Does a New Neobank for Musicians Herald a Micro-Niche Trend?

The founders of Nerve, a mobile banking app with unique features for the musician community, had a retro goal: to bring banking back in time to when financial institutions mostly served specific communities.

A new fintech bank is hoping to strike the right chord with working musicians.

In many ways, musicians are the original “gig workers,” with an erratic stream of income that waxes and wanes depending on how many shows are booked that month and how many albums are sold. As such, musicians have financial needs that are very different from people with steady paychecks that get direct deposited every two weeks.

Enter Nerve, a new neobank that aims to serve the unique needs of professional musicians. The app is available in both English and Spanish and has rocker-friendly features including FDIC-insured business debit and savings accounts; integrations with artist’s streaming and social follower data; a private networking feature to help professional musicians find each other, make payments, and collaborate; free instant payments to anyone else with a Nerve account; and access to 55,000 free ATMs, which the company bills as “perfect for the traveling musician.”

The banking products and services behind the app are offered by Piermont Bank, a digital commercial bank founded in 2019 and based in New York. Nerve was set to officially launch in the U.S. Sept. 15, 2021.

Perfect Pitch:

Nerve features musician-specific services, such as the ability to collaborate with other artists and a way to track what they are making from various digital distribution platforms.

Nerve is the creation of two fintech veterans. CEO John Waupsh previously served as Chief Innovation Officer at bank technology and marketing company Kasasa for over a decade. Ben Morrison, who is the firm’s CTO, continues to work for Kasasa, where he is Product Manager for Consumer Applications. Waupsh also is founder and CEO of Preservation Project, a boutique label dedicated to releasing rare funk and soul recordings – so Nerve is a combination of two passions for Waupsh.

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Managing Money and Finding a Drummer

The idea for a startup bank for musicians came about from Waupsh’s interactions with them; he had previously floated the idea of starting a streaming service — which is currently in beta — called Nerve FM. This particular service would be subscription-based and is akin to Patreon, and designed to help musicians get more money from their music than they do at current prominent streaming services such as Spotify. In talking to various pianists and axe-slingers (guitar players) about the Nerve FM platform, Waupsh also heard a common question: “Can you build me a bank?”

“There’s a real need for a bank that caters to the specific financial needs of working musicians,” he notes.

He adds that since many musicians get paid at irregular intervals in varying amounts, most just deposit any money they earn into a personal account. If they do try to go to a traditional bank for a business account, often, “the bank then asks for their last two years of tax statements, articles of incorporation, various documents, and they just end up giving up and walking out and continuing to use their personal account,” Waupsh says.

Nerve aims to make the process easy, with an all-digital sign up that can be completed in minutes. It also helps musicians with filling out the proper tax forms and documents and other aspects of managing their business, such as providing instructions on how to classify the purchase of a guitar as a business expense for tax purposes. The account also comes with a Nerve-branded card.

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Within the app musicians can also link to their profiles on streaming services to get a dashboard view of how much money they are making at all the different streaming service providers and get all that money funneled into the Nerve account.

There’s also a social, collaborative aspect: for example, musicians can connect with other musicians who also have a Nerve account and be alerted if they are both playing a show in the same city on a particular night. Bands can also use the app for networking purposes, such as finding a fill-in drummer for a show for one-night only.

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Community Banking for the Modern Age

For Waupsh, the idea behind Nerve actually hails from a prior age of banking, and is bringing banking back to its roots.

“Banking started, at least in this country, as a way to serve community needs,” he says. “If you were a bank in a farming community, you knew the ins and outs of writing a loan for a new silo. You were basically an ag bank.”

What it Means:

Nerve is part of a growing trend in fintech to serve a specific niche.

And musicians are a community traditionally underserved by financial services. Tunecore, a music distribution and publishing company, has a lending arm called Lyric Financial that allows musicians to take out advances against future royalties earned. But Nerve aims to be the first full-fledged bank solely devoted to serving musicians and their financial needs.

Waupsh believes a big part of the future of fintech is serving these niche, community needs.

“The neobanks that have come about over the last ten years or so have focused mostly on serving a general customer base,” he says. “But a lot of the neobanks you see appearing today are really community-focused and serving a specific community. It’s like getting back to the original roots of banking.”

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