Inside the launch of RBS’s mobile banking brand Bó

RBS is hoping to take on digital banking upstarts such as Monzo and Starling with an app-only offering aimed at a younger, less financially savvy audience.

bo bankRBS is hoping to attract a different type of customer with the launch of its app-only banking service Bó. Quietly launched at the start of last month, it aims to make banking easier for young customers that are typically less confident and more short-term in their approach to money.

Bó offers current accounts, debit cards, instant spending notifications and fee-free spending abroad under the promise of helping customers ‘Do Money Better’. It hopes to help customers budget, save and track their spending with a series of features including ‘Piggy Bank’ (for saving) and ‘Spending Budget’ to track outgoings against a set figure.

It is also, clearly, an attempt to rival digital banking upstarts such as Starling and Monzo, which RBS reportedly tried to buy a couple of years ago.

Bó enters into a banking sector that is facing mounting digital disruption. Firstly, the costs of starting a new banking brand have come down dramatically given advances in technology. Secondly, regulators are keen to see more competition in a space typically dominated by a few big players. And thirdly, consumers expect an improved digital customer experience.

Bó CMO, David Erixon, tells Marketing Week: “It is not a surprise to anyone looking at the banking sector that digitisation is rapidly impacting the industry.

“We lag behind existing demand and expectations. People have had their Amazon or Uber moment and now expect [every sector] to deliver it, or there is a real issue.”

Knowing this, RBS felt it had three choices – to transform its core business, buy a digital upstart or do something itself it. In the end, it has opted for all three because “bankers are hedgers” according to Erixon. Bó is part of “doing something itself”, separate from the core NatWest brand.

Before it set about launching a new banking brand, RBS undertook research on engagement with banking and found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the younger someone is and the less money they earn, the more disengaged they are. They also often had little preference over a particular brand and didn’t feel like any banks were talking to them about their issues.

Bó doesn’t mean anything in English. When you are in branding that is what you want – no existing connotations so you don’t have to change associations.

David Erixon, Bó

“If you think about most banking brands today, they target the same customers – people who are older and more affluent, but also more confident about money and have an attitude to money that is more future-looking,” says Erixon.

“Young people with not as much disposable income, who don’t save as much and tend to look at money in a much more short-term way – most banks ignore these people. We see a huge opportunity to address that market, which is under-served by banking brands today.”

Creating the Bó brand

Erixon describes creating the Bó brand as quite different to previous work he has done. Where usually a company would do the research, think about the brand and it values, name and visual identity, and then look at the customer experience, this time it started with the experience and “everything else came from that.

“It turned how you think about the design of a new brand on its head,” he adds.

Working with Fjord, which is part of Accenture Interactive, it built the app and the brand around the concept of helping people do money better – taking them from being in the dark about money to feeling positive about managing it.

Bó’s brand design includes a bright yellow circle, symbolising the sun, and uses the same yellow across several touchpoints such as its debit card. It was also keen to create a brand that fit into the digital world, rather than alluding to the branding traditions of the major banks.

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The process of naming the brand was a little less strategic. The team needed to find a name that hadn’t already been trademarked, that was short enough to work on the app and that didn’t have negative connotations in other languages (while Bó isn’t a word in English, in Irish, for example, it means ox or cow).

“Bó was the clear winner,” recalls Erixon. “It doesn’t mean anything in English. When you are in branding that is what you want – no existing connotations so you don’t have to change associations.”

Bó’s brand positioning

Bó also feels its positioning differentiates it. Erixon claims that a lot of the digital banks are simply talking to customers about the benefits of being digital. Instead, Bó is focused on the benefits of ‘doing money better’.

“Unlike the neo-banks, which are all targeting the same customers – early adopters of tech – we are trying to talk to people who feel negative emotions about money. We are trying to break down a different barrier,” Erixon states.

In its analysis of data from NatWest, it found that three out of four people in the UK are not financially sustainable – meaning they have less than two weeks of buffer. More interestingly, it also found that unless people earn more than £120,000 there is no correlation between income and financial position.

“It’s a behavioural thing,” says Erixon. “We had a hypothesis that if we got a consumer on board and they could see how to do money better, they would do it. That doesn’t happen.”

We are trying to talk to people who feel negative emotions about money. We are trying to break down a different barrier.

David Erixon, Bó

Insead, Bó is designed to help customers by hacking their negative behaviour and replacing it with one that is more constructive. That doesn’t, says Erixon, mean telling people how to live their life or spend their money, but shifting behaviours.

For example, if people create a budget with two pots – one with fixed outgoings and one with everyday spending – they budget better. And if they set a spending goal they start to shift spending patterns.

Being part of RBS

While Bó is run separately to NatWest, it uses the bank as an “ingredient brand” – meaning it is transparent about the connection. It also talks proactively about the link in terms of people being able to trust Bó with their money.

Bó has its own marketing team of 12 and works with agencies including Fjord and fellow Accenture stablemate Karmarama. It has people responsible for brand, marketing comms, content and community, digital and the ad tech stack working internally.

But it can also pull on the rest of the RBS team. Erixon, for example, reports into RBS CMO David Wheldon, and can use the group’s customer insights and analytics teams.

Bó is still in soft launch phase, fine-tuning the app and optimising. But the plan is for a major marketing campaign early in 2020 that will look to raise awareness, but also communicate its key attributes.

“Traditional banks are incredibly paternalistic,” concludes Erixon. “We are trying to build a more friendly and open relationship.”

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