Here’s how 11:FS defines Banking-as-a-Service (BaaS):
The provision of complete banking processes, such as loans, payments or deposit accounts, as a service using an existing licensed bank's secure and regulated infrastructure with modern API-driven platforms.
One interesting implication of the emergence of BaaS is that enables specialization — regulated banks can focus on compliance and risk management, fintech infrastructure providers can focus on rebuilding different parts of the bank tech stack, and customer-facing brands can focus on acquiring and serving financial services customers. Here’s a helpful graphic from the 11:FS report on BaaS:
While a lot of time has been spent analyzing the emergence of fintech infrastructure and the dump pipes dilemma facing banks in the world of BaaS, comparatively little time has been spent on this question — in a world where any brand can become a bank, how do you ensure that your brand stands out from the crowd?
I’m not talking about metal cards in fun colors; I’m talking about a card that miaows.
ANNA Money, the purveyor of the miaowing debit card, has cultivated an incredibly fun and unique voice on Twitter. I reached out to the operator of ANNA Money’s Twitter account to see how they approached the task of defining and communicating the company’s brand on social media. Our email conversation is below.
Fintech Takes: I’m a little late to the party. I first learned about ANNA from a tweet thread, explaining your origin story – a smart, beautiful woman with incredible admin skills is magically transformed into a sentient cloud – and it was, no exaggeration, the most memorable version of a company overview that I’ve ever seen.
It reminded me of this branding exercise where you’re asked to imagine that your brand is a person who is attending a cocktail party and figure out what words the other guests at the party would use to describe you.
I feel like, at the end of this hypothetical party, everyone would be swapping stories about ANNA. How did you define your brand persona? What are the words you’d want to be described as?
ANNA Money: Interesting, original, memorable, funny.
Fintech Takes: I feel like a lot of challenger brands within the fintech space try to be, basically, a slightly hipper version of the traditional bank brand that they are trying to disrupt. They want to appear, to their target customers, as a slightly different version of the thing they’re already familiar with.
ANNA Money’s brand seems, in comparison to your traditional competitors, way off in left field. What’s the strategy behind that? What are you trying to convey to your target customers?
ANNA Money: We are deliberately quite left-field. First of all, it’s hard to be noticed if you’re saying the same thing as everyone else, in the same cheery tone as everyone else, using the same Simpsons GIFs as everyone else. There is a certain kind of corporate Twitter account that is well organised, relentlessly friendly, and always keen to ask open questions and drive engagement. But it’s just so forgettable. We want to stand out a little. The brand has always tried to push things in terms of humour and tone of voice, and Twitter is a good place to take that and run with it. And if you get the opportunity to tell a story about a woman being turned into a sentient cloud or a tale of a hypothetical Tuesday where lockdown hasn't happened then you really should.
In terms of target customers, the first objective is probably getting noticed. Because if no one has ever heard of you, they’re unlikely to become a customer. But after that, I think we want to show that we do things a bit differently. I always remember the First Direct TV ads and how they positioned a bank in a way that hadn’t been seen before.
We have values. We always want to show we’re transparent, that we’re trustworthy and that our priority is our customers - but that doesn’t have to translate into being bland or vanilla. We’ve always said that running your own business, when you remove the admin, should be the most fun you’ll ever have. And we want ANNA to reflect that. And on a personal level, I want the Twitter feed to be fun — for me as much as anyone else.
Fintech Takes: A lot of your Twitter posts speak to (and occasionally gently mock) the fintech industry.
Personally, I love it. We take ourselves too seriously. But I’m curious, what’s the strategy behind engaging with the fintech community on Twitter so directly? How does it overlap with your strategy to engage with your customers and prospects?
ANNA Money: Good question! Like any industry, Fintech gets very myopic and self-absorbed and starts talking to itself, and the language becomes very insular and jargony. And we wanted to poke fun at that - at the notion that in Fintech you don’t just say “it’s very hot”, you say “There's been a very noticeable upward shift in temperature, affecting all demographics - is this a new paradigm for our understanding of heat? Find out in our exclusive webinar." I hope our tweets help us cut through some of the white noise of generic fintech blabber.
When we're communicating with customers (in comms or in the app) we try to talk clearly and honestly, avoiding all the needless tech waffle. We try to ditch the jargon and talk as plainly as possible. We want to avoid saying “You currently have insufficient funds to complete that transaction” when we could say “You don’t have enough money to do that right now”.
So as much as we’re gently teasing the Fintech world, I hope that the wider public gets what we’re doing - that we’re trying to talk like a human being, not like a self-learning AI attempting to dazzle them with incomprehensible terminology.
Fintech Takes: The fear in being unique/different/edgy in your branding is that it’ll hurt that much more if something goes wrong. Basically, a belly flop off the 5-meter diving platform is better than one off the 10-meter platform.
The Wirecard situation seemed like one of those moments. How did you shift your tone and approach to help customers at that time? Social is, for better or worse, one of the first places people turn. How did you manage that?
ANNA Money: In terms of Twitter, we may not take ourselves very seriously, but we take our customers incredibly seriously. We’re dealing with people who have trusted us with their livelihoods, so in the case of something like the Wirecard situation, as soon as we became aware of it, we handed Twitter over to customer support agents so they could deal with as many enquiries as possible. I logged off completely - part of the job is knowing when to step back.
It was only a couple of weeks later, when we had addressed the concerns of all ANNA customers that we returned to being a bit more playful and silly on Twitter.
Fintech Takes: How do you manage the ANNA Money voice across different channels? I’d imagine Twitter is treated differently from Facebook, which is treated differently than your website. At the same time, you want some consistency across all touch points. What are the through lines?
ANNA Money: It’s something we’re still working on. We want to have the same ANNA tone of voice and same sense of fun across everything we do, but obviously different channels do different things.
We tend to find that Facebook is where we get a lot of customer service enquiries, and we need to be a bit straighter and less playful. It’s a good place for sharing new ANNA features like read receipts on invoices, or explaining the benefits of virtual cards. It’s probably not a place for long stories about time travel or parallel universes in which dogs have taken over.
We have some really fun plans for Instagram. So many brand Instagram accounts have the same aspirational photography (is it a legal obligation to show someone working remotely from a cafe, with Mac laptop and coffee in view?) and we’re going to try something a bit different. We want what we do to be rooted in the reality of running a small business or freelancing, but take it in a new direction.
Every channel should be an opportunity to remind people what ANNA is all about. Sometimes by showcasing our amazing customer service, and sometimes by being really silly.
Fintech Takes: Final question. A deep cut for those who closely follow your tweets. What are your top 5 cranes?
Andy Crane. Took over from Philip Schofield in the broom cupboard all those years ago and wasn’t daunted. He made that broom cupboard his own (there are rumours he still lives there).
Niles Crane. It’s tempting to go with Frasier, but Niles was always the more sympathetic of the Crane brothers.
Harry Crane. I’ve no idea who he is (Wikipedia says he was a comedy writer) but I like that his name sounds like someone mispronouncing Harry Kane.
Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow. I maintain that Tim Burton is one of the most overrated directors of all time, but well done to him for including a Crane.
Telescopic crane. The only crane in my list that is an actual crane, and not a person. And yet, in a sense, isn’t the telescopic crane the most human of us all?