How can you make a pretty serious and complex business like fintech appear more humane and relatable? One of the most effective ways is to use humor or comedy in your marketing communications and advertising. As it taps into people's emotions, humor can make any subject more personal and engaging.
A great example of a fintech using comedy in its advertising and branding efforts is the US-based start-up Unifimoney. Instead of playing it safe and following the trends, Unifimoney decided to be bold and poke at the big incumbents in an authentic and direct way, with comedy. To find out more about Unifimoney and its rather daring approach to marketing, we spoke to Joseph Bien-Kahn, Head of Content at Unifimoney.
We’re the challengers, so it feels right to poke at the incumbents — and what better way to do that than with comedy?
What is Unifimoney? What does the brand stand for? And what differentiates Unifimoney from the competition?
Unifimoney is an automated money management neobank specifically built for high-earning professionals - doctors, lawyers, people working in finance and tech, etc.. Our founder Ben Soppitt spent two decades working in and around Fintech and payments — at Visa, Fitbit Pay, BTPN Wow! in Indonesia, and Samsung Pay. He’d seen firsthand how incumbent banks were failing consumers, but also saw the ways that the existing neobanks and challenger banks were only targeting the subprime consumers banks wouldn’t compete for. He saw an opportunity to bundle the best of Fintech into a neobank specifically built for the high-earning, high-debt consumers that challenger banks were ignoring and incumbents were exploiting.
We differ from most in the challenger bank space by positioning more as a digital private bank and to directly compete with the top ten banks — we are looking to serve a specific community and at low volume. We are not trying to compete with Varo, Chime, Revolut and the others on how many accounts we can open each week. We are focused on the quality of the accounts, not the volume.
The company launched at the end of 2019, what was Unifimoney’s initial launch plan? Can you give us a behind-the-scenes view of the go-to-market strategy?
We are currently in Beta with a user panel of customers drawn from our waitlist. This is a complex product but the UX has to be simple, easy to use and intuitive. No one has created such an integrated product before, so we have a lot to learn about user interaction. Our strategy is fast to market but slow to scale to give us the time to test and learn, iterate and adapt. We are targeting a wider release in Q4 of this year.
We are building and testing our communications strategy at the same time — we need to learn what engages our target audience in terms of both message and channel.
In banking, a high Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is a self-inflicted tax on the industry — it’s what happens when a sector has spent decades with limited product differentiation. We think our product can speak for itself, so we’re hoping for a powerful referral and word-of-mouth effect, but we still need to reach people and increase awareness and understanding of what we offer and how we are different at first. Our priority is always to be incredibly efficient to keep our CAC low; we’re very conscious that every $1 we spend on marketing is $1 less to give back to users.
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One of the key aspects of Unifimoney’s branding is its unique, satirical voice. What made you choose this type of voice? Did you face any challenges implementing this? What reactions have you seen so far?
If you watch enough incumbent bank advertisements (which, unfortunately, I have), they all seem to fall into three categories: celebrity spokesperson being goofy, a voice-over actor being gravely serious, or families using credit card points to live it up in paradise.
We think credit card points are a scam, we’re never going to pay seven figures to a celebrity to be the face of Unifimoney and we know the ultra-serious bank voice has lost credibility with our target audience. The Unifimoney user is living through her second historical recession at a moment when she is just beginning to pay down her student loans. She’s seen banks act with impunity again and again. The Unifimoney user would roll their eyes at a neobank just play-acting as an incumbent bank. So, we wanted to do something different.
On the Unifimoney blog, we’ve delivered long-form essays as well as interviews with fascinating thinkers in and around Fintech (in a series called The Braintrust), because we believe it’s essential to be informative about the industry and transparent about how we see it. But, we also think it’s important to have some fun. That’s why we’ve partnered with the guys at Stockhaus to make a series of ads in the voice of Big Brand Bank. We’re the challengers, so it feels right to poke at the incumbents — and what better way to do that than with comedy?
How important is transparency in fintech marketing communications?
It’s incredibly important!
The incumbent banks all offer strikingly similar products and pretty poor value for money, so they have to spend a huge amount to acquire new customers. The top 10 banks spend $15bn a year on marketing — Chase alone spends over $2.6bn, which is more than Apple. We’re never going to compete with them by traditional means — and we don’t want to.
