LAS VEGAS — When Varo CEO Colin Walsh launched his digital bank four years ago, his goal from the start was to gain a national banking charter.
After becoming the first fintech to receive preliminary approval from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in 2018, Walsh said he thinks the company is on its way to opening as a national bank next year.
"We've been very transparent right from the beginning," Walsh told Banking Dive at Money20/20, regarding Varo's ambitions.
A national banking charter would reduce costs and allow Varo to offer a larger suite of consumer banking products, Walsh said.
"You can lower your costs substantially because we're building our own technology platform," Walsh said. "When you're working with a sponsor bank, you don't get the full cost advantages."
Varo partners with The Bancorp Bank to offer Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-insured deposits.
A national bank charter would help Varo add credit cards, unsecured loans and robo-advising, Walsh said.
"We'll be able to do things like joint accounts, wire transfers and money market accounts — things that a fintech really can't do," he said.
The company is working closely with the FDIC to secure the regulator's approval, Walsh said.
"The FDIC is a high hurdle because they have to protect the deposit insurance. … They want to understand that we have a very clear path to profitability," he said. "It's been a good process, and it's moving along nicely."
In the meantime, Varo is growing, recently surpassing 1 million users.
Walsh credited a recent glitch from Galileo, the application programming interface-based payment processor that powers Varo's platform for giving the company its "biggest week."
While the glitch caused minor processing delays at Varo, it caused a full-on outage at fellow fintech Chime, taking down that company's website and app, and halting card transactions and ATM functionality.
Walsh declined to share specific numbers, but said he thinks Chime’s outage may have caused a spike in new users.
"It impacted us in a good way," he said. "We got a lot of new customers."
Competition aside, both fintechs acknowledged the impact the outages had on consumer trust, with Chime CEO Chris Britt calling the outage "an amazing learning experience," during a panel discussion Tuesday in Las Vegas.
“It's a shot across the bow,” Walsh said of the disruption. “It's important to make sure you have the right controls in place, the right redundancy, and that you communicate with customers in a transparent way.”
Maintaining consumer confidence is crucial for a bank whose goal is to disrupt the country’s financial services market.
“I think Varo is going to play a fairly historic role in reshaping the American banking landscape and being able to provide quality banking services to many millions of people that are feeling a little bit left behind and not really being supported by the banking system today,” he said.