Is surprise and delight fintech’s secret weapon?

Surprised man and woman

Today I had the fortune to meet with a serious, global, fintech heavyweight, recently arrived to Australia.  I won’t tell you who just yet, that’s the subject of an upcoming post I’d rather surprise you with a bit later, but I will say that I left the conversation feeling very inspired, and with the belief that the banking competition backwater that Australia happens to be, is about to get a rocket put under it in one particular financial product category.

We chatted about many things to do with fintech and banking, and the immense opportunities the fintech space has downunder.  And while our conversation weaved through many topics, one concept mentioned struck me the most. And it was the fact that Fintech can win against the banking Goliaths by executing on a simple strategy consumer brands have used for decades – surprise and delight your customers, and they will be yours forever.

The fact is, we’re biologically wired to respond more intensely to events that surprise us – be that positively or negatively.  Studies have shown that when you least expect an event to occur, your brain’s pleasure centre responds more strongly.  Whether it be receiving flowers unexpectedly from a loved one, or being stung with an unexpected international data roaming charge, surprises can turn mere annoyance into outrage and half smiles into pure delight.

And while it’s probably challenging to remember a time a bank surprised and delighted you,  I daresay it’s relatively straightforward to think of a time a bank surprised and outraged you.  I for one am no fan of those sneaky ‘international transaction fees’ that pop up on my statement every time I shop online.  Or the fact that every time I need cash and my bank’s ATM isn’t nearby, I’m stung with a two dollar fee just for the privilege of accessing my own hard earned money. I mean seriously, two dollars?

So with all these negative banking surprises abounding, and ‘catch you out phrases’ hidden deep in the figurative chasms of banks product disclosure statements, it seems mind numbingly obvious that the opportunity for fintech to leverage this tactic is huge.  And while some pundits might argue that those in Silicon Valley have beaten this marketing catchphrase to death, I think there’s still plenty of wind left in its sails for fintech and the banking space.

Scott Redick, an HBR contributor writes a great article on the subject, listing the top 5 reasons behind why this strategy can be so powerful when executed well.  I’ve taken some of Scott’s points and detailed my own ideas below on how fintech startups could take advantage of the power of surprising in order to delight.

Surprises make for addicted (and loyal) customers

We crave the unexpected.  But is this really a strategy that would work in the financial services space, where repetition, security and regularity are seen as brand bastions?  I think it depends on the nature of your surprise.  Imagine a long term savings account that, rather than deduct a ‘maintenance fee’ every month, surprised you with a random ‘thanks for being a customer’ deposit of five, or even ten dollars?  Considering the costs of acquiring customers and the costs of preventing churn, this would seem like a fairly cheap price to pay for a surprise that would hit high on the delight meter.

SURPRISES Encourage Customers to Switch PROVIDERS

If there is one thing I have learned working in the fintech space, apathy and a lack of willingness to change on the part of current bank customers is one of the hardest barriers to overcome.  For consumers and businesses, burned many times over by banks and financial service providers, it can sometimes be a case of ‘better the devil you know’. Jumping up and down and yelling pick me just isn’t going to cut it.  This is where I think humour can play a big part.  Poking fun at yourself or at your customers perceptions of an industry could be what your fintech startup needs to shake consumers out of their banking coma.  Rabobank’s ‘Steal back your dreams’ campaign is a superb example of this strategy in action.

SURPRISES DON’t Cost much. And Fintech Startups don’t have much

It’s like a Tinder match that’s too good to be true.  And even if a fintech startup does have some money behind it, it’s hard to compete with the branding budgets of some of the most profitable companies…In The World. Yet surprise one customer, and in today’s socially connected world, chances are half their 500 friends on Facebook have heard about it before lunch.  Then their friends have shared it with their friends and well, you get the picture.  It can be hard to justify spending thousands of dollars on a PR agency when your own customers are more than willing to do the work for you, for free.  It could be as simple as the language you use on your website.  Do you sound like a bank, or do you sound surprisingly unlike a bank?  Do you offer free stress balls at your trade show stand (yawn) or complimentary financial stress relieving neck massages?  Do your sales people send automated emails written by robots when a customer signs up, or handwritten, personalised cards and chocolates, thanking them for making the brave choice to switch?

Whichever way you look at it, there’s no going past the deep-set biological rationale that makes a strategy that seeks to surprise in order to delight a powerful and effective weapon in the arsenal of the modern fintech startup.  Yet as Scott Redick comments, our appetite to engage in such a strategy, “really comes down to a question of imagination and bravery. And, I suspect, it has something to do with being open to situations where you might be surprised yourself.”  Indeed.

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2 thoughts on “Is surprise and delight fintech’s secret weapon?”

  1. Thank you! In today’s ever predictable world where Google Maps invariable takes you where you wanted and Facebook let’s you investigate a potential hire/date before the first meet up; we need surprises! Big data’s the buzz word but why can’t we get personal/smart marketing surprises..


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