Fintech and the brand differentiation problem
This article was originally published in Spanish, on Substack.
Why do all apps look the same?
The other day, I made a huge mistake. I grouped all the neo-bank apps and virtual wallets that I have on my cell phone, in the same folder. When I wanted to see how my portfolio survived the latest Bitcoin swing, I end up going to the app I use to pay bills, and when I want to send a bank wire, I end up on my prepaid card app.
All icons are the same. And not only the icons: The interfaces, the landing pages, the social media profiles… they all look the same, sound the same, and feel the same.
If we look at the fintech companies capturing the lion's share of users, this problem seems anecdotal. But for a company just starting out, following industry branding mandates can make it invisible. At the end of the day, it’ll be seen as “yet another fintech company”.
In this post, I will share some highlights of our diagnosis, as well as some suggestions on differentiation in the fintech industry.
Beyond best practices
This homogenization is due, in part, to a triumph of good UX practices. Don't get me wrong: At Post* we are pro-good practices. The pastel colors contrasted with more saturated tones, the cute and friendly representations of the human figure, and a very accessible language make a product easy and pleasant to use. And this sense of security, "cozyness" and simplicity is key when the product proposes to simplify a dimension of users' lives that is usually a source of anxiety. For example, finance.
But, if something extra isn't brought into the mix, applying what we already know works results in a product that looks just like its competition.
Color psychology tells us that violet and blue inspire confidence, but “that” shade of blue is going to make us look too serious, and “that” other one reminds us too much of the early internet. So we end up choosing the same shade of blue as our competitors. And so with the illustrations, and so with the typography, and so with the brand voice...
How to differentiate
There are many ways to stand out from the competition. The most “classic” one is related to features & benefits. Basically, having a product that does things that others don't, does them better, or makes them easier.
The differentiation problem often begins with the value proposition. Perhaps the marketing department has a clear idea of what makes them different from other similar offerings. However, users may not see such a big difference when they get to experience the app.
The value proposition of simplifying finances is out of date. Our early adopters are going to ask us for something else.
Differentiation can also be built by appealing to a different imaginary than the competition, one that resonates better with the target audience. You can differentiate a brand by its heritage and provenance - inspiring trust in some cases, and making one feel part of a prestigious legacy in others.
In turn, you can differentiate yourself by creating a richer experience than what your competitors offer. Another form of differentiation is related to added value. Basically, besides the product: What are you offering the audience so they spend time with your brand?
Beyond “what works”
Proposing an aesthetic differentiation from the competition usually has a negative impact on decision-makers. This may be due to the fact that those in middle management often have few incentives to take risks.
However, we are not far from that conservatism having a negative impact on the image of fintech brands.
Fintech positions itself as the “answer” to conventional banking. Basically, we’re here to break the “old paradigms” of an established industry, with a modern product that targets the needs of “new generations”.
However, judging by the aesthetic and messaging homogeneity, the sector seems stuck in design precepts that, although recent, already look aged. Fintech aesthetics seem to be characterized by almost childish illustrations, a color palette tending towards blue and violet, and minimalist (but often convoluted) interfaces.
Considering that fintech companies are “the new kids” in the field of money and finance and that many traditional banks have caught up in digital services, losing momentum and failing to innovate can be damaging to their image. Especially when these companies do not always meet customer expectations and in many cases, add a new problem to the classic frictions of the banking sector. This problem is no smaller than the absence of a physical channel to solve problems and create trust.
Brand differentiation issues can’t be solved with just a logo facelift and a typographic change. They require teams to reflect on how aesthetics can be used to articulate a long-term narrative of what their product stands for and how it will resonate with the target audience.