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A balancing act: How FinTech startups can tread the line between disruption and trust

Online banking
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Michael Quirke, senior consultant at Brand Union, explores how FinTech startups can disrupt the sector while maintaining a trustworthy reputation when dealing with peoples’ money.

FinTech investment is forecast to grow beyond $150bn over the next few years according to PwC, and many new market entrants are trying to get in on the game. London is at the front and centre of this, now employing  approximately 61,000 people in the industry – more than in Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia combined, according to HM Treasury.

Banking is now in the hands of coders, developers and programmers intent on building leaner, faster, cheaper products than traditional banks. The likes of Monzo, Plum and Sonovate offer new and alternative ways of managing finance, and their brands have been created to be approachable and emotionally engaging, differing from the more traditional corporate approach the British public are used to.

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We don’t want the same opaque financial institutions we’ve had. We want customised services, more transparency, more mobility. We want flexible banking, lower fees and faster transactions. And now there are thousands of choices on the market.

But the challenge as this evolves is how you stand out, while gaining people’s trust. People have to be able to remember your name and who you are, but also trust you with their money.

Getting to that space requires a pragmatic approach to branding that takes consideration of the factors you have under your control: an often small marketing budget, primarily online touchpoints and (hopefully) an excited team who are eager to spread the word about the new platform.

For more technically-minded companies, this ‘softer’ side of creating the brand that people remember can be a challenge. Here are a few principles from what we’ve learned from our past work:

Go back to basics

One of the biggest challenges FinTechs face is explaining a complex offer. It is very easy to get caught up in industry jargon, or hooked onto a functional sales playbook that served you in a rush when first starting out. People need to understand clearly who you are, what you offer and why they should care. And they’re not waiting to get to know you, so you need to be able to show that in under three seconds. Work on making who you are as simple as possible.

This allows you to set expectations, and act consistently and dependably, which means trust is strengthened and customer advocacy assured.

Know your audience

Another challenge – especially again for technically-minded companies – is thinking in benefits vs product features. Trusted brands are stalwart in living up to and delivering the value that matters most to customers. For instance, Monzo is very humble and focused on what its product does. It’s a pre-pay card, as easy as possible to manage on mobile, and it opens up a product roadmap to a community of beta testers to add in feature suggestions further down the road. The actual feature set is quite small, but Monzo make the most out of each one by being very diligent in UX design and communicating it well.

For the company, it is a mass audience of (currently) dedicated tech fans and students, but for you it may be B2B or more niche B2C. Think how you can quickly get a ‘map’ of your audience’s life and world, and make sure all product decisions, features and communications are guided towards fitting in easily there.

Make the most of your touchpoints

Monzo has bright orange debit cards that draw just the right amount of attention when flashed. TransferWise has sharply designed ads and a pointedly anti-bank tone of voice. Citymapper (not a FinTech, but a useful analogy) has its “jetpack” or “catapult” ways of travelling in app. Small touches of delight you add, on top of the basics, make your experience more memorable and, thereby, more sticky. Building stickiness or virality into the design of your products and onboarding experience has more power than any amount of content marketing.

Nurture your community

As more technology companies spring up, covering a wide base of offers, becoming the preferred partner in your category is essential. This means cultivating a community and partnership strategy as soon as possible in your lifecycle – deciding which apps you are going to target to integrate with (see the Slack playbook), and how you are going to reward and engage users to keep them interested. Forming a community platform has the added benefit of providing regular user feedback that can feed into the product and brand. On the B2B side, the community forum can be doubly effective in helping end users quickly and elegantly fix issues with the platform, and pass on the experience to friends or family at other businesses.

Branding in the FinTech age is a very different proposition from the suave logos and airport ads its giant predecessors once created. But the same classic rules apply: knowing what you’re offering and why people should care. As long as you are clear enough on these things, ask yourself “are we building trust?”, and let your teams get creative with them, then you shouldn’t go far wrong.

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