Thoughts 24.08.18

For fintech, life after disruption is a question of identity

By Yelena Gaufman, Strategy Partner

Challenger bank Starling has recently launched what it calls a “ground-breaking” new bank card design intended to bring the brand into line with the way people use debit cards today.

This move poses an interesting question for the cohort of disruptive fintech brands, including Starling of course: what does it take for a disruptor-leader to keep growing in a world where dominance is never guaranteed?

We know fintech and neobanks have enjoyed their share of disruptive growth, displacing traditional banking brands in the lives of early adopters and tech-savvy core customers. Their next challenge is expanding beyond these users into new customer segments and markets. Succeeding against incumbent brands amongst those customers will require more than the occasional redesign to convey trust, desirability and value.

But new banking brands come from a position of strength: a great track record of utility-first products and services, and indeed social credentials backed up by recent CSR work, such as Monzo’s move to allow homeless and refugee users to set up an account. Incumbent brands can claim to have some of these qualities, though it’s also true that they were developed largely in response to new challengers.

Capitalising on these strengths, neobanks and fintech brands are well-placed to take disruptive ambitions to a new stage of evolution. The answers to doing so lie in harnessing a reputation for useful services and cool initiatives with an emotional connection which goes deeper than features or design upgrades.

Building a brand for trust

In dealing with something as fundamental as money, trust is paramount of course. We know that customers trust traditional banks more than challengers with their data and money (according to Accenture), even as customers are put off by their divestment in human touchpoints. For new players to shift positive perceptions in their favour will take time and a robust brand proposition to be put forward.

That process starts by joining together the raft of cool and useful features which existing customers know to come from the new generation of financial services and applying a unifying purpose to it all.

There’s no doubt that new forms of banking finance are useful to us. They help us with transparent and rapid payments, let us access new currencies or manage our money in more intuitive ways.

Indeed, brands which tie many of these services together can offer an almost all-encompassing service. But our desire to buy into such an ecosystem is highly emotional – we don’t typically look for a spec sheet to tell us that one platform is better over another. So what kind of person uses Monzo over Atom, or Starling, or a traditional bank?

Building these relationships begins with a clear reason for being.

Setting a blueprint

In theory, the process of distilling many services and initiatives into a clear purpose should be straightforward for fintechs and neobanks – in many cases their founding teams are still part of the business and able to draw on the initial customer need which drove them to set up the company.

By comparison, banks which have been in business for generations have to draw on an antiquated founder’s story and make it relevant for today’s customer. It’s not impossible, but I’d argue that newer brands have an edge here.

But even for modern founders, relevance is key – is the problem you’re solving one which is felt as keenly by inner-London professionals as by their parents in other corners of the country; by single mothers as by big families, students and retirees? You’ll probably struggle to touch on all these groups and their most acute needs. Nevertheless, considering audiences beyond your core is invaluable to stretch what a brand can do and who it can serve.

If the relevance is there, communicating your brand and its purpose to the audiences you care about will naturally follow. It’s crucial this is positioned as your business’s blueprint for future growth, as much as its reason for making it this far. In this case, brand becomes a useful lens to make future business decisions – a strategic tool over and above a set of visual design guidelines.

Proving yourself

Putting the brand and your purpose into action is a question of showing, not telling. Having made waves with a disruptive arrival, successful strategies to establish deep and meaningful customer relationships – with existing users and potential audiences alike – hinge on demonstrating the value your service provides. This isn’t a purely logical process of presenting feature A, B or C – it’s about putting the product or service in context.

Consider a different disruptor in a different industry: Rightmove, which redefined the property search process eighteen years ago. Its initial growth was driven by the functional value of its innovative platform, but as rivals grew over the years, the brand maintained a leadership position by establishing a greater, more powerful role for its users.

Rightmove’s ongoing “When life moves” campaign (disclosure: created by Fold7), tracks the ways that our needs and desires shift through life – and how our idea of the perfect home shifts with them. This touches on an emotional, universal process we all feel at various stages in our lives: the need to embrace change and also the need to be supported as we do so. That support is the value Rightmove offers its users when the time comes to move on and take the next life step.

The simple message is powerful, feeding into a highly personal sense of relevance as we all dream of what we’d like to be, see or achieve next – and indeed the right home to fit that vision. Whatever we may need, it’s in reach thanks to the platform which is far more than a useful tool, it’s become a companion for our lives.

The future of fintech looks very similar to that of Rightmove; growth in the years to come relies on shifting from being a disruptor sector to being a credible life partner for a wider group of customers. The challenge for the new generation is to craft coherent and emotive identities which apply their valuable services to the basic needs or aspirations we all have.

This article first featured on www.banking

Read more blog posts from Yelena here.