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Positioning a fintech: Lessons from Banking Circle

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

Positioning is probably one of the most challenging areas of fintech marketing. Complexity, lack of trust and limited budgets are just a few of the challenges fintech marketers usually face when positioning their innovative challenger brands into the already crowded fintech market.

To learn more about the topic and get some first-hand tips on how to effectively position a brand in the fintech space, we spoke to Miranda McLean, Senior Director, Global Head of Marketing at financial infrastructure provider, Banking Circle. Originally launched in 2015 under the brand Saxo Payments, earlier this year the company went through a complete rebrand following receipt of its banking licence to reposition as a financial infrastructure provider.

Saxo Payments rebrands as Banking Circle
Saxo Payments rebranded as Banking Circle
As a company, one of our key messages is that banks and fintechs should focus on what they do best and use external partners to deliver other solutions. This is a philosophy we employ within our marketing strategy too: we employ both a social media agency and a PR agency, and commission expert partners to carry out our industry research. Working together in this way we gain the greatest possibly result from our marketing budget.

Banking Circle went through a complete rebrand earlier this year. Can you tell us a bit more about the process and how you managed to reposition the brand from a payment disruptor to a financial infrastructure provider?

When it first launched in 2015, Banking Circle was a standalone subsidiary of Saxo Bank and as such was known as Saxo Payments. We launched to give the burgeoning fintech sector a genuine alternative to existing cross-border payment solutions, which would enable them to enhance their customer propositions. We delivered faster, cheaper and more accessible international payments and foreign exchange. But the aim was always to obtain a banking licence, to broaden the range of solutions we could provide to the sector.

My primary brief, when I joined the company, was to create a new, future-proof brand identity and marketing strategy to elevate the brand in its own right, rather than always relying on the Saxo brand to carry us to success. With the goal of becoming a fully licensed bank in mind at all times, the team and I put together a detailed marketing and PR strategy to raise the profile of the company and our main spokesperson, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Anders la Cour. Anders’s vision of a financial ecosystem of banks and payments businesses working together was the driving force behind the direction of the business, and ensured that the transition to licensed bank in 2020 was smooth and didn’t go against our previous positioning.

One of the most important elements of the brand identity was the name. We wanted to remove our reliance on the Saxo name, and to include ‘Banking’ so that potential members would understand the role of the proposition for their operations. However, as we didn’t yet have a banking licence the use of ‘Banking’ within the brand name required tough regulatory approval and putting together the successful proposal was our focus for many months.

The launch and rebrand campaigns focused on how Banking Circle can help banks and payments businesses to provide their customers with better payment and banking solutions regardless of geography. The campaign included careful placement of above the line advertising, combined with thought leadership articles in key industry publications and websites, as well as attendance and speaking slots at industry events. In addition, we also implemented a comprehensive social media strategy and PR campaign within the banking, payments and financial services press. Entering – and winning – awards was also a key part of our strategy.

To underpin our thought leadership positioning we carried out detailed industry research, and not only used the results to build our solutions with current needs at the heart, but also shared our findings and insights with the industry so we could all learn from the responses.

The launch campaign was highly successful, we beat all of our targets and quickly reached a level of engagement in the top tier of B2B marketing benchmarks. Together, we took Banking Circle to a multi-million-dollar business in less than three years.

What worked and what didn’t during the process?

As a start-up, Banking Circle budgets were limited – we had to be innovative and creative in how we launched the company and its central proposition. Using the limited budget we worked with key payments, fintech and banking titles and on the most relevant websites, as well as having stands and speaking opportunities at key events. This gave us the greatest possible exposure for the smallest cost.

We also ensured we got the best value for money from our industry research, by using the results to create the initial white paper and a launch press release, and then to secure free placements of thought leadership articles, blog posts and interview slots with our key media.

As a company, one of our key messages is that banks and fintechs should focus on what they do best and use external partners to deliver other solutions. This is a philosophy we employ within our marketing strategy too: we employ both a social media agency and a PR agency, and commission expert partners to carry out our industry research. Working together in this way we gain the greatest possibly result from our marketing budget.

Where’s Banking Circle today?

Having made a name for Banking Circle over the past few years as a financial utility, we gained our Banking Licence from the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF) in Luxembourg in 2019. Banking Circle is now a financial infrastructure provider for payments and banking, giving financial institutions access to real-time payments regardless of borders and regardless of size. We are also tackling the issue of SMEs having limited access to funds, with our innovative, accessible lending solutions.