A lot of banks use misleading tactics to attract new customers. They use bait and switch tactics, promotional rates, and upfront incentives instead of actually delivering a better product. It's a relatively quick and easy way to acquire customers and they’re betting on stasis (which is a good bet when it comes to banks). Unfortunately, we see many Fintechs adopting similar tactics.
Our main premise is a relatively simple one: the incumbent banks spend tens of billions on advertising and plenty more on brick-and-mortar branches, executive bonuses and private planes; what if a percentage of that record-breaking profit was given back to the customer in the form of interest, cashback, and microscopic investment fees?
Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo pay 0.01% APY on both their checking and savings accounts! They’re making record profits and giving pennies back to the account holders whose money they’re lending out. We want to bring transparency and awareness to give people the power of choice. We want to help people adopt behaviors that benefit them, not the bank.
What other strategies do you currently use in your marketing at Unifimoney?
One of my favorite things we’ve done (which I guess can be considered marketing) is our partnership with The Ocean Foundation tied to the launch of our ocean-bound plastic debit card.
By now, everyone knows about the success of the American Express Centurion “Black” Card, which was metal and became a signifier of megawealth and status. In the two decades since, every bank has made their own metal card — even the guy behind the Fyre Fest launched one. When we were designing our debit card, we knew we wanted to do something completely different. We thought: in a market flooded with plastic waste and metal cards (with increasingly diminishing status significance), what if we could make a card that actually meant something? So Ben got in touch with the CPI Card Group and they signed off on letting us launch with a card built from ocean-bound plastic.
Once we had the material set, we reached out to The Ocean Foundation and spoke with their team about how we could best partner with them. We decided that making a small donation each time one of our cards was used would be a way to both raise money for a great cause and raise awareness. When a Unifimoney user swipes their card, they’re holding a piece of plastic that would otherwise have polluted waterways and they’re giving money to assist ocean projects in 40 countries on all seven continents.
When announcing the new card, we did a standard press release, but also put out a feature article that explained our thinking and introduced our incredible partners. It was a hit.
We accept that most people won’t change their bank regardless of what we say, despite the economic benefit to them to do so. There’s no point chasing those consumers. The first 50-100K Unifimoney users are going to be natural contrarians: people who are first to try new things and looking for ways to use technology to optimize their life. So, we need to have a communications approach that reaches these people in a way that engages them.
We publish a lot of long-form content and interviews, and focus a lot on the psychology of money; we want to give people awareness that being bad with money is our natural state, not a personal failing. Money is a relatively new idea; our brains aren’t built to deal with it. Armed with that knowledge, we can remember to manage ourselves — the best way to do that is to automate best practices, allowing tech to handle the repetitive minutia of optimized money management that we’re so bad at.
We are investing time and effort into our Instagram and also Reddit. Our video content has been especially popular on Reddit — I think it’s refreshing for people to see someone say what they’re all thinking about the incumbent banks. And the guys at Stockhaus are so talented and funny; it’s a great way to communicate an uncomfortable but urgent message.
What’s next for Unifimoney?
We are building the most comprehensive money management app on the market. It's a mix of Acorns for grownups, Brex for consumers, Robinhood, Wealthfront, and Chase Sapphire Reserve — all in one app.
Fintech has completely changed the way people interact with their money over the last decade, but it’s also complicated the practice of money management. When we surveyed users on our waitlist, 43% had more than 6 financial apps on their phone! We are focused on re-bundling the most innovative financial services available — we get to pick and choose best-in-class partners and integrate them into our platform. Where none exists, we are helping create them.
So, Unifimoney will automate best practices for saving, spending and investing, while also offering our users best-in-class deals for any ad-hoc need: be that a student-loan refinance, a mortgage, a car loan, or more. We’ve built a money-management platform built specifically for high-earning professionals (doctors, lawyers, people in tech, etc.) which means we can design services specially tailored to them.
COVID has shown an entire generation that bad things happen to good people — it’s reinforced the fact that financial resilience is essential, because an unexpected disaster can completely change the economic landscape in the blink of an eye. We believe Unifimoney can be a tool to help build wealth, so we’re working furiously to get to market and start serving our users.
About Joseph Bien-Kahn: Joseph Bien-Kahn is Head of Content at Unifimoney, as well as at AbstractOps and neo.tax. He also writes about sports and film for New York Magazine, theNew York Times Magazine, Bleacher Report, and a handful of other publications. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and dog.