Banks called Atom, N26, Bunq and Monzo. Insurers named Lemonade and Oscar.  In their efforts to distinguish themselves from longtime industry stalwarts, new entrants into the fields of banking and insurance are choosing playful, whimsical names that make no reference to the space they’re trying to disrupt.

Previous nomenclature in these business spaces has revolved around place names (Bank of America, Zurich Insurance Group), acronyms (HSBC, AXA), founders’ names (JPMorgan, Wells Fargo), unified groups (Allianz, United Health) and words conveying safety (Ping An, Prudential). The sensibility of name-making revolved around projecting customer trust, solidity, a sense of we’ve-always-been-here/we’ll-always-be-here staying power.   

Not so for the newcomers, who seemingly intend to put a lighter, even ephemeral touch on their industry’s formerly heavy look and feel – if not outright reject what’s come before. “Buy this insurance, and you’ll feel refreshed,” the brand voice seems to be saying. “Bank here, and be happy” – or at the very least, you won’t dread the experience. In an era of Shark Tank-style pitches for investment money, the trend could possibly stem from the need to convey to venture capitalists the emotion that the brand is expected to unleash.

A New Approach to Establishing Customer Trust

It’s not so much that customers no longer need that sense of security when they open an account or select coverage. It’s more that in an age when customer trust in financial services and insurance institutions has been shaken by global macroeconomic upheaval, and new peer-to-peer mechanisms of establishing trust have emerged (such as blockchain), it’s time to refresh the old tropes for assuring stability. The newcomers seem to have concluded that the younger generation of consumers doesn’t want to interact with a stodgy behemoth but with a nonthreatening, more lighthearted, less formal company – one that issues hot-pink debit cards perhaps, as Monzo does, or pledges to pepper its communications with emojis.

In a sense, the new breed has rewritten the definition of what inspires security and customer trust. These emotions are no longer rooted in concrete pillars and an imposing facade, but in friendlier customer-facing messaging, swifter business processes that lighten or even eliminate the burden of previously arduous tasks, and a shift in control to the customer, through  blatant transparency and even invitations to provide input into future offerings.

In other words, the way to gain customer trust and loyalty isn’t to immerse them in a fathomless pit of complexity but to promise them a quick and easy way in and out. And the way to draw customers in is no longer “put yourself in our capable and all-knowing hands” but “come play with us!” (aka, the “experience economy”). Far from silly and juvenile, though, the invitation has more of a we’re-all-in-this-together, adventurous spirit, and of escaping to another way of doing previously mundane and tedious things (i.e., filing a claim or checking a balance).

Lightening It Up in Insurance

In the insurance sector, Lemonade’s founders intentionally chose a name associated with words like “instant, fun and social good” vs. “paperwork, hassle and fighting.” In an industry famously bogged down by bureaucracy, endless form-filling and slow results, customers are assured of speed, “zero paperwork” and “instant everything.” On the website, a fast-moving video illustrates the swift and seamless interaction between customer and app, including a video testimonial replacing the written claim, which ends with a congratulatory image of a glass of lemonade, and a dashboard showing how long it took for the transaction to be completed (in seconds). Lemonade also promises to donate all underwriting profits to a charity of the customer’s choice, and publishes data about itself on customer growth and other internal metrics, on its blog.

In a similar vein is Oscar, a health insurance start-up headed by Joshua Kushner, the brother of U.S. President Donald Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner, and named after Kushner’s maternal great-grandfather. Oscar’s premise is customer-centricity and an effort to make health insurance simpler to navigate. On its whimsically-illustrated website (the URL is hioscar.com, not just oscar.com), customers are promised a dedicated “concierge team” rather than a random customer service agent, who can answer healthcare- and insurance-related questions, help them find a doctor, connect them with a medical specialist 24×7 and help with paperwork. And instead of just collecting information on customers, the company exposes that data right back to them through its mobile app, through which customers can track doctor visits and lab work, view prescriptions and track their deductible. The app also includes a step-tracker, which rewards customers with $1 for every day they hit their step goal.  

Making Banking Fun

In banking, N26 in Berlin explicitly states on its website that banking should be “fun” – which is what you might expect from a company whose name reflects the number of smaller cubes in a Rubik’s Cube. Using video chat, customers can set up a free basic account in eight minutes, and they get lots of account control through the app, such as setting and changing daily payment and withdrawal limits and changing their PIN. Reflecting the all-too-human tendency to lose their bank card only to find it once they’ve gone through the trouble of canceling it, N26 also has a tool for customers to block and unblock their bank card themselves.

At Atom in the UK, app developers are hired not from the banking industry but from the gaming sector, according to COO Stewart Bromley, as the company strives to emulate a video game with its app. Customers log in using face and voice recognition, and are treated to 3-D animations. In an extreme case of customer personalization, the company lets customers name “their bank” and select the colors they’ll use in the logo. 

Perhaps no company takes the invitation to “play” as far as Bunq, an Amsterdam-based mobile-only bank whose tagline is “bank of the free.” Customers – or “bunqers” – can open temporary group accounts to more easily share expenses (not unlike a group chat but for banking). But to really make customers feel they own the banking experience, Bunq offers them access to application programming interfaces (API) and software development toolkits (SDK) to build their own website to manage monthly budgets, apps to categorize spending and automated tools to calculate tax returns. 

What Lies Beneath

Of course, underneath these friendly veneers is a hefty amount of advanced technology. In fact, the more simple and unique the interface, the more complicated the technology in the background seems to be. For every Lemonade, Oscar, N26, Bunq and Monzo, there’s a tangled web of advanced data analytics at work, not to mention artificial intelligence-driven chatbots, machine learning algorithms, face, voice and fingerprint recognition, and (in Lemonade’s case) a good dose of behavioral economics.

In the end, then, these weirdly named newcomers are trying to pull off a bigger trick, even, than their predecessors: getting customers to believe they’re engaging in a nonthreatening, straightforward, almost fun activity that breaks with industry norms but is, in some ways, more complex than ever, as it’s driven by technologies only a minority of the population understands.

Time will tell which of these new entrants will have staying power in their chosen industries – but what’s clear is that the game has changed, and they’re offering a new way for customers to play.

This blog originally appeared as an article in MISC Magazine, a publication by Idea Couture, a Cognizant Company.

Louis Marino

Louis Marino

Louis Marino is Head of Design at Cognizant Interactive. He has over 25 years of experience in brand and community building in... Read more