Atom Bank’s Wood Harnesses The Power To Change Banking

Lisa Wood, CMO of Atom, the U.K.’s first digital-only, app-based bank, describes how the bank’s mission statement, “Change banking permanently and for the better,” will come to life.

Atom Bank's Wood Harnesses The Power To Change Banking

Atom Bank is gearing up to launch as the U.K.’s first digital-only, app-based bank.

Atom was founded by Anthony Thomson, who launched Metro Bank in 2010, the first new high street bank in the UK for 150 years. But where Metro was based on a branch-and-website model, Atom will only be available via its app, with a call centre for customer support.

According to Atom’s CMO Lisa Wood, the bank is due to launch “very soon.” In the run-up to that launch she spoke to, and the first thing I asked her was to explain the thinking behind the business.

Wood: Atom Bank started as an idea three years ago, and formed as a company two years ago. Anthony Thomson, our CEO Mark Mullen [former CEO of telephone banking pioneer First Direct], and a small group of founders all set out to change banking.

Atom’s mission statement is “Change banking permanently and for the better.” There’s real intent and passion within the business to change the way the industry is perceived and run.

We’re looking to build a very different experience. The team at Atom is drawn from all walks of life, particularly the development and design teams, so you don’t get traditional bank thinking about what an app looks like, or what a mobile experience looks like. We’re looking to engage consumers and emotionally connect with them. Where are you in the process now?

Wood: Our aim is to launch Q1 this year. Then, by the end of the year, we’re looking to have a comprehensive range of retail banking products, and we’ll be in the business banking space as well. How are you thinking about marketing? Obviously, you’re building the brand from scratch, but also your thinking ties in to the idea that, increasingly, the customer experience is the brand.

Wood: My role covers marketing and propositions. We’ve brought together proposition development alongside marketing, because it’s so important to get them joined up. It’s important to know what your brand stands for and then build it into every element of what you do.

Customer experience sits alongside the app design team, and they translate what we’re looking to build from a propositions perspective, right the way through the customer journey, and into the app. The approach we’ve taken is to keep the products as simple as we can. We want to demystify banking and add more value to the proposition through the experience that you get. So the customer experience and the app experience fused together mean that it’s much more about what you can do with those products, as opposed to what the products are.

We talk a lot about wanting Atom to be an enabler rather than a middleman. If you think about banks in a traditional model, they see the relationship as being between them and the customer. What we’re saying is we want the relationship to be between the customer and their money.

It’s quite a different way of thinking because we’re getting out of the way, but we’re empowering the customer and giving them the right level of information. We’ll be using data to do that, and helping them understand and manage their money, hopefully a lot better than they do today.

That’s reflected in the brand thinking as well, because we strongly believe that this is your bank, not our bank. We believe that we’re building Atom for you (our customers).

So when it came to the design of the brand and the logo, we said: “We’re in the digital space. We’re not constrained by the fact that it’s really difficult to change a logo, like you are in the print world.” We’ve developed 1.4 million combinations of our logo, what we call the “A Marque.” Every customer who joins us will get their own unique “A Marque,” and if they want to, they can call the bank their bank as well, so you can call it “Lisa’s Bank,” for example. We know not everyone wants that, but it’s a reflection of our thinking that the bank should belong to you, and be unique to you.

Personalisation is incredibly important to us, and we’ll get increasingly sophisticated in terms of what you’ll be able to do to personalise your app experience. How personalised is the actual banking experience?

Wood: Obviously, you have to build a standardised app, but it will learn from the way you use it. For example, if we’re giving you little nudges about what’s happening with your money, you can choose which ones you want, how you get them, and when you want them, so you can tailor your experience. Then as we get into more sophisticated products, we’ll be able to see what you do when you come into the app, and deliver that to you the next time, rather than you having to navigate that yourself. Antony Thomson has said that the most engaged customers of Metro Bank are the ones that serve themselves, the ones that it has the least to do with. That feels like a different way of thinking about engagement to the one most companies have.

Wood: If you think about it, you just want things to work. You want to be able to do what you want to do in a really easy and simple way.

Generally, with banks these days, you only contact them when something has gone wrong, or you can’t do what you want to do yourself. Then you have to go into a branch and that frustrates the hell out of you. The more you can do yourself—because it’s easy, and slick, and saving you time—the better you feel about it.

Because we’re an app-based bank, everything you need to be able to do will be done in the app. You have no hand-off to other channels. We have got a full 24/7 customer support team based in the UK, so someone will always be on hand if you have a problem. But, on the whole, people will be more satisfied if they can do what they want to do, when they want to, and easily.

The other thing I strongly believe is that the banking industry has taught customers to be less emotionally connected and more functional, in terms of their relationship with their bank. Because of the models we have adopted within the industry, over the years we have taught customers to switch off and, therefore, they don’t value a more personal relationship with their bank. They just want to get things done.

If you look back to the full, branch-based relationship model, people really valued their relationship with their local bank manager. But the banks have taken the power out of the branches. They’ve centralised. They’ve taken out processing. They’ve taken out phone calls. They’ve lowered the skill base of the branch staff. They have high staff turnover, so you never get to know who’s in your branch. Therefore, they’ve tried to get customers to do more themselves through more self-service points in the branches, and they’ve moved them to online banking. Now they’re moving them to mobile banking.

That’s all because they could take out cost from their model. What they haven’t thought along the way is: “How do you emotionally reconnect in all of those distinct channels?” They’ve now got multiple channels that their customers can switch between, and they’ve lost track of what an emotional connection with the customer is.

Our tone of voice and the way in which we deliver the Atom message are very unbank-like. As a brand, we want to be open and transparent; we want people to be able to connect with us. We want to show that we’re a very human brand, and there are lots of little touch points on our website that illustrate that. We want to show that even though we’re a digital brand, the people at Atom and the culture of Atom mean a huge amount to us.

We’ve done plenty of research, and we’ve found people love that. They feel they can really connect to the brand, even though it’s digital. They feel we’re going to work in their best interests because we’re not trying to build a relationship where we have all the power. We want the customer to have the power, and because of the way in which the brand is being constructed, they actually read that from the brand, which is great. You mentioned nudges, so are you going to be in a position where you can look at people’s data and suggest better ways for them to manage their accounts?

Wood: Absolutely. We want to connect people with their money. We want them to understand how they’re spending their money, and to nudge them to say: “You could be doing this slightly differently and it would be better for you.” We want them to understand and take control of what they’re doing. We know particularly with the 18 to 34 end of the market, actually understanding money and taking control of it is really important to them. They’re saving for their first home, for example, so actually making little changes on an everyday basis, and helping them to save, is something that’s hugely motivating for them.

Where we’re going with things like spending habits is very similar. We talk about Atom being the UK’s first telepathic bank; what that means is we will use data to make predictions. Once you’ve got a current account and you can see the behaviours in that account, you can see very similar things happen on a month-on-month basis. We’ll be able to predict what the future month’s spend looks like, and we’ll be able to say: “Do you want to try and change that, because if you did, you could save 50 quid more a month?” We’ll allow them to set spending goals and that kind of thing.

That’s very much the space we want to get into. The whole peer-to-peer comparison of “people like you are doing X, Y, and Z” is really interesting. There is a watch-out here in terms of how you define “people like me”—you do have to be very clever with data. But from the behavioural economics perspective, using that kind of data to help switch behaviours can be hugely powerful.

That’s what we mean by “telepathic banking”—using predictive analytics to help customers understand where they could be if they did something a little bit different.

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