- Challenger bank IAmBank wants to be “Apple store” of banking; Founders say they sold their last startup for $15 million; Former associates and staff pursuing founder for debts of over £100,000 that they say they are owed.
The cofounders of a new challenger bank are being pursued by former associates and staff for what they claim are unpaid debts of tens of thousands of pounds.
Companies and individuals that dealt with WeAreBriqs, an apparently now-defunct banking technology company, claim they are owed over £100,000, according to documents reviewed by Business Insider and conversations with over half a dozen sources.
WeAreBriq’s British cofounders, Lee Travers and Sebastian Sutherland, are now understood to be in Chicago working on a digital challenger bank, IAmBank. In a blog post advertising the new venture, Travers says IAmBank will help people with “paying off their debts sooner and building their wealth and savings faster.”
Both Travers and Sutherland declined repeated requests to comment through IAmBank’s press officer. IAmBank’s press officer said the startup had no comment on the story as “Briqs and IAmBank are two separate companies.”
The sources spoke to Business Insider on the condition of anonymity, fearing that speaking publically could damage their financial claims against the pair, which are still ongoing. Most of the sources who spoke to BI are owed money and so have an issue with Travers and Sutherland. The pair may well dispute the version of events told to BI.
‘The stories got bigger and bigger’
Travers and Sutherland set up WeAreBriqs in early 2015. The startup’s aim was to build “white label” products for banks – apps and services that large lenders could stick their logo on and give to their customers. Travers had worked for fintech businesses Monitise and MPayMe (sold to Powa Technologies). Sutherland had worked for T-Mobile and an app building agency.
Contractors, staff, and freelancers initially reported no trouble getting paid. But problems began after a few months of operations. Multiple sources say that people who worked with the pair repeatedly asked both Travers and Sutherland for overdue payments and were repeatedly reassured that money was on the way. Many of those involved continued working on good faith – and the debts owed by the company grew larger, these sources say.
Startups are by their nature high-risk endeavours. It is not usual for them to run into money trouble. But the sources Business Insider spoke to are unhappy with the way the debt was dealt with. All the sources Business Insider spoke to say Travers and Sutherland presented a series of excuses for why they couldn’t pay that felt unrelated and fantastical, rather than facing up to the fact that the business was having cash flow issues.
“The stories got bigger and bigger – I’m in hospital, my girlfriend’s broken up with me, someone’s got cancer,” says one former business associate.
Two sources also told Business Insider that Travers told them payments were delayed after the UK tax authority froze money he was moving from an offshore account. Business Insider put this specific point to Travers through IAmBank’s press officer, but he declined to comment.
WeAreBriqs also ran up debts with coworking space WeWork and press relations agency Lansons, according to sources. The startup was eventually kicked out of WeWork for failure to pay, the sources say.
A staff member at WeWork Moorgate confirmed to Business Insider that WeAreBriqs was a member of the space from June 2015 to February 2016 but couldn’t comment on any financial matters. A spokesperson for WeWork said the company doesn’t comment on members’ finances.
Lansons declined to comment on its work with WeAreBriqs. An email sent to Business Insider in early 2015 shows the agency was working with the startup, pitching its first product Briqs-On-Board as a service that “allows customers to use their smartphone to apply for a financial product and complete their application within five minutes from anywhere in the world, without having to go into a branch or store.”
$15 million acquisition?
WeAreBriqs struggled to do any meaningful deals, sources say, despite a string of meetings with banking executives.
Some of those owed money began pursuing court action last year. Despite verdicts ordering Travers’ company to pay up, those involved have yet to be re-paid.
But in December 2016, Travers said on his LinkedIn profile that WeAreBriqs had been acquired by an unnamed “large global bank” for $15 million. However, WeAreBriqs’ website no longer appears to load due to a server error and its twitter account has not tweeted since December 2015.
Several parties owed money contacted Travers around the time he announced its acquisition. They say they were once again reassured that payment was on the way.
However, by January, Travers appeared to be in Chicago and was no longer responding, the sources say. He and Sutherland are now working on IAmBank.
Travers has given interviews to The Financial Times’ FT Advisor, Digiday, Banking Technology, Finextra, and the online US financial TV channel Cheddar about his new startup. He told Cheddar IAmBank will become the “Apple Store” of banking. Banking Technology reported that the startup bank has secured $3 million in funding and is targeting $20 million by launch.
IAmBank will launch in September 2017 and promises to be “a new kind of bank, a better bank that will challenge all those that have gone before it,” according to Travers’ LinkedIn. It has offices in San Francisco, Dublin, Chicago, and London, according to its website.
In a LinkedIn blog post from March, Travers discussed “how people’s mental health is affected when they receive a debt letter.” He said that IAmBank would help solve this problem by “spending behaviors to make their money go further; paying off their debts sooner and building their wealth and savings faster.”
Meanwhile, many of those who were pursuing Travers and Sutherland have written off their debts. Several say they said they were alarmed and surprised that the pair were setting up a bank. A former business associate of Travers, who didn’t want to be named, said he was “dumbfounded.”