cloud-based and mobile-banking applications, that were founded in recent years by former credit card bankers and other consumer lenders after MBNA, ING Direct, and other large locally based lenders were sold to out-of-state corporations in the mid-2000s.