TreeCard, a U.K. yet-to-launch fintech offering a spending card made out of wood and the promise to fund reforesting via the interchange fees generated, has raised $5.1 million in seed funding. The round is led by EQT Ventures, with participation from Seedcamp and Episode 1.
Angel investors also backing the startup include Matt Robinson (founder of GoCardless), Paul Forester (founder of Indeed) and Charlie Delingpole (founder of ComplyAdvantage). TreeCard says the funding will be used to hire talent, support the roll-out of its product across the U.K. and to expand into the U.S. and “key European markets”.
Aiming to become a “leading green finance brand”, TreeCard was founded in August 2020 by Thiel fellow Jamie Cox (who previously co-founded Cashew), Gary Wu and James Dugan. The team hit onto the idea of swapping loyalty points or cash back for tree planting, in a bid to create a fintech proposition with more societal impact.
Once signed up, you link the TreeCard app to your current bank accounts so you can begin routing your spending through the Mastercard-powered TreeCard. Purchases you then make — or, specifically, a portion of the card transaction fees your spending generates — is then put toward tree planting projects run by green search engine Ecosia, which is also a pre-seed investor in TreeCard.
“[At a] high level, the climate crisis is the biggest existential risk that humanity has faced in the last 200,000 years; we believe directing the flow of consumer finances is the most powerful way to affect change,” CEO Cox tells me. “We’re building a finance company that allows consumers to not just to do less damage with their spending, but to actively improve the world.
“We are building a free spending card that allows consumers to spend more responsibly. The card uses interchange to reforest as they spend and sophisticated analytics to help them identify healthy spending as well as destructive ones”.
Of course, consumer card interchange fees in the U.K./EU are very low compared to the U.S. Offering a spending card and account isn’t without overhead, so it isn’t clear how sustainable TreeCard could be on interchange revenue alone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.S., where generated fees are higher, is seen as a key launch market for the startup.
“Interchange fees in the U.S. are significantly higher than in the EU so this presents a sufficient revenue opportunity for us to perform our reforestation investments and cover marketing and management costs,” explains Cox. “In the EU we’re going to be partnering with an existing retail bank who will provide all our banking infrastructure for free. This will mean that, even though our interchange fee cut is lower, it will be sufficient to cover our costs in the EU. We will announce the name of the bank shortly”.
Meanwhile, early backer Ecosia is described by the TreeCard founder as its “mother” company. “They’re our closest partner and we’ll be working very closely with them as we grow,” Cox says. “They invested the first cheque into the company and will be doing all our tree planting for us. Ecosia’s marketing team is extremely experienced and they will be helping us use their search engine as a core channel for user acquisition over the next few years”.
Comments Tom Mendoza, deal partner at EQT Ventures: “TreeCard has the potential to become a leading green finance brand, going where no brand has gone before in creating a de facto platform for impactful financial management. At EQT Ventures, we’re increasingly aware of the environment and the impact that our investments have on the world around us, so we’re really excited to support the TreeCard team, who are actively working with the financial system to create a better future for the planet”.