How the Tide is turning for the challengers’ Revolut-ion in SME banking

Some of you remember the saga of a few weeks ago where we tried to get a new account for our business. If you don’t, or, if you’re a FinTech masochist and want a reason to feel despondent again you can find it here.

I promised this next instalment and I’ve been ruminating over how to put it to make sure it’s fair and yet captures how we felt going through the adventure. Seeing how I am writing this from the other side of the planet and I’m all traditional-banked-out I’m in an unforgiving mood so I’ve dropped the impartiality requirement and will settle for authentic and honest.

In short and to save you the suspense if you’re too busy to go through the play-by-play and usability dissections of the other players, here’s the gist of it: at the end of the other story we had concluded that on balance we had to choose Revolut and we were going to stick with them as they are the least of all FinTech SME banking evils – we were wrong.


As of today we are the owners of two other intensely functional accounts that do all the things we needed them to: an incumbent – NatWest and a challenger that we had discarded at that time – Tide. No, I’m lying, we are also the owner of a Revolut account which we suspect just won’t die. But let’s rewind.

The Good

Right after our article hit, both Anna and Tide were amazingly communicative and we felt valuable to them as a result. As per a research often cited, they absolutely proved the point that correcting a negative client interaction with a positive one buys the provider even more brand capital than getting it right the first time.

Despite a personal and kind manner, Anna wasn’t quite sure how international transfers even work, at one point they assured me I could still receive international payments in their account despite the fact that they couldn’t provide an IBAN, BIC or Swift number and I had to let them know that’s incorrect but in their defence they openly corrected themselves and also made a concerted effort to augment their chatbot experience and insert humans in the process -be it to correct or explain- which is incidentally the type of sensitivity to one’s consumers and flexibility all banks should have when they start experimenting with chatbots in lieu of following a blind script and trying to fit their customers into it with the same impunity with which they forced us into every other banking product. Not to mention that their card is very cute. Sadly they don’t yet fit the bill for us.

Tide, our now primary account pulled the biggest rabbit out of their product hat and within 24 hours of the article we were informed we now had an international account – in fact a few of them in various currencies!- complete with the magic IBAN/BIC, etc which they couldn’t provide before when we were forced to discard them in favor of Revolut.

We aren’t conceited enough to think we have sped up development of a major service for a challenger bank with our needs, and this surely must be simply a very happy coincidence that they were hours away from releasing the product when we needed it, but either way, it’s nothing short of magical and we are looking forward to making them a lot of money and exploring their features including the direct integration with the accounting software, the invoice maker and the receipt bank. All they need is a business credit card, better categorisation and cash-flow calendar and they will be full stack in terms of basic business needs. Major kudos, if you need an SME business account and are considering a FinTech don’t even think twice, Tide is absolutely the way to go.

Do you know who is full stack already? NatWest. A much fuller stack than we dared hope. In fact, while yes, it took a minute to open the account – from application to confirmation it was around 10 days but that includes the call they made to chat through the model and the purpose, etc and 10 days is no longer than what Metro took a couple of years ago, and certainly not longer than the challengers took between the issues and the glitches- everything else was nothing short of amazing.

Granted, lower expectations are miraculously useful when it comes to the way we experience any banking experience in particular us jaded veterans but by Job they are a joy.

The screenshot-to-show-partners-and-spouse level of delightful features from NatWest include:

  • Double Personal vs. Business views in the app a la mBank (better 5 years later than never!);
  • Receipts scanning type functionality from the same app (although for us the ReceiptsBank app is more nimble to be fair)
  • A credit card that arrived as an almost surprise as it was a mere tick in the application process and has since seen its fair share of usage in various continents already!

 The Expected

Nothing more happened with some of the other ones we mentioned in Part 1– Monzo, Monese, Coconut, etc proceeded to ignore us and not even email us to say they’ll get back in touch or ask why we haven’t completed our registration. The only notable exception is Starling who answered us on Twitter and said they are working on Ltd’s and international transfers so we’ve made a mental note to give them another try when the time comes.

The Downright Ugly

And now for the painful event. How has Revolut managed to fall so far down out of favour?

