- More than 100 N26 bank customers, including a Ukrainian refugee, say their accounts were suddenly terminated in April.
- The online bank confirmed accounts were “wrongly closed” but said it is working to roll out a technical solution.
- Some customers interviewed by Insider are, weeks later, still waiting for as much as €15,000 ($15,900) to be returned.
More than 100 customers of N26, one of Europe’s biggest online banks, have been unable to access their savings after their accounts were suddenly blocked with no warning.
Customers shared their distress online after N26 shut their accounts on April 14 as part of anti-fraud measures that went wrong.
Insider interviewed 12 customers, including a Ukrainian refugee who immediately lost access to up to $15,900 (€15,000) after receiving an email.
They told Insider they were “shocked” and felt like they were being punished” for something they didn’t do.
One said she was unable to buy an apartment after losing her account. Others couldn’t pay their phone and electricity bills. Another said they wouldn’t trust
Berlin-based N26 said a number of accounts were “wrongly closed” as a result of new measures to prevent fraud, in a statement posted on LinkedIn.
The digital bank, founded in 2013, announced its withdrawal from the US last year and said it would refocus its attention on Europe.
The N26 customers that Insider spoke to were spread across Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Ireland, Latvia, and Romania.
They said they had experienced poor communication from the company and inadequate customer support. At the time of writing, none of their accounts had been reinstated.
Ten of the customers have had no access to the funds in their accounts for 21 days. Two have received their money.
Here are some of their stories.
‘I fled Ukraine then lost my savings’
Ukrainian refugee Anya Shamaieva fled to Romania three weeks ago with her mom and dog, to escape the war in her country.
A week later, she received an email saying her N26 account was blocked.
She had around €15,000 in her account. “I thought that after being displaced I would be okay because I have savings,” she said.
Shamaieva was “shocked” and created a video to document her experience, which was shared on TikTok and LinkedIn.
She says she was asked by N26 to prove the funds were hers.
“I explained that I am displaced so it may be hard to prove because I didn’t bring anything with me. I’m not able to go to the tax office in Kyiv and risk my life again because N26 decided to close my account,” she said.
Shamaieva is still waiting to be refunded despite being told that her case was “basically resolved” by N26’s chief growth officer, Alexander Weber, in a LinkedIn private message on April 23, screenshots show.
‘When I get my money back I will use a safe’
On March 22, Matija Tratar tried to pay his phone bill and found that his payment was denied.
Tratar, a student in Spain, said he started “freaking out” and tried to contact N26 more than 45 times. Tratar said he was told his account was blocked because of a randomized compliance check and when he asked for further information, the customer agent said on a live chat said they had no more to share and closed the chat numerous times despite him asking them not to.
“I got sad and emotional and begged the customer service agent to not close the live chat and to just listen to me,” he said.
“Before this, I had no problems with N26 but this revealed a dark side of the bank. I’m never going to use an online bank ever again,” he said.
A blog post on N26’s website says that when it blocks accounts its customer services teams aren’t allowed to share information with the account holder, to prevent criminals being “tipped off” that they may be being investigated.
Nikita Serdiuk is a front-end developer from Ireland, whose account was also closed. “I can no longer support the people that depend on me,” he said. Serdiuk said he was not able to pay his electricity bill or go on a trip to France that he had planned as a result of the closure.
Losing his account will change how he manages money, he said: “When I get my money back I will use a safe because I don’t trust European banks anymore.”
‘I lost the apartment I was buying’
“It’s a very painful situation and it feels like I’m being punished for something I didn’t do,” said Karolina Uskure, a software developer based in Latvia.
She said she was unable to finish the process of buying an apartment after her N26 account was closed and she couldn’t access her funds.
“I prepaid €3,000 for the flat and have lost that because I couldn’t make the latest installment,” she told Insider, adding that “I was working hard and saved for a long time.”
‘I had no other bank account’
Russian PhD student, Konstantin Bogatyrev, was studying in Milan when he found out that his account was being terminated. He had no other bank account at the time.
“This happening at the time of the Russian invasion in Ukraine creates additional complications,” he said, explaining that he has struggled to open a new account with other banks due to his nationality. “It’s just depressing to be treated like that,” he added.
Online banks are under pressure
It’s not the first time N26 has faced scrutiny.
The bank was fined 4.25 million euros by the German financial regulator Bafin for delayed anti-money laundering reporting in September 2021, and Reuters reported that four N26 managers were being investigated by public prosecutors in February over fraudulent accounts.
In March, the Bank of Italy banned N26 from taking on new customers in the country until it strengthened its anti-money-laundering measures.
It can be common for digital banks to close accounts to “err on the side of caution” because they face regulatory pressure to prevent fraud, according to Gary Prince, an anti-money laundering expert and chief strategy officer of SimplyPayMe.
“The biggest difficulty is it can sometimes go wrong. Online banks are under pressure to make judgment calls and have to tread a fine line,” Prince said.
N26 told Insider that it is in the process of contacting affected customers and refunding account balances and said it has “rectified” the measure that led to the error.
“Account closures at N26 are normally permanent, but N26 is also working to roll out a technical solution that will allow us to offer customers whose accounts were wrongly closed the ability to have their account reactivated,” the company said.