Posted on 28 March 2022
Building Brand Authenticity: Why it Matters
Featuring Briana van Strijp from Anthemis
If you want your organisation’s brand to be authentic, you need to ensure your goals and values are aligned. Briana van Strijp, CEO of Anthemis, explores the brand authenticity lessons that can be learned from fintechs.
If fintech was considered an emerging industry before the pandemic, its ascent has become impossible to ignore since. The widespread adoption of electronic payments, mobile wallets, e-commerce platforms and paperless lending are all pushing us (willingly) towards a cashless society. At the same time, the freedom and flexibility fintech offers has laid bare the inadequacies of traditional financial services. If not completely broken, our financial system – formed during the industrial era – clearly lacks the fairness and inclusivity that society now demands.
What do fintech firms do well?
Of course, industry knowledge and connections are fundamental to the success of fintech start-ups, many of which rely on established financial services firms for infrastructure, distribution and navigating the complex regulatory environment. But when it comes to delivering more equitable outcomes, fintech firms are clearly leading the way.
At its core, fintech holds the promise of financial inclusion and the democratisation of access, ensuring state-of-the-art financial products and services can be accessed by virtually anyone, anywhere. Along with greater accessibility, the optimised business structure of fintechs means products and services can be up to 10 times less expensive than those of a traditional bank or insurance company. That blend of speed, affordability and convenience is also leading to rapid economic growth.
But there’s more to fintech than simply splicing together financial services and technology, as the name would suggest. The best fintech merges the user experience (UX) and the user interface (UI) to personalise the customer experience in ways that traditional financial services models cannot. In other words, it’s about seeing customers as human beings, and developing products and services conceived and built specifically for them.
The traditional view that a financial experience is wholly separate from the customer experience is becoming obsolete. Take attitudes towards data, for example. Legacy institutions such as banks and insurance companies have historically seen data asymmetry as a competitive advantage, resulting in institutions effectively ‘hoarding’ personal data. Fintechs, by contrast, look to convert personal data into insights that help customers make better decisions, as well as making it easier for them to access services when needed.
In 2019, we coined the term ‘embedded finance’ to describe how the personalisation of financial products and services by fintechs was starting to streamline the entire experience for customers, moving beyond the financial services industry into other adjacent sectors. But embedded finance is an intuitive, invisible system where trust is essential. That’s why authenticity is a core part of the brand proposition for fintech firms.
What is brand authenticity?
Brand authenticity is something many fintech firms are leading the way on, and that other organisations can learn from. An authentic brand is one that makes a conscious decision to be consistent in its messaging, stays true to its values, listens to its stakeholders and owns up when it gets things wrong. There are countless examples of well-known brands that promise much but fail to deliver. If authenticity isn’t at the core of your organisation, your message won’t resonate externally. Customers will see past the marketing and the spin, and will choose to go elsewhere.
At Anthemis, we’re already seeing this take hold in our portfolio companies like Daylight, which serves the LGBTQ+ community, and First Boulevard, which serves the Black American community. These brands deliver honest, authentic service offerings to meet the needs of historically underserved markets, and their stories are resonating.
It starts with values
How can firms build authenticity? A true and trustworthy brand is authentic to its values and its mission. At Anthemis, we were among some of the first investors in fintech over a decade ago. We set out to transform the financial system, based on the guiding principles of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI), authentic collaboration and ‘virtuous cycle’ outcomes. A decade later, we continue to see the value of an authentic, ESG focused approach.
Since inception, our belief has been that diverse teams, and diverse leadership, will outperform the market. We’re now seeing concrete evidence of this; the 2018 McKinsey report ‘Delivering through Diversity’ revealed that companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability, and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. In addition, companies in the top quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.1
Walking the talk
As investors, it’s not enough to look to fund diverse teams as proof of our authenticity – we have to ‘walk the talk’ ourselves. Anthemis is an organisation where 55% of my colleagues are women. Crucially, most of the decision makers on our investment teams are women. Therefore, it’s no surprise to us that being part of a diverse and heterogeneous team allows us to better identify and engage with diverse and heterogeneous founders. Of the 150- plus companies in our portfolio, 45% are founded by women or people of colour. Being authentic gives you licence to spark a virtuous circle where more diverse groups of people have better access to funding, who can then go on to build more diverse and inclusive products and services.
Your people make your brand
Authentic brands are built from the inside out. Every employee is a brand ambassador, and if the culture of your company is not aligned, you’ll see that misalignment filtering through to the outside world. Building a people-first internal culture starts with establishing trust. For example, the pandemic forced companies to experiment with remote working, and to adopt digital solutions at short notice. Instead of chaos and anarchy, most companies instead found that by adopting an adult-to-adult approach and empowering colleagues to make their own decisions on how to be most engaged and effective outside of the office, was mutually beneficial and increased productivity.
There will always be those who benefit from being in a very collaborative or structured environment, while others need peace and quiet. So, just as fintech recognises the value of personalising the customer experience, an authentic organisation understands the value of personalising the work experience for employees, and respecting their choices.
According to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” The best way to learn what others think of your brand is to ask them. Determining your company’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) as well as your Employee NPS are good ways to really understand whether people would advocate for your brand, and whether they would recommend it to friends and family. It’s this distinctly human interaction – people talking to other people – that makes NPS and ENPS so essential for brand authenticity.
Right now, community and authenticity matter more than ever. The last couple of years have prompted many of us to question the nature of work, our needs as an individual, and our place in society. It has also left people demanding more of the companies they choose to work for or interact with. But if you want to change the system, you have to change the paradigm – system change is not possible without shifting mindsets. I’m hopeful, because I believe that the heart of every good and impactful organisation is its people, and that companies with a people-first culture are best-placed to reshape our economy to something far more inclusive and beneficial for everyone and this continues to be core to Anthemis’ DNA.
Anthemis Group is a global platform that cultivates change in the financial system by investing in, growing, and sustaining businesses committed to resiliency, transparency, access and equity.
1 McKinsey: Delivering through Diversity (2018).
This article was originally published in the Sensus Magazine. Click the image below to flip through our most recent issue or browse through our previous editions of the magazine.