Before I tell you I’d like to again underline that I had no preconceived ideas about them as some other people in the industry before all of this happened and have often defended them when they had PR disasters (although the latest one where they possibly conned people out of work and time for free is indefensible) and my business partner was a massive fan who had been using them since inception and has often tried to pay me through them even when she was a banker client so there was no a priori ill-will at all. In fact, with how much of an underdog they may have transformed into over night, I actually am still rooting for them because should they succeed by whatever measurement they are applying, it would be a story of learning from mistakes.

What have they done to us then? Not much, just lost our money and didn’t answer us for days.

When we opened the account my partner sent two international payments to test that all is well before we change our invoices to banking clients to ask them to use the Revolut account – one of a symbolic 10 GBP from her Unicredit account and another from her own private Revolut account.

Seeing how you read so far, there are no prizes for which one made it 2 days later whereas the other didn’t make it for 2 weeks straight while their account laid there bare and devoid of any trace of the money we sent and greeted us every morning with a heart-breaking “-15 GBP” (that’s a minus because you see, they grabbed the transfer that did arrive, and fancied we owe them another 15 to make up the 25 a month they decided they would charge us for the privilege of biting our nails and pulling our hair).

That’s right. The money we sent from Unicredit made it, the ones we sent from their own Revolut account did not.

What’s worse? She has had to learn the very hard way that her love had been misplaced all along, as she was the one trying desperately to get them to answer her as to where the hell the other transfer vanished. And try she did. On every possible medium, in every possible tone before at long last, days later, she was told “they don’t know”. Flippantly and with disdain at that. How it made her feel is her story to tell so I’ll see if I can get her to write it for you guys, but you can imagine it.

It will be interesting to see what kind of a struggle we will have on our hands to get them to release us from the yearly contract now that we know they are a joke and want the non-existent service cancelled, and I expect we will be met with no answers and it will end up costing us 300 GBP for the privilege of having found out first hand how far they are from being a real bank with any respect for their consumer.

So it’s farewell Revolut, Tide has changed and to paraphrase my own open letter to Santander a couple of years back – it wasn’t us, it is you.

The Future of Work – the Machines and the Purposeful, Talented Humans

This week I am in Sibos in Sydney speaking about a number of things but the topic closest to my heart is the Future of Work and we’re slicing and dicing that on stage in front of nearly 8000 bankers. I fully expect we’ll be unpacking far too little with so many big topics swirling around when it comes to trying to imagine what the workplace looks like in 2050. I also expect it will be an awkward session with hard truths shy to come out and same old eager to fill in the blanks.

Who is it?

As we were preparing this it became clear there is simply so very much to touch on. With it being one of the very few sessions regarding our biggest asset in banking – our employees, it’s evident that collectively, it continues being so much more comfortable overall to speak about technology, numbers, standards and the theoretical threat of a distant AI future.

Even with the best of intentions we have to wonder how to best spend our limited floor time to drive the right messages. We have such an extensive backlog of “stuff we haven’t talked about but needs doing” from discussing true diversity to unpacking big notions such as organisational structure and culture, banks’ soul and employee engagement and purpose, ways of working and general work canvas across all industries as machines come in.

If I had my way we would leave diversity out of it. Not because it isn’t important but because it IS important and an overall layer of decency and morality that should be undeniably understood as mandatory part of whatever future we are creating. There shouldn’t be anything to convince anyone of, nothing to debate. Work in the future in any industry will be as wonderfully diverse be it from a gender, nationality or personality point of view as to reflect society in general and everyone would be equalised not by that which differentiates them but that which unites them – their hearts and their brains.

What is love?

Knowing me, the ones that will be listening to the session tomorrow know that I will be adamantly obsessive eternally bringing it back to our PeopleNotTech core values of Knowledge, Courage and Passion not so for the sake of a gratuitous pitch but because it is the essence of what it should all come down to.

When you do big Don Quixote level battles you learn to quickly seize up the windmill and all too often the problem bankers have stars straight from hearing our mission when they first come across the terms. They are the opposite of the direct, plain, numbers based conversations they have elsewhere. They seem fluffy, hard to grasp, painful to analyse and so intangible in results they avoid or dismiss them.

In rooms much smaller than SIBOS’, with bankers who aren’t sure and shift uncomfortably at the mention of these three simple terms I like to play a game of “inhabit your discomfort” and press the point. Say the words clearly and with aplomb. Deliver with pauses. Wait out the uncomfortable silences. Seek out their eyes when they shift their gaze and eventually, if still necessary, ask them to tell me what other words would they use for what really matters.

