Cofounder, neon

Julius Kirscheneder

Julius Kirscheneder

Alumnus since 2013

Talking about the future of banking

When you really believe in something, you have to try to do something about it,” says Julius Kirscheneder, cofounder at neon, a digital banking platform1  with 190,000 customers in Switzerland. “Originally, when we started out, I was an unhappy bank customer myself. I didn’t like the products or the way I was treated. So rather than complain, I got to work.”


About seven years ago, with the realization that banking experiences could be better, Julius, along with four other Strategy& alumni, founded a neobank. Simon Youssef and Jörg Sandrock initiated the journey while on a break at a Bali beach in early 2017. Julius reconnected with them at an alumni event in Munich later that year, and Michael Noorlander and Patric Ammann joined from the Swiss Strategy& office. They’ve been growing their company ever since.


“I remember one time, police offers came over to us, when we were drinking some beers together at an open-air event in Zurich,” Julius recalls. “At first, we thought we were in trouble! But as it turns out, the policemen just wanted to tell us they were our customers. They took out their neon green cards and said, ‘Hey, we’re such big fans. We think your product is so cool and we just wanted to say hello.’ That was a pretty exciting moment.”


Now working at the forefront of digital banking, Julius joined us from the office in Zurich to share the group’s startup story and his perspective on what’s coming next.


1 The company is working with a partner bank, Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG, because it does not yet have a banking license.

What inspired you and your colleagues to take the leap into entrepreneurship?
After working at different-sized companies, at different stages throughout my career, I just felt ready to start something from scratch. But of course, before launching neon, we all really looked at the market in the good old strategy consultant way. We saw low competition, very high prices, very high margins, low innovation, and high opportunity. We started with the strong desire to create a better customer experience in banking for more people.

How have you managed the rise of more neobanks?
Well, competition keeps you on your toes. You just have to be faster. So we welcome more players in the space, and we also believe that more digital-first banking products will foster more creation and use of innovative solutions—including within the regulatory and policymaking space. Regulation is important for trust and security, and those are the basis of banking.

Speaking of regulation, how do you approach ESG?
For us, ESG is a good baseline for every endeavor we undertake. We think it’s strange if you don’t consider these dimensions. I’d say we have a sustainability focus across the company that goes beyond the “risk management view,” but includes the effect we have on the world. We’re looking at concrete and holistic ways to help, such as through reforestation that’s integrated into one of our products, while also reducing our own energy use and offering lower-cost, more sustainable investment opportunities.

What’s next in banking?
The million-dollar question. In Switzerland, we are focusing on bringing back the banking experience to match people’s daily life habits, that is, further and more immersive digitization. And there’s quite a continuing technological and regulatory evolution providing the means of that digitization—such as real-time services and transfers over artificial intelligence applications (for example, for fraud protection or service) or digital currencies.

What’s it like to work at a neobank? What’s the culture?
I hope it’s fun, open, and tolerant. We really are trying to create a good working environment here. And although we may not be paying as much as other banks, we try to pay fair wages and keep fair working hours. As long as you give 100 percent during the working hours, you won’t be working overtime here.

Any lasting lessons from your consulting days that you still use now?
I would not have wanted to miss working in consulting, because it offered me another level of education and a very broad approach to solving different problems, learning things seeing the world, and meeting great people. Of course, today, just knowing how to quickly structure (and solve) a problem has been very valuable for all of us. It also helps that we have a vast network of people to call upon. So if we have a question, we’ll find someone very fast to answer it. And we know how to work with all kinds of stakeholders. That’s been important in every phase of our startup journey.

How would you describe your leadership style?
I think as cofounders, we all have different leadership styles. But we know we can rely on each other. Overall, we take a very people-oriented approach, and we want to make sure that no one’s left behind on our teams. We focus a great deal on helping people develop themselves, giving feedback and opportunities for growth. We’re also not hands-off leaders. We spend a lot of time strategizing and communicating our vision, as well as staying involved in the day-to-day operations.

What’s something about you personally that might surprise people?
Hmm, I think, missing my dreadlocks of earlier times. And during all of my time consulting, I was probably the only consultant who had a tongue piercing (although I never got any negative comments). Other than that, living in Munich, my wife and I have one loved city-chicken per child in our garden (three altogether).

As part of a series of interviews with alumni, this one was conducted and edited by Ina Fischer, Strategy& and Jen Swetzoff, founder of CLOSEUP, a creative studio in Brooklyn, New York. Jen was formerly the deputy managing editor at strategy+business magazine.

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