What's this all about?
At LEVERIS, we believe that the future of banking starts at the core. Core by LEVERIS is a new interview series where we address the issues at the core of banking, fintech and financial services. We speak to those working at the intersection between tech and finance about everything from the future of money to investment in fintechs. Through their insights, we explore current trends, predict future outcomes and get a taste of what it takes to succeed in the new age of banking.
Our latest guest in the series is the driving force behind the marketing of one of the most exciting fintechs to come out of Ireland. With over 15 years’ experience in sales, marketing and commercial development across a range of products and services in both Ireland and the Middle East and working in the fintech sector since 2014, Andrea Linehan is Chief Marketing Officer at CurrencyFair.
In the following interview, Andrea discusses the ingredients that make a great fintech brand, the role content plays in her marketing strategy, the ‘not so great’ marketing tactics among some fintechs, why she’s taking issue with the rise of the fin-influencer, and a whole lot more. Read on for some excellent advice and insights from someone who knows when it’s the right time to “ride the fintech train” and when it’s not.
LEVERIS: Could you describe what your role as Chief Marketing Officer at CurrencyFair involves?
Andrea Linehan: As CMO, I am responsible for growing our consumer business globally and establishing our international B2B and B2Ent proposition. Since joining CurrencyFair in early 2020, I have been leading the build of our business lead generation and sales enablement infrastructure, which is a departure from the company’s historic consumer acquisition strategy. The compelling challenge I have is to preserve the relationship that consumers have with our brand, whilst developing a new brand and relationship with business and enterprise customers.
LEVERIS: How important is a marketer's relationship with Sales?
Andrea Linehan: How important is the left hand’s relationship with the right hand? There are things each can do without the other, but together they can do so much more.
I am a mixed breed of sales and marketing and I don’t associate one without the other but to be successful the relationship requires careful management. I have been fortunate at CurrencyFair to be teamed up with a VP of Sales who has a marketing background. We speak each other’s language. Sales has not existed as a function in CurrencyFair until this year so together we have been building the B2B sales and marketing infrastructure in advance of 2021’s expansion plans. We get to form good relationship habits and processes from the very beginning and that is paramount.
LEVERIS: What, in your opinion, makes a great fintech brand?
Andrea Linehan: What makes a great fintech brand is knowing when to ride the fintech train and when not. FinTech is very hot with journalists, talent and investors. A funky name, a compelling founder’s story, a vision to change the world, amazing growth metrics and a David versus Goliath overtone are all good ingredients. But really, how important is it to your customer?
The term fintech was coined to describe technology start-ups that were solving problems for enterprise-level financial services. Now, however, we have new, young and agile financial services companies that are built on and enabled by technology but whose product is not the technology itself. Of course, there are hybrids, CurrencyFair is an example of that. We serve consumer and business customers with our primary financial product, which is currency exchange. However, we also serve enterprises with our white labelled payments technology platform. But we know what we really are for customers; we are a utility, a step in the process for them to get a job done. And as long as we continue to deliver with excellence, our customers will decide what our brand is to them.
LEVERIS: In what ways would you say marketing for fintechs differs from marketing for companies within other industries? Any trends you are seeing right now?
Andrea Linehan: Fintech marketing is built on the very same foundations that other industry marketing is. It’s not about how you market a fintech, it’s how your customer wants to be marketed to. At an industry level, what is true for banks is true for fintech; trust, credibility and reliability come first. Even the most ambitious early adopters will expect these attributes to be true before moving their money to or through a fintech. That is why ‘transparency’ is more than just a marketing trend amongst fintechs.
The banks will catch-up technologically, fintechs will not continue to lead with that as their value proposition. CurrencyFair has, since conception, been mission-driven to provide fair financial services. You can’t be fair without first being transparent about what you do, how you make money and how much your customer pays for your services. Lemonade is an insurance fintech company that is another example of leading with transparency, Monzo and TransferWise reference ‘radical transparency’. What I love about this collective positioning of fintechs is that it will eventually become the industry norm. Traditional financial institutions will have no choice but to follow suit because the market will demand it.
LEVERIS: Any fintechs out there doing great things when it comes to how they market their company?
Andrea Linehan: We can’t deny that financial services are inherently boring as a product. Just like utility companies, we have to work that bit harder to make it interesting. Habito, which is a mortgage broker, has punchy and fun creatives using animation to differentiate themselves. Klarna and Snoop Dogg or Danny DeVito and QuickBooks both seem like unusual personalities to associate with those brands, but it works because it is unusual and unusual is interesting.
But there are also some ‘not so great’ marketing trends in fintech. The anti-bank sentiment is an emotive one that too often fosters unwelcome negativity for our industry. Anyfin, a Stockholm-based consumer credit fintech, went the guerilla route placing ‘“DANGER! Loan shark zone” signs outside their competitors’ offices. Lemonade experienced backlash for their taxi-top campaign which read “Insurance, without the 100 years of experience screwing you”. Yes, it created PR for them, but there is a wider consequence from these ‘attack’ tactics, it damages the reputation and brand of the financial services industry as a whole. To be fair to Lemonade, they apologised afterwards.