They sense the challenge and the point I am trying to prove so all of a sudden they reach for what must class the most far-fetched “mission-like” word they can find and out come things such as “experience and know-how”, “emotional intelligence”, “talent”, “cultural fit”, “bravery”, “engagement”, “internal branding” and “purpose”.

I match each and every one with its corresponding value “experience and know-how” IS “knowledge”, “engagement” IS “passion”, etc. They start to get it and accept that we spent a long time searching for these deep and fundamental common denominators that are so intensely human and ease into the terms. I repeat them, they repeat it back. Hurdle one overcome. This technique won’t help at all at SIBOS so we’ll have to hope everyone in the room is accountable to themselves and holds the discomfort independently.

Changing the narrative to focus on intangible topics in lieu of numbers has always been challenging. The best example of this is when in 1975 in San Francisco – Tom Peters and Richard Pascal sat down to work out what can be done to change the dire situation of American workers in recession. They are both in awe of what the Japanese are doing to turn their loss into an industrial revolution win by work ethics and methodology and they propose the difference between them and their American counterparts lies in a the lack of a higher sense of mission.

They are certain that people and tools are no different and the competitive advantage of different processes is the result of one major gain they have: a sense of shared value that runs down the organisation to the employees. A mission to match a strong vision.

They both go on to write books but Pascal’s is met with reticence and raised eyebrows – what’s this talk of mission and shared values? So what if the Japanese went to work for a higher purpose? Peter’s “In Search of Excellence” has a different tone if it touts the same concepts and as a result lands better popularising the idea that a company must have values and a real vision and not simply offer jobs.

Nowadays everyone has a marble plaque in the hallway with the vision carved out and laid bare for all to see and we can debate its effectiveness and reason d’etre all we like but having had that introduced back in the day has shaped the way we view work and elevated the economy when the focus shifted from employed worker bees to invested partners so it stands as the first example of the idea of “purpose”

We have to move past the discomfort and advance to discussing the crux of the issue which is “How do you make employees genuinely love you? How do you avoid ever mandating it and instead nurture and painstakingly build it within your people until they are all owner-level invested? All in. All heart.

What is talent?

Some argue the term in itself comes from how in 1997 – McKinsey reacts to the emerging personnel crisis where mass brains migration is happening from corporate to Silicon Valley jobs by creating a strategy by the name of “The War on Talent” where in a nutshell, they propose that employee performance can and should be measured more accurately to only retain the valuable and purge the non-performant. With examples from other giants such as Enron or GE, they sell the idea of there being three types of employees A, B and C and they are each more or less valuable, desirable and worth keeping.

If we go back to the beginning of the 00s the term was on everyone’s lips. Having the right talent was seen as a sine qua non measure of success and more and more valuations were starting to take into account tangible measurements around the human capital. Sadly, against a backdrop of economical unrest the overall rampant political correctness society is moving towards has modified the discourse. One needs only look at an HR strategy these days to know the term has fallen out of favour presumably on charges of being elitist and exclusive.

To attempt to leave at least some major moral topics out of this “hey y’all look what we’re talking about over here at Sibos” supposedly light hearted article I won’t enter the debate on how the only effective measure of inclusivity is true meritocracy but I will say that shunning the term of “talent” is a dangerous trend we must stop. If we find we must redefine what is valuable in an employee – whether it is still what they know or how they apply it and whether they apply it then we most definitely should do so – initiate an open and ultimately helpful dialogue on what makes up real human capital but we can’t, for the sake of ill understood political correctness pretend every employee we have is equally valuable and there are no desirable attributes as that is business suicide.

Here too we are stopped by our own  collective limitations when it comes to phrasing the discourse and we must find a way to call a spade a spade and carry on discussing not what we should call it but the really important questions around whether we should seek out talent or build it.

What is “human”?

A lot of the discussion will be focused on one of our favourite subject that feeds the collective nerd SciFi kid curiosity: will machines replace humans in the work place.


No doubt in the panel, people will liberally quote Brett King as he’s thankfully the foremost voice to have spent time examining this in his book Augmented, people will mention Hawkins and Musk and go on personal tangents about this one experience they once had calling to move a direct debit and dealing with a bank’s chatbot.

