A bumpy road ahead:

disrupting the world of finance.


In 2021, Revolut was the UK’s most valuable fintech. Now it’s in the news for all the wrong reasons. After claiming a UK banking licence was imminent, the business caused a stir by falling out first with its own auditors, and then its own board. Now its investment value is dropping, and the licence looks increasingly unlikely to materialise. Heather Buchanan, executive policy director for the APPG on Fair Business Banking, has said “I’d be utterly gobsmacked if Revolut is welcomed into the licensed banking sector… We could be letting in a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and I don’t think that would end well at all for the sheep


It may just be a wobble, but it’s notable that this is one of a flurry of fintech failures. There was the collapse of crypto exchange FTX last summer, and the arrest of its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried, on securities fraud and money laundering charges.

This prompted a wider crypto crash, with multiple currencies, platforms and hedge funds failing. And more recently, of course, there was the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank in the US, and its subsequent bail out by the Federal Reserve (the UK arm was taken over by HSBC). Some industry leaders and commentors predict there’s a lot more turmoil to come.

It’s all happening against a backdrop of wider uncertainty: the war in Ukraine, the price of energy, the cost-of-living crisis here in the UK, and likely recessions elsewhere, are all contributing to a mass lack of confidence – from business leaders and customers alike.


At the same time, rising interest rates mean the era of cheap money is over. Start-up funding is getting harder to come by as investors and VCs become a lot more cautious with their cash.

Given that context, you might assume the finance sector in general would be putting tech on the back burner, and concentrating on the basics instead. But as a recent report from Deloitte points out, innovation remains an urgent priority – especially for retail banks.

What’s more, it’s these long-standing, well-established banks that are best placed to weather any coming storm, which means the next big leaps – in tech and elsewhere – are more likely to come from familiar faces than newly minted fintechs. And they’re being driven by customer demand.

As the report puts it (and it’s worth quoting in full) retail bank customers are “clamoring for a superior cross-channel experience and hands-on guidance during challenging times. These heightened demands will require banks to go beyond a product lens and create customer experiences that are data-driven, consistent across channels, and complete with personalized advice. In the long term, banks should develop inventive new applications for ESG, embedded finance, and digital assets. These efforts should prioritize empowering customers with initiatives targeting racial equity, decarbonization, and data security.”

This presents a challenge not only for banks’ product and proposition teams, but for their creative leads and partners. On the one hand, they’ve got to protect and leverage their existing brands, because it’s their very familiarity that will appeal, in times of turbulence. On the other, they’ve got to bring those brands to life in new ways, translate them into and across new channels, and use them to present new products.


Then there are the more specific challenges. Take something like mobile banking: it’s rapidly become an everyday essential, but often just doesn’t work very well. How do you make it easier to interact with? It’s not just about the tech, but also language and visual identity. Lots of banks still lack the necessary brand tools – and need to expand and enhance their toolboxes, urgently, before customers move to a better provider (which, thanks to the Account Switch Service Guarantee, is easier than ever).

The same goes for new products and services. For example, the economic climate (and long-term pensions crisis) means more and more people require financial advice. It’s an incredibly complex area – and an expensive one. That means most ‘personalised advice’ provided by retail banks will be auto generated ‘robo advice’. How do you explain the difference? How do you guide customers through the processes? And how do you present that guidance back to them, in way that’s easy to understand, and legally compliant?


Finally, there’s the matter of ESG, or ‘environmental and social governance’. In the past, banks’ immediate interests have often been in direct conflict with environmental and social needs. Now customers are demanding more – and calling out companies that fail to go beyond shallow gestures and performative allyship. At some point, a tipping point is inevitable: to continue attracting customers, banks will need to make a real, positive impact. Hence the recent focus on ‘purpose’.

That requires a switch away from inward looking D&I initiatives (though they remain a must-have) and toward outward-facing actions – and there’s certainly no shortage of problems to solve. There are some issues where banks can play a central role – such as tackling regional inequality and supporting green industry. There are others where they can do their bit to tackle a larger issue, such as HSBC’s No Fixed Address Account, for people experiencing homelessness. All have the potential to be recognised, welcomed and even celebrated by the wider public.

To maximise impact – and returns – these actions also need to be communicated. But how do brands built to convey stability, security and small ‘c’ conservatism convey progressive values and radical thinking?

Some creative evolution is required to ensure they’re fit for purpose – in every sense.