A special episode of the c-suite podcast focusing on fintech and finance, produced in partnership with FutureBrand. Guests from HSBC, Curve, U.S Bank and FutureBrand explore how financial services and fintechs can improve their brand perception.
Host Natalie Silverman was joined online by Stuart Haire, CEO of Wealth and Personal Banking at HSBC(at time of recording), Shachar Bialick, Founder and CEO of Curve, Simon Williams, Chief Growth Officer at FutureBrand, Brooke Brown, Senior VP, Brand and Enterprise Marketing Strategy at U.S. Bank, and Camilla Marr, Brand Strategy Specialist.
The FutureBrand Index 2021, a global brand study, was the basis of the discussion.
FutureBrand’s Simon explained that the 2021 findings differed dramatically to those in 2019, bridged by the pandemic, the 2021 study saw a dramatic incline in innovation and digital adoption by customers on the retail side of banking.
Stuart from HSBC said that the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything, with everything they’d previously done in branches needing to be readily available to customers online.
With the first mobile banking apps coming into circulation in 2007, the digitalisation adoption since then has been extensive, Stuart said 50-60% of their customers are mobile customers, and over 90% of their product sales are done in digital capabilities.
Brooke said even though they started their digital transformation in 2018, the desire for human interaction was more pertinent than ever during the pandemic.
Camilla added that customers haven’t always been ready for this digital transformation, with lots of them set in their ways, being happy to visit the bank in store and use an ATM, but when Covid hit, they were forced to move forward with their processes.
Shachar emphasised that the UK operating in a centralised banking market, with there being seven top banks, whereas in the US there are 5000-6000 FDIC insured banks, and he’d never try a start-up to compete with Barclays or HSBC.
Brand or Bland
Brooke said fintech’s have been the “topic du jour” for some time and are doing an exceptional job of understanding bespoke customer needs. They’ve learnt a lot from fintech’s, and no longer thinks of them as a stand apart from traditional banking, which was slower in adopting the same technology, but a lot of innovation is in the pipeline with all the partnerships and collaborations blossoming.
Camilla explained that within most industries there have been digital disruptors that have come in and started shaking up the boat, forcing the big players to accelerate their thinking. She said that fintech’s tend to take a different view on branding because they get to start from scratch, and it’s much easier to start from scratch.
She said that banking has had a bad name in the past but “that is what we talk about when we talk about connecting what is authentic, about the delivery of an experience or product or a service into something that is a bigger framework to create innovations out of, or to continue to build the future from”.
Brooke agreed, at the U.S Bank their purpose and values are at the forefront of what they do, and that can attract people to their brand or on the flipside can mean they have beneficial impacts on communities.
Trust or Distrust
Simon thinks that data-protection is going in the general direction of pro-consumer and opt-in, and within the open-banking rules, trust is key.
He said: “what you define as trust is the accumulation of positive experiences”.
He thinks as long as both challengers and incumbents provide agile, relevant customer innovation then the permission and trust will come from customers to opt-in to those brands. But what would worry him is if brands like Revolut start offering customers access to FX trading platforms and crypto trading.
Stuart said the biggest threat he feels would be if US banks came and got a foothold in the UK and failed to deliver a consistent customer experience. He thinks emotional trust and rational trust is key, this is their money, whether that be their life savings or any other kind.
He concluded that the longer a fintech goes on it increasingly exhibits that it’s not fragile, won’t be hit by cyber-attacks and they won’t frivolously give your data away. He said we need to invest in resilience, cybersecurity and make sure people’s money is safe.
Shachar said it’s hard because if people already trust their bank why would they trust a fintech or new bank with their new deposit, but they realised the outcome was simple, don’t be a bank, do something else.
Camilla said the integration of ESG strategies go into product, services, and authentic brand when it comes to banking.
She thinks financial literacy is important whilst there is a redefinition of wealth taking place, as people start to think about ESG and the values that come with that.
A lot of fintech’s were built out of this very targeted space, that included sustainable development goals from the UN, or they’re built around something specific that helps a user understand how to use their finances to invest sustainably.
She said on the banking, institutional, corporate side there are regulations and metrics starting to be formed around ESG and people have no choice but to follow suite. On the personal banking side, you’ve got people who want to make decisions based on their own values and how they think about the environment, so there’s pressure coming at it from both sides.
Stuart said: “We have to prove that we’re not too big to care, that we are big enough to make a difference in these things and actually put our money where our mouths are with regard to this. Those that have credibility in this space will win consumer confidence.”