LEVERIS: What role does content play in your marketing strategy?
Andrea Linehan: CurrencyFair has distributed solid content for a long time. And because we have predominantly been a consumer brand, our archives reflect that. Content is an important acquisition tool for us, but it is also powerfully retentive. Brand loyalty is diminishing making retention an ever-steeper incline. If you have been fortunate enough to have been selected by a customer, over all the other choices out there, then you need to make sure that when the honeymoon period is over, that you keep the date nights up. And that can be done through content. And not just any content, it must be customised and contextualised.
The customer that you targeted, won and serviced five years ago is not the same persona now. Don’t serve them content that was interesting to their 25-year-old backpacking self, today you must understand their 30-year-old mortgage-paying self. The big supermarkets nailed this many years ago, their loyalty programs assigned customers with a “pregnancy prediction” score and estimated due dates allowing them to send offers that were linked to stages of pregnancy. The point is, meet your customers where they are today and where they will be in the near future.
As our business and enterprise customer relationships deepen and broaden, we are experiencing a lot more demand for business content that goes beyond CurrencyFair products and features. I repositioned what was once a Brand Marketing Team into a Content Marketing Team to specifically address that demand but also to better cater to the shifting consumer/business ratio of our customer base. We use content to answer questions in a compelling way and if we can answer questions that our customers didn’t even know they had, then we are truly providing value that goes beyond our product offering.
LEVERIS: What are your thoughts on the rise of so-called 'fin-influencers' as a way for fintechs to win new customers?
Andrea Linehan: Influencers in general are another form of brand ambassadorships or affiliate marketing. Fintechs are leveraging fin-influencers predominantly because they are able to access and dominate in channels where big banks haven’t yet penetrated. But that also makes it aimed at a very specific cohort and the scale of reach seems to be the objective over the relevance of reach.
There was a WSJ survey citing that 38 per cent of millennials follow financial influencers and credit them and social media for forming their outlook on money. That concerns me. I am a huge proponent of financial inclusion, literacy and education but only when it is wrapped in mindful, ethical and honourable intentions. That grey area between promotion and advice is what many young people won’t be experienced enough to decipher between. Long-term financial literacy comes from practice and seeking out advice from people who don’t have anything to gain from their choices.
LEVERIS: Do analytics play a major role in how you shape your marketing?
Andrea Linehan: We have sophisticated business intelligence and predictive modelling in place, with a decade of data that allows us to have a deep understanding of our consumer customers. This year we introduced fully attributed content marketing to our B2B marketing strategy which will be a significant focus in our 2021 analytics roadmap. We know that no matter how sophisticated our data models are, there is only so much data that can be collected, deciphered and put to use. It is also too easy to rely on quantitative insights to represent complex multi-faceted individuals. I have seen it consistently throughout my career that even the most seasoned marketers too easily detach themselves from their own customers as if their own behaviour is somehow different from a customer’s.
We are people selling to people and what we can learn from a conversation with a customer can unearth the complexities that can’t be explained in numbers or graphs. Fintech, by its nature, is digital, it is the anti-bricks-and-mortar construct. What is gained in cost efficiencies can be lost in qualitative face-to-face customer insight. At CurrencyFair, we strike a balance. We encourage and design for self-serve but our virtual door is always open. To facilitate that we make it easy for customers to call us. Phone numbers for our offices in Ireland, UK, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia are accessible and all listed on our site.
LEVERIS: CurrencyFair is quite active in the sponsorship space. Could you tell us a bit about that and what makes a good fit for a sponsor recipient?
Andrea Linehan: There have been some very fun and emotive collaborations over the years and these have been incredibly important for our brand. We help our customers to exchange and move their money but our customers can’t physically touch or see that process happen. There is immense trust required. Partnering with ambassadors who reflect our company culture, our values and impact goals is a powerful and tangible way for customers to establish a connection with us.
Back in 2014, there was the CurrencyFairy, Sébastien Chabal. For ‘non-rugger’ fans he is a French former rugby union player. There was great humour in that campaign, he’s a big personality and there is comfort that comes with imagining a 6ft 3in, 113kg rugby player protecting your money as it goes on its ‘conversion’ journey.
There were Irish ex-pat themed partnerships such as with Jarlath O’Regan and his Irishman Abroad podcast, there was the Asian Gaelic Games and sponsorship of our Come Home Campaign where Phil Cahill won €30,000 to move home to Ireland from Australia (which he did with his girlfriend this summer). More recently, we introduced our brand ambassador Sinead Diver, an Irish marathon runner who was on the road to representing Australia in the 2020 Olympics. Her story is awe-inspiring, she is the epitome of perseverance and grit. And although the road to the Olympics has been stretched out to next year, we have been thrilled to continue to support Sinead. She recently competed in the Elite Women’s Field in the 2020 London Marathon and the journey to Tokyo 2021 continues.