None of the above has been rehearsed of course, they are simply an educated guess on how it will all go, the result of  my observations of all other conversations I have been part of lately. It’s an exciting and intensely personal topic and everyone has an AI fear or an AI fetish and a vision on whether machines will take over and when.

I’m not exempt from talking and writing about the topic – in this piece called “Stop doing the Robot” I argue vehemently that irrespective of the when and how, the only defence we have against this apocalyptic future of potential destruction is to empower ourselves and the future generations with emotions and attributes that remain – for now -the apanage of humanity and outside the ability of machines. Empathy, complex emotions translated to data, shared purpose, intuition and common sense.

Make no mistake about it, this is a race and one we should take seriously – at some hospitals they are testing bedside manner for kids ran by Watson in IBM’s medical solutions suit – if that isn’t a sign that empathy itself is soon to cease being the apanage of humans I don’t know what is.

We can’t stop machines coming in and replacing a vast majority of the jobs we used to do. In fact, we’re working very hard on doing the opposite and are fervently working to build them and invite them in but we can, and ought to, focus on what is it that will remain “ours” and necessary. What is exclusively and deeply human.  

I’m not sure we have much to talk about on this “Future of Work” panel as it’s crystal clear:

The “how” is not under question. How should we work in the future. By ever growing and adapting. Agile-ly, Lean-ly. Intently. Diversely Non-Silos-y.

And the “who” is not under question either. The robots and us. All of us who use our minds and our hearts to their full potential, who dare to know and care and speak up, and be passionate, and have gut feelings and the drive to act on them.

The machines can have the jobs, us humans will hold on to the talented purpose.

On Knowledge: Curiosity – would it kill the banker?

Why does it matter to stay curious?

We lead such immensely busy lives that reading and learning often appear quite the luxury. We do everything at a million miles an hour in a technology highway that pushed the need to achieve more and above all, achieve faster, further up on each and every one of our agendas.

Breaks are few and far between. When they happen they are precious moments when rightfully, we want to be with that and those that make us happy and furthering one’s knowledge on their respective domain doesn’t fall under any of those categories.

Nonetheless, pleasant or not, keeping ridiculously up-to-date is a sine-qua-non condition in most industries and in Financial Technology even more so to atone for its complexity.

Best cases and industry milestones

These days, most of everything is public knowledge but do bankers know what’s the latest, what’s top of the range, what is the golden standard today?

We get asked to include best cases in our workshop content all the time. Most of the time it’s because someone somewhere can recognise they don’t know a lot – enough?- and ask for it and sometimes it’s sadly only because they think it ought to exist in a the agenda so they demand it with no real interest in its content.

The motivation behind the interest is arguably irrelevant but we do wish we saw more genuine intellectual, probing curiosity to learn and create better in lieu of sheer banking-FOMO.

In fairness keeping a bank running and tending to the corporate jungle at the same time is no easy feat and the topics bankers should ruminate seem to multiply by the day so what reigns supreme is kinda-knowledge and very little in the way of curiosity when it comes to basic market research.

Chatbots – all bankers know they are all the rage and they remember reading some report somewhere on stats but how many can benchmark their technological value at the drop of a hat or even know who of their competitors are employing them and which one is the best one today?

Open banking – everyone -at long last!- understands what it involves but the state of readiness of the other banks and what creative business models they created around it? How many bankers know that?

Transactional data – there isn’t one bankers who doesn’t know it’s “the new gold” but what that really means, if there is any other bank that intelligently employs it for the good of the consumer, in what fashion and to what NPS – how many bankers can answer those basic questions?

Know your own

On a more granular level, every banker and associated contractor in the industry has brushed against a product over the past few years and has been associated – be it at arms’ length- with the making of either an app, a product line or at least a feature that eventually reached the consumer.

It would stand to reason that while they do not have the time and means -if we disregard the real culprit: lack of deep interest!- to canvas the industry in its entirety, they surely are subject matter experts in that one particular slice.

That they can tell you when it was first invented and deployed, its entire history in other implementations of other banks and quote all its decision milestones, the various incarnations and how the deliveries’ history went in their own bank. Not to mention know for a fact, what reception it got and what the North Star of said product, app or feature is.

