San Francisco-based mobile banking startup Varo Money Inc. is expanding to Salt Lake City in anticipation of becoming the first U.S. bank for people who want manage their accounts exclusively via a smartphone app.
If it receives a bank charter and FDIC deposit insurance, Varo Bank will be headquartered in Salt Lake City while it maintains a large staff in San Francisco, co-founder and CEO Colin Walsh said in an interview.
“We do not intend to open branches so the business will be managed through mobile phones and a call center,” Walsh said.
Its customer-oriented employees will be in Utah, including the call center.
Walsh said the bank was inspired by data, such as the fact that 92 percent of people ages 18 to 36 own smartphones. Utah is attractive due to its lower costs and trained call-center workforce.
Varo seeks to integrate traditional banking services like checking and savings accounts with technology that can help people manage their financial goals, he said.
“Our vision is to create this virtual banker in your pocket and with you 24-7,” Walsh said.
Preliminary approval for the bank could come from regulators as early as this year, Walsh said. If that happens, Varo plans to raise additional capital and prepare to open for business, a process that could take another year or more — though the company already has taken in $28 million from investors.
Varo now has a “handful” of employees in Salt Lake City with the intention of hiring more quickly as the business grows. The company will open its call center in a temporary location and scout out more permanent locations, Walsh said.
Earlier this year, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development granted Varo Money financial incentives to expand in the state.
GOED projected the company would create 331 jobs over five years that would bring in $1.68 million in new state taxes. The company is eligible to receive $336,000 in state tax refunds if wages exceed 110 percent of the average for Salt Lake County, which is pegged at $49,449.
The company’s website shows it has one posted job opening for Salt Lake City, a “director of fraud” to manage its anti-fraud strategies. It‘s looking for three engineers for the San Francisco operation.
Another San Francisco-area company, Social Finance Inc., also has applied for a charter for a Utah-based bank. SoFi Bank is seeking an industrial bank charter from the state of Utah with Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.-insured deposits.