Developing a brand strategy to take a new business on a journey to realise its ultimate goal brings its own special set of challenges, says Miranda McLean, global head of marketing at Banking Circle, which started life as a cross border payments business before gaining its full banking licence at the end of last year
How do you create a lasting brand presence in a sector when you’re planning on altering your main purpose down the line?
It’s complicated. On the face of it, it’s not good for any business to radically change its brand as it progresses through life – it can weaken your proposition and it’s expensive. It’s crucial, therefore, that the way the brand is presented at the outset makes sense at every step of the journey – both internally and externally. With the business continually evolving, that can be tricky.
When Anders la Cour co-founded Banking Circle back in 2015 (originally launched as Saxo Payments, part of the Danish-owned Saxo Bank) it wasn’t a bank. But la Cour and his team had every intention of making it one. Can you tell us about that process?
There was always an ambition to move from being a cross border payments business to being fully licenced to operate as an international bank, so we had to develop a brand strategy that would evolve as we morphed and grew. We worked with our brand partners Thinkfarm to achieve this. Their approach future-proofed our proposition – introducing the words ‘banking’ and ‘bank’ in a way that made our intentions clear without contravening regulations. With Banking Circle, businesses can ‘bank on growth’, ‘bank on profitability’, ‘bank on speed’, etc. And the word ‘circle’ reflects the ecosystem in which we operate.
What’s different and good about Banking Circle?
We’ve always sought to provide the new digital economy with a faster, more inclusive way of doing business, tackling the speed and cost issues often inherent in legacy systems to enable businesses, regardless of size, to make cross border transactions faster and more efficiently. Through its proprietary financial infrastructure, Banking Circle gives banks and payments businesses the ability to help enterprises trade globally, as well as access essential finance to support their growth ambitions.
From day one, Banking Circle’s aim was 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. We wanted to tap into a messaging system that showed our role in the banking ecosystem, very much as a partner to the financial institutions. We had to be mindful that we weren’t a licensed bank back then. But we knew that we would transition away from Saxo Bank at some point.
Banking Circle’s brand strategy seems central to its transition and continues to be as it progresses.
Yes. If you look at the logo design, which is just a small part of any brand strategy and campaign, it perfectly embodies our ethos. An open circle signifies inclusivity – a core tenet – and it’s made up of lots of individual lines to represent the clients. The brand naming strategy and positioning was devised to see the financial group through all stages of its progression, and it was given an audience-first, sector-second approach to chime with the inclusivity message.
Throughout the process, our brand strategists had to focus on the here and now, as well as keep an eye on the future. Alongside the brand naming strategy, there was the positioning, the website, the messaging and the launch strategy to consider – all of which had to make sense from an evolutionary perspective.
How has the Covid-19 crisis impacted the way you do business? Who’d have thought, after 2008, that banks would have such a crucial role to play in helping the UK economy to recover?
But here we are, in a position to help SMEs and financial institutions – the backbone of the UK economy – get back on their feet by making processes simpler and more inclusive. As the digital economy progresses at a rate of knots, online payments systems, contactless transactions, etc, mean that what we provide is more important – and helpful – than ever. We’ve been helping SMEs and financial institutions to meet the increased digital demand created by the pandemic.
It seems that Banking Circle likes to portray itself as a much more human proposition. Not ‘faceless’, like some of the major incumbents.
We worked with Thinkfarm to ensure we came across with a human perspective and tone of voice – which we think makes us so much more relatable than some of the traditional banks. The brand strategy helped us to create the right foundations for the business. That meant internally as well as externally. A big part of the process involved approaching everyone within the organisation to make sure they came along for the ride. Being inclusive and responsible formed the core principles, and Thinkfarm helped us define that emotive messaging, which ultimately brought everyone on board.
Now Banking Circle processes €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. Underpinned by the brand strategy, Banking Circle exceeded all expectations after launch. Now it’s a multimillion Euro business with a roster that includes some of the finance world’s biggest names.