Right? Wrong. Look around you, grab a banker and shake them for the past, present and future information on this one product – the one they are involved in the making of. Very little falls out of their pockets. Then ask yourself: of the consumer-reaching things you’ve been involved with how many were you able to go on and lecture on? How many have you come to know inside-out?

Part of the reason why this occurs is that there is a lot of dialogue that happens in bankers’ heads in what could be safely called “Assumptions-Land”.

First they assume most people do better than their own bank in terms of their proposition which is a presumption that, if left unchallenged, is very disquieting and paralysingly self-defeating. .

Then they also presume it would take superhuman efforts to prove or disprove their presumption and replace it with up-to-date knowledge be it only because they judge by the informational jungle that is out there.

Lastly,, a lot of times bankers presume “it doesn’t matter, even if I knew for sure where we stand I wouldn’t know what to do that is transformational with this knowledge and even if I tried no one would listen to me anyway”. This last presumption in this story is sadly painfully grounded in bitter experience.

Education versus Knowledge

Formal education can only take us so far when it comes to industries that depend on the diabolically fast pace of technology and despite universities all over desperately trying to match real life with the curriculum, they haven’t managed that and they likely never will as we have no reason to believe the target will stand still from hereon.

The body of what needs to be known to create meaningful experiences for the consumer is growing by the day, and the only way we can keep up with it, is to redefine the old and dusty concept of “continuous education” into an imperative across all levels of every organisation where it’s part and parcel of every employee’s routine and then encourage, celebrate and even demand it by including curiosity as a metric in a manner that challenges the concept of one’s education stopping at a point where their work life begins.

Learning works best when it comes from an internal impetus as opposed to an external mandate though and that is why we need bankers to intensely care to find out and discover on their own. To be inquisitive and curious, to probe and to dig, to seek to figure out and know.


The Knowledge Party

In 2015 – which at times seems to me to incidentally be the last time that anyone came up with anything earth shatteringly innovative in FinTech- a bank expressed to the company I was with at the time, that while they were desperately sad that none of the guys in their Digital team got approval to travel to Finovate from their Australian bank, they did the next best thing, commandeered a cozy bean-bagy room, ordered mountains of take-away and beer and did a Finovate demos viewing marathon party instead..

The same way some people would have done a binge-watching session amongst friends of a season of Doctor Who, or, a more appropriate comparison – Game of Thrones. Because they were fans. As were these bankers. Of new. Of the promise of technology. Of the amazing experiences it can create. Of the magic it could bring to the consumer of finance. Of FinTech.

Those bankers, wherever they are today, even if the only Finovate they had seen was that 2015 knowledge-party are guaranteed better off knowledge wise, than most of the report reading-and-writing consultants they employ to tell them what’s what.

And that type of information is not restricted or accessible only to the privileged. There’s no obvious reason why this hasn’t been common practice over the years in every bank.

More so, there’s no reason why  this hasn’t become mandatory fundamentals-building in every Innovation lab and incubator seeing how these are hundreds of people mandated with bringing something new to the consumer and they expect they are capable of doing so with no concern over what parts of the ocean have already been boiled.

This call for learning and intense curiosity is not for banking only, undoubtedly many other industries could stand to do the same, but in our case it’s as urgently and chiefly important as is finding one’s passion and building one’s purpose and if we collectively managed them all we could give the consumers the experiences they daren’t dream about.


Bank X – The Road to Money Moments is through the Heart of your People

Bankers ask us all the time why they can’t jump over this people betterment malarky and just go ahead and use our CX workshops to create Money Moments.

Many of our conversations go like this:

“We at Bank X love the idea of Money Moments instead of Banking Products!”

“Thanks, that’s great.”

“We think that’s spot on!”


“Can you guys come in and roll out some “EX not UX – how to Create Money Moments” workshops with some best practice examples please?

“Sure… Before we talk about that, what have you guys done to challenge the status quo of the offering so far?”

“Well we have various internal initiatives and projects.”

“Excellent – such as what?”

“There’s… well a multitude of things. There’s the overall digitisation priority of course.”


“And we are launching another innovation lab!”


“AND we are nearly ready for Open Banking!”

“Right. So are you guys fully Agile?”

“No – well that’s being implemented in some teams I hear.”

“Has everyone in Product and Proposition reentered around HLD? Have you popularised design with the rest of the organisation?”

“Well we’ve always designed well.”

“What have you found when you re-examined the full proposition with a “What if we had a blank slate, what would we build?” lens?”

