An interesting case study for both Australian fintech and traditional financial services firms alike is the experience over the last couple of years of Hello bank!, an associate company of BNP Paribas, which has taken Europe’s Generation Z’s by storm.
Hello bank!, owned by the French-based BNP Paribas and Fortis bank of Belgium, was launched in May 2013 as an online mobile bank which goes further than providing young people with a more technology-friendly way of doing business. It has also sought to brand itself within their lifestyles.
While traditionalists may smirk at the silly name of the bank, it has not-so-quietly amassed a 30 per cent market share in its headquartered country of Belgium and about 10 per cent in each of the other countries in which it so far operates – France, Germany and Italy. It is Europe’s first online mobile bank but has already attracted two competitors.
BNP Paribas, which hosted a lunch for Hello bank! representatives and journalists in Sydney last week, emphasised, though, there were no plans to launch in Australia any time soon. But lessons from the bank’s short life to date are worth noting by all Australian industry participants.
Xavier Dumon, the bank’s head of marketing, and Maerten Leyts, the chief executive of the research and marketing agency Trendwolves, which has worked with the bank on its promotions, presented some of their experiences. Trendwolves specialises in advising companies in how they should approach Generation Z’s – people under age 35. They were in Australia to present at AMP’s annual “Amplify” conference, which focuses on innovation in financial services.
Dumon said the new bank was “less about digital disruption and more about better engagement”. The technology is just an enabler. One lesson, with this online market, is the importance of being transparent, he said. “Hello bank! is a good example of making complex things simpler.”
The bank has tailored its platform to recognise cultural and practical differences between the four countries in which it operates. It offers daily banking services, such as cheque accounts, savings accounts, credit cards, prepaid cards, debit cards, and personal loans. It is launching mortgages by end of 2015 and pension funds in 2016. The bank refers to its customers as “members”.
Dumon said: “Initial lessons included that the website was too complicated; they didn’t have enough products; and their communication was too impersonal for a digital bank.”
He said that important messages learned were that it was important to be modest and not too pushy. “Hello bank! wanted to evolve as a lifestyle brand for new generation people… Banks are not important for Gen Z. We needed to match the young person’s lifestyle with their banking needs. Hello bank! has positioned itself outside the banking world and rather as a lifestyle brand.”
Perhaps, however, the banks have it a little easier in Europe with regard to their image than they do in Australia. Leyts said: “Young people [in Europe] don’t hate banks. They see banks as irrelevant. They say they are unlikely to visit a bank branch within the next five years.”
There is no such thing as a typical member of Hello bank! they say. Under advice from Trendwolves, the bank has a strategy called ‘phygital’ (combining physical and digital). It is involved in the electronic music scene and partners youth-oriented festivals in Belgium and other countries where the bank is seen as “uber cool” rather than an old people’s brand.
“Hello bank’s communication strategy is now more human and lifestyle related, stressing freedom,” Leyts said. He stressed the importance of being “human, modest and approachable”. They ask their customer base what they need rather than telling them what they should do.
– John Hamer
Banking on young people: lessons from Europe