The payments and banking businesses we work with can seize market opportunities in the new economy without having to commit to significant investment in their own internal infrastructure.

Banking Circle processes EUR 130 billion run-rate annual payment volumes and we have seen high growth every year since we launched in 2015 – including throughout the COVID-19 crisis.

Banking Circle bank branches are now open in the UK, Germany and Denmark. And we can now deliver bank accounts on a global scale enabling Payments businesses, such as PSPs and acquirers, to offer banking services to their clients without having to invest in their own costly infrastructure. We’re also providing Banks with the ability to extend the services they can offer to their business clients without facing hefty infrastructure investment and regulatory burden.

What’s the biggest focus of your marketing efforts at the moment?

Having recently gained our Banking Licence we are currently focused on sharing with our current and future markets the new ways in which we can help them provide their customers with better financial solutions. We are also helping financial institutions to launch new solutions to quickly and successfully meet the increased digital demand created by the COVID-19 crisis. That is an important message for us to share as the industry navigates the changing landscape towards a ‘new normal’.

We are expanding into new markets and new regions, so are focused on raising awareness and deepening the understanding of our solutions within these markets. And finally, we are in the process of publishing a series of reports based on the findings of our latest research. That is another important focus for marketing activity over the coming months.

Many are arguing that in modern marketing B2B and B2C are dead, and it’s all about B2H. Do you agree? And how do you navigate the changing consumer behaviour?

Of course, the human element is hugely important, as has been recognised more keenly throughout the current crisis. But messaging still needs to be focused on consumers or businesses, and the benefits most relevant to each group, so that element cannot be entirely scrapped.

Banking Circle provides solutions to financial institutions who offer services to businesses, so we are relatively removed from the impact of changing consumer behaviour. However, trends in consumer financial services quickly replicate within business finances. For example, with benefits such as instant payments, international banks accounts, low-cost foreign exchange and cross-border payments and mobile account management now well-established as the norm for consumer banking, these are increasingly expected and demanded within business banking. Therefore, our marketing often focuses on the fact that our solutions allow Banks and Payments businesses to provide these highly desirable elements without investing in expensive and time-consuming new infrastructure.

Messaging still needs to be focused on consumers or businesses, and the benefits most relevant to each group, so that element cannot be entirely scrapped.

What will fintech marketing look like post-COVID?

The talk over the last few months has been all about digital and digitisation. Digital delivery of financial services was an underlying theme for businesses – whether serving consumers or businesses – even before COVID-19, but that has now accelerated. I think we can, therefore, expect to see financial services providers – and the infrastructure providers like us that underpin them – continue to focus on digitisation. And that is sure to encompass marketing too. But we can’t afford to ignore the ‘human’ factor.

People need people – we all benefit from human interaction; learning from each other; understanding individual and business needs. So I really expect that, while we will continue to look for safe ways to travel and interact, there will continue to be a move towards ways to facilitate that interaction virtually.

For example, at Banking Circle, over the last few months as we lost the face to face interaction opportunities we had previously planned we replaced these with thought provoking webinars and client ‘events’. We’ve had ‘sundowners’ with clients where a box of goodies has arrived ahead of a webinar or online debate. As long as you keep the subject interesting – and involve the right contributors – there is no reason why the virtual interaction can’t work equally well.

What does the future hold for Banking Circle?

One of Banking Circle’s core aims is to improve financial inclusion for SMEs. Many smaller businesses struggle to open bank accounts and access cross-border payments or business loans, leading to increasing financial exclusion. Businesses are being held back from reaching their full potential, and the benefits this would bring to the owners, employees and the wider economy.

We are committed to carrying out regular research into the changing pain points SMEs experience, so that we can build innovative solutions that genuinely help these businesses compete and thrive in the global marketplace. As a financial infrastructure provider, we play a vital role in the financial ecosystem where banks, payments businesses and fintechs work in collaboration not competition, in order to provide businesses of all sizes with the best and most accessible solutions possible.

We are expanding rapidly, both geographically and in terms of our portfolio of solutions - this is an exciting time to be part of Banking Circle.

Miranda McLean Profile
Miranda McLean, Global Head of Marketing @ Banking Circle

About Miranda McLean: Miranda McLean, Global Head of Marketing at financial infrastructure provider Banking Circle, has built a considerable reputation for developing and executing successful marketing strategies for a wide range of financial services businesses over more than two decades.

Miranda is on the Executive Board of the European Women Payments Network which champions diversity and inclusion in the financial sector.

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