BBVA-backed digital banking startup targets gig economy workers

BBVA-backed digital banking startup targets gig economy workers

Azlo, a BBVA-backed digital banking platform targeting the fast-growing army of freelancers and self-employed Americans who make up the gig economy, has opened its virtual doors.

There are 44 million people in the US that have a "side-gig" and, by some estimates, by 2020 43% of the country's workforce will be freelancers.

Azlo argues that this massive group is being overlooked by traditional lenders and is stepping in with dedicated business banking services, available online, with no fees or minimum balances.

Founded early last year, Azlo is majority owned by Spanish giant BBVA, which incubated the startup at its Silicon Valley-based New Digital Business fintech lab. According to Reuters, the startup will operate independently but use BBVA's banking license and payments infrastructure.

The business account will offer features particularly targeted at entrepreneurs, such as unlimited domestic and international payments, billpay, mobile cheque deposit and digital invoicing.

But it is also aiming for a "full-service experience" that integrates with e-commerce, point-of-sale and marketplace providers - across languages and socio-economic boundaries, something which could prove valuable with plans to move beyond the US in the pipeline.

Brian Hamilton, CEO, Azlo, says: "Our vision is to improve access to core financial services for entrepreneurs from all walks of life by offering transparent business banking services that enable them to pay and get paid, including across borders, promoting a free flow of money without fees or boundaries.

"Globalisation and the changing nature of work has intensified an already unequal access to economic opportunity. Fair and uncomplicated access to these tools can help level the playing field for many marginalized communities of founders and business owners."

BBVA has positioned itself as a frontrunner in the race to embrace fintech disruptors. In 2014 it acquired the first neobank, Simple, and just a couple of months ago another New Digital Business unit alumni, Covaulta, entered the wild with a mobile app that uses biometrics and private key technology to help users securely store, share and verify their identities and documents. The giant Spanish bank also holds a 29.5% stake in UK savings startup Atom Bank and acquired Finnish current account atartup Holvi.

Teppo Paavola, chief development officer NDB unit, BBVA, says: "Our goal at NDB is to identify banking disruptors that are transforming what we know as banking today. Azlo's desire to provide entrepreneurs with a new banking experience designed to engage and partner with aspiring founders from all backgrounds is an appealing proposition."

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