T&L Focus on Finance: The New Normal: who will break the financial services copycat cycle?

New and updated financial products have been making headlines in recent weeks. The Apple Card strives to make Apple products as integral to modern life as oxygen, claiming it is ‘designed to help customers lead a healthier financial life’. Halifax’s new app design also made headlines a few weeks back, but they might have taken the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mantra a step to far.

The flurry of copycat innovations and new offerings beg the question: is there a new normal in financial services? And what’s more, are they real ‘innovation’, or just shifting customer interaction with a traditional product?

What they all have in common is claiming to be what will fix our financial woes – us, the desperate and the damned. However, in our 2019 Financial Health Index which surveyed over 3000 people, 1 in 3 said they ‘did OK financially last year but there’s room for improvement’. Only 16% agreed that they made ‘bad financial decisions and I’m still paying for them now’, and on the other end of the spectrum, a similar 18% agreed they are ‘really happy with how last year went financially’.

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MoneySupermarket have an ad running in London that claims they are the ones to make us all ‘Money Calm’. Apple have waded in and now pronounced themselves the financial doctors. Our respondents don’t quite express this level of worry, and so we might suspect that the genesis of the financial health hysteria is the saviours, not the supposed victims.

Where there is room for improvement, it’s control that comes out top. 42% of our survey agreed they would like to ‘spend less money’ in 2019 & 2020, and 34% would like to ‘budget more carefully’. 29% identify a banking app as a tool to achieve the latter goal, and they see category break downs and pots as features that assist this (16% and 13% respectively), however more traditional methods were also a winner.

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User friendly interface and increased transparency do satisfy these needs – they give consumers control that they haven’t had before. But is it true product innovation that will actually help customers change their behaviour in a meaningful way beyond the terror of seeing how much they’re spent on coffees this month?

The ‘ground-breaking’ Apple Card claims it does things differently, but have they just layered the transparency and visualisation tools Monzo pioneered onto a traditional product? Yes, they have made a highly convenient credit card that acts more like a smart current account, and they offer a level of transparency over repayments that make it easier to make informed decisions about your repayment, but once again, these innovations focus on consumer interaction with a traditional product – something we’re seeing here, there, and everywhere.

Who will break the copycat cycle, and unlock the next step for consumer finances with a truly different product, and not just a clever current or credit app? When will we next get a truly insightful innovation, to change our financial habits, not just how they appear on a screen?

By: The Value Engineers

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