Partnerships like these are not just for customers. They are important for internal branding also. They help to re-emphasise the culture of the company, which aids in attracting and retaining talent. Employees’ perceptions of a brand ambassador’s characteristics will impact their identification with your employer brand. There has been a European and Australian thread running through our sponsorship choices over the years. We will always celebrate our European and Australian roots but we have 21 nationalities working for us and that multi-cultural tapestry is the true DNA of CurrencyFair. You will see a more international approach from us in the near future.
LEVERIS: Where do you stand on company podcasts? Might we see a CurrencyFair show any time soon?
Andrea Linehan: Interesting you should ask that, as we have just finished recording four short podcasts, hosted by Aidan McCullen of The Innovation Show and our first guests include Cathal Gaffney, Brown Bag Films who acquired an animation studio in Indonesia; our own Paul Byrne, CEO of CurrencyFair, who led our expansion into Singapore and Hong Kong; Emma Gregory Beoudah, founder and MD of Spokes Jewelry launched and run from Thailand; and Gareth McGeown, CEO of Coca-Cola Philippines.
We have taken a specific look at expanding into and doing business in Asia and the experience these leaders have had respecting and navigating the culture. The podcasts culminate in a webinar where Aidan, Cathal, Paul and Emma discuss this in more depth. The webinar and podcasts will be released in January, your readers are welcome to register here to get access – it’s a very worthwhile watch.
LEVERIS: How are things at CurrencyFair? Any news or plans in the pipeline that you can share with us or any major marketing campaigns planned for 2021 that you can tell us about?
Andrea Linehan: During 2020, we have been carving out our business brand, consistently releasing new features for our business customers including; multi-user access, account statements, two-person approval, multi-currency accounts and an integration with Xero cloud accounting. In Q1 2021, we will be introducing our API, which will allow businesses to automate their FX payments, and there will be more business feature releases to follow.
Our FX marketplace is another important tool for our business customers. Many people will know that CurrencyFair was built on the concept of a marketplace where people traded currencies directly with each other. The advantage for customers is that they can set their preferred exchange rate on the marketplace and wait for a willing buyer. In early 2014, we became the first platform in the world to break the $1 billion barrier in money-matching transfers on our marketplace. Our customers could not be in better hands.
We are seeing our business customers place their preferred rate on the marketplace and wait for that rate to be matched just as consumers have done. They are leveraging this capability to boost their own bottom line by securing the most competitive rate available. We understand that businesses need access to liquidity and often at short notice and for that reason, their orders are never committed. If at any time, they need access to their funds and need to exchange immediately, they can cancel their order (free of charge) and instead avail of our instant exchange service.
LEVERIS: Finally, what would be your key advice for a marketing lead tasked with promoting a new fintech company?
Andrea Linehan: Start with a Minimum Viable Brand (MVB). When I moved into the fintech space in 2014, I was the first employee in a company called Our Money. The two founders were young dynamic accountants. We were six weeks out from the launch date when I joined and knowing what I did about the founders and the vision they had, ‘Our Money’ was not the right brand. We had a decision to make.
A Harvard Business Review article on the concept of MVB which was coined from the MVP approach resonated with me. It is a framework that focuses attention on the ingredients in the soil, what we stand for, what we believe in, how we want to show up as a company, who we want to show up for and being clear on what problem we are really solving for them.
During those six weeks, we spent hours nailing this down. For us, it was about connectivity, a network of people and businesses within communities moving money around their own ecosystem and sharing the value that was created. We wanted people and businesses to benefit from being in that network, from being ‘on the grid’. So we became GRID Finance. The work we did in those six weeks proved to be an unshakable foundation that we stood strong on, it informed who we hired, who we partnered with and more importantly it gave us the confidence to say no to opportunities and partnerships that were not aligned with the vision and values.
We launched with a full re-skin; the website and the platform, our social media, the launch venue and even us. We weren’t presenting as suited and booted finance professionals, GRID represented changemakers on a mission. We were now telling the story as it was meant to be told, which was compelling and purposeful.
We didn’t get it fully right. We used the domain www.grid.finance when we launched, we thought the internet real estate grab was a savvy move but we eventually moved to www.gridfinance.ie because our customers didn’t care about cool URLs, they wanted familiarity, trust, credibility and delivery. The marketing adage, ‘be brand-led and market-informed’ couldn’t have been truer for us here.
LEVERIS: Thanks for taking part in our Core interview series. Any final comments?
Andrea Linehan: We have exciting, ambitious and global plans for CurrencyFair in 2021. We will be looking for talent to join our growing team, connect with me on LinkedIn where I will be posting great roles for 2021 and beyond.