Humanizing FinTech through people-centric branding and design
Banking and financial services generally have never enjoyed a reputation for being friendly and cosy, instead having been tolerated as a necessary evil.
One decade ago, the role of banks and sophisticated financial products pushed the sentiment for financial services to new lows. Over time, the advance of technology in the financial sector has helped the recovery, but technology is ‘cold’ by its nature, so really, this didn’t improve the sentiment.
On top of that, today’s misgivings about technology rank from destroying privacy to undermining the works of ‘democracy’ – real people vs. data and tech. All these misgivings are shared, of course using generously – the technology.
FinTech the word, is a combination of ‘Financial Technology’ used to describe new tech that seeks to improve and automate the delivery and use of financial services; to increase business efficiency, help businesses grow faster, and create better experience for customers. A recent article published in Entrepreneur.com calls FinTech “not a distinct category of technology, but a foundational layer that will define the current generation of the web”.
FinTech is therefore important, inevitable, and deeply entrenched into the social fabric and our everyday lives. Brands have been focused on evolving digital attributes at every step; in organizational cultures, internal processes, the experience journeys of their customers and users. Trying to demystify and simplify the apprehension and complexities behind FinTech, and to behave like a modern-day digital disruptor.
I have had the pleasure of being disrupted in my personal banking process when I was simply overwhelmed by how simplified a once very intuitive banking App had become. Launched by a leading bank in Asia, and a pioneer in adopting and creating digital financial services. When I thought they had taken user experiences into detailed consideration, they had become complacent in thinking that the people today are Apps-savvy no matter what age, what financial and digital literacy. I could not find where to complete my transaction, and though I eventually did, I suffered from a moment of panic. It was my money, my trust. Then came a chance to give feedback, and before a 2-star review, I hoped to give this brand a second chance. Nowhere to do this except for a chatbot, but I did not want to talk to a bot. I had no confidence I was going to be taken seriously by a machine, and I was sure that my grievances were not going to be appeased. My perception of the brand dipped from that one experience, and I stopped commenting positively about them.
Branding has its own detractors, who usually use heavy branding to spread their views. Who doesn’t know the famous Naomi Klein’s “No logo” logo? However, branding has had its own coming of age, which is maybe not visible for someone just looking at logos. While it used to be that branding and design should differentiate you at any cost –‘differentiate or die’ they say – today one may as well ‘differentiate AND die’, if it doesn’t employ branding and design with a strategic purpose. Good branding and communication are paramount to the advent of FinTech, and it isn’t just disrupting by being friendly.
Banca Transilvania (also known as BT) is the leading Romanian bank founded with private capital, established in 1994. The bank kept on growing by expanding nationally to over 550 branches and becoming the bank of choice for the enterprising people. After a great business year in 2015, and preparing for future developments, a refreshment of the brand was deemed relevant both for the organization and the external stakeholders.
Whilst aiming to fix issues of visibility, modernization and consistency along all brand manifestations, the 2016 rebranding set out to better signalize the new stage and status of the brand. The brand redesign had to protect the profound level of organizational identification with the brand. We were tasked with the delicate job of seamlessly inserting new meanings, optimizing the identity system to work on a whole different scale and upgrading the elements that can be changed without destroying the brand equity inspired by the brand’s positive perceptions: ‘the authentic Romanian bank’, ‘the bank dedicated to the Romanian entrepreneurial spirit’. The operation was more than successful, Banca Transilvania emerging not only as the biggest bank in Central and Eastern Europe, but also BT’s brand became the most valuable banking brand in Romania, evaluated at 208 million Euro in 2019 (a 41% increase Y.O.Y.) as evaluated by Brand Finance London.
A few years on, BT wanted a redesign of their mobile banking App, which was rebranded as BT Neo and its whole UI rethought and redesigned from scratch — including branded gestures, capable to put the brand in the position to direct and mediate sentiment-charged actions.
Operating in a very difficult market context (Belarus), Alfa-Bank, a Russian privately owned bank, wanted to transition the retail bank into a leading mobile bank through a complete overhaul of both internal culture and external customer experience. Through one super brand idea ‘Synchronized’, a philosophy of continuous feedback-based service readjustment on both the B2C front (‘In Sync with Your Life’) as well as the B2B front (‘In Sync with Your Business’), we triggered and sustained the pervasive corporate culture turnaround and accelerated the digital transformation. InSync grew so powerful, it ultimately became the brand of the flagship product, an innovative mobile banking solution with a revolutionary drag-and-drop interface.
As a consequence of its successful turnaround and digitization, Alfa-Bank Belarus won the Euromoney award as the country’s best bank in 2019 by virtue of its rapidly improving metrics and fastest mobile-led growth among the top 10 banks in Belarus, expanding its balance sheet by 35%.
So it shows that many banks these days are supporters and adopters of FinTech, actively investing in, acquiring or partnering with providers to stay relevant with digitally-minded customers, giving them what they want, and moving the financial industry forward. Whether traditional banking, cryptocurrency and blockchain, payments, lending or insurance, likeable and reliable financial brands must have powerful and good humanized branding and communication:
- to create a strong intangible asset, one that will propel forward the business/product/service offer, and generate greater value in the process;
- to provide a brand idea and brand story that can be told with conviction to support both the internal decisions and external communication;
- to align internal culture and capabilities with external demands and customer experience.
And none of these can be done without the Midas touch of human connections for an effective digital success.
Business Director, Asia
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