Where selling trust with a brand was once the key point of distinction for effective marketing in the fintech space, streamlining user experience through product simplicity now leads the way in superior branding strategy.
With Money2020 set to launch in Las Vegas on Sunday, Finextra spoke with UK challenger Starling Bank, which this week announced a further £30m raise in funding to firm up its B2B offering and prepare for European expansion.
Head of banking at Starling Bank, Helen Bierton, says: “today’s consumers have grown used to a world of digital services that are crafted around their individual needs, providing them with input before, during and after they buy those trainers or a search for a loan.
“They expect offers and recommendations based on their own and others’ location, demographics and past and present purchases and behaviour. And they want these insights to be delivered and updated instantly to their smartphones.”
Where incumbents lack the agility to recognise and deliver the new product strategy in line with change in customer expectations, challenger banks are prepared and able to capitalise on the opportunity.
Bierton elaborates: “Because we have built our own platform and proprietary infrastructure and because we work in an agile manner updating our software continually, we can be very responsive to customer needs.
“We do not have expensive-to-maintain legacy IT or branch network and our cost base is a fraction of the big banks’. We therefore have a very clear path to profitability.”
Philip Davies, president of EMEA, Siegel + Gale, says that while we’re seeing a trend of increased customer expectations across all industries, “brands are facing the prospect of having to offer more for less, and often for free."
Davies explores this shift in focus and what it means for fintechs vying for market share: “Some are suggesting that retail financial institutions should consider moving into a subscription or membership-based model. Time will tell whether or not this is feasible.”
The introduction of open banking provided fintechs with a wealth of information which allowed them to position themselves tactically against the incumbents, highlighting and exacerbating pressure points in the digital transformation process.
Davies explains that Siegel + Gale, a brand consulting firm, “finds that this is presenting a brand issue for larger businesses where they need to consider expanding and offering clients everything within one platform, even if some of those services are not profitable.
“[However] while open banking may be forcing the larger brands into shifting investment priorities, open banking or not, if you’re not keeping the consumer front-of-mind, you risk being disrupted.”
Davies argues that the selling-point of trust has played a significant role in what is now a minimum requirement of fintech branding strategy: “Every fintech will know that if you’re not showing that you can be trusted in such a sensitive and compliance-heavy space, then you’re starting at the back of the pack.”
The point of differentiation now comes down to simplicity of product - and ensuring that value point is translated in branding. Identifying and addressing this concept is the area most ripe for profit.
“Often fintech solutions are an iteration of an existing product offered by a large incumbent, but the difference is that a fintech startup will likely have taken that product and developed a deep understanding of the consumer needs.
“If you look at the TransferWise story, it’s two people that wanted a best-in-class customer experience when transferring money, but were faced with many painpoints, so fintech simply removed them,” Davies explains.
Simplified customer experiences are now being implemented by larger players including American Express, Mastercard and Visa with the recently launched click-to-pay options. As larger players develop more of a startup mentality, using brand to differentiate is going to become even more important.
Davies continues: “The importance brand plays is obvious with the likes of Monzo, Revolut and Starling who all offer very similar services. Often customers are won over just by first mover advantage or hearing about a brand first. So, brand is key here, but simplicity matters more than ever.
“Customers are navigating hundreds of other brands and products in their day to day and they’re looking to those that help them get what they need when it matters most.”
As we are now witnessing the maturing of rapid growth startups who have managed to scale from regional players to international heavyweights, the value of cementing a “clear mandate and blueprint for brand across marketing activities,” Davies contends, means that not only are they able to acquire or retain customers in new markets and geographies, but they remain attractive opportunities for investment.
Yesterday the British Business Bank announced with their UK Venture Capital report, that contrary to widespread misperceptions UK VC returns are neither considerably nor consistently below those found in the US.
The report shows from 2007 onwards, the UK pooled Total Value Paid-in (TVPI) of 1.54 compared to 1.88 for the US, a 0.3-point difference.
The report stated: “These market returns have been made through exposure to early stage companies and investments in software and other forms of emerging technology where the UK’s science and technical base is internationally competitive.”
The high performance of VC funds in the UK speaks to the country’s thriving fintech industry which is increasingly focused on global expansion and competing alongside the stalwarts of financial services.