“We do a lot of blueskying in every innovation sprint, I’m sure we have done some of that.”

“Have you asked your customers what counts for them money wise to design those moments?”

“We constantly listen to user feedback, sure.”

“What can you tell me about your culture? How empowered do you think your people are?”

“Huh? We attract the highest percentile of top graduates in the industry,  and we recently went through a strong re-branding exercise, we even changed the name of the digital offshoot so that’s not the issue – what’s the connection to changing products into MoneyMoments?”

“OK these banking products you want to change – how many of them do you have today?”


“Can we start by first taking an honest look at your organisation?”

“What? No! Why can’t we just get some of those killer-app style quick wins a consumer would like? Isn’t that a MoneyMoment?”

Leaving aside how MoneyMoments refers to the collection of all experiences the consumer has with their financial provider, whether overt or invisible, online or in person, conscious and subconscious, and not mere specific features or interactions, the answer to that is that even if the bank could create the most magical of UX while not having worked on Knowledge, Passion and Courage, then it would simply be masking the deeper issues within and it would be futile exercise with little end value.

And that’s a big “IF” because painting by numbers when it comes to the end-user experience simply doesn’t work.


Moments of CX delight are unique and unless genuinely authentic and born of a true need to make the consumer happy they don’t resonate so they are non-transmittable.

This is why the extraordinary touch points that set Zappos, Disney and Apple aside have not become the norm cross industries.

It’s not for lack of information – everyone knows what makes the Apple store experience magical in terms of tools and processes – but while widely desirable it’s unrivalled. Everyone understands how Zappos goes above and beyond but offers mechanical copies of their wording at best. The technology Disney employs to make the experience seamless is easily accessible to any other experience provider be they a museum or a cinema and yet we don’t see it anywhere else.

What makes them unique is the intensely consumer-driven intention that built the experience. Their customer driven purpose. Their obsession with making them go “wow”.

Unless that spirit comes from the inside, unless the company  has enough good people with courage and passion who deliver against this purpose not because they read it in a white-paper, or it was mandated in their KPIs but because they live and breathe the conviction that it would make their customer’s life better – the “wow” can’t be copied and bolted on. Not consistently, not genuinely.

Supercharging emotions on top of the best of human centred design practices creates such magical experiences that we consumers fall -and stay- in love with the brands that can consistently give us that.

I ask bankers to imagine they could hook up the majority of their employees to a lie detector and ask them if they truly, genuinely, from the bottom of their heart care about their consumers.

Unless they are prepared to bet the summer cottage on how the answer would be a heart-felt, resounding “yes!” they shouldn’t wonder why their bank can’t delight and build MoneyMoments.

SME Banking Hasn’t Been Challenged – my BSTER (Blood, Sweat and Tears Empirical Report)

“This time it will be different”

So I needed a new business account.

3 years after my brush with an aneurysm caused by Metro’s form boxes demands which was so painful it even made it in the book , I found myself actually giddy at the thought of seeing the magic of functional FinTech in action and showing it to my business partner who hadn’t been part of my first journey.

Our new trendy accountants -bless their hearts- had suggested Tide and in fairness that added to their cool factor and was one of the reasons why I decided we would go with them. I did have some reservations, as about a year ago, I had test-set-up a Tide account and gingerly added the details to an invoice I sent to a bank and when I realized that a substantial payment just didn’t show up and they had it returned to them ages later so I had them use the normal path and presumed Tide were simply too young, likely in Beta and just finding their feet so this was an one-off glitch.

Seeing how a substantial amount of water had run down the Thames meanwhile and they’ve gained momentum, things must have changed, I thought, so they were my first port of call.

On second thought…

Having sailed through the authentication piece I was pleased to see how quick their API returned the results from Companies house and helpfully suggested our company so we were on a roll. A very short one as the next screen asked me to confirm the two directors of the company and when I’ve done so they proceeded to helpfully ask for her address. Her UK address.

Not that she has one. Not that she claimed she has one when the company was set up in the Companies House! Knowing how moaning to them about incomplete API calls won’t help I proceeded to try and lie to them that she lives at the company address. No dice, it didn’t map the datafield. We were now stuck. Eventually I texted them and uploaded her passport AND driving license and then they told me they are getting it checked.


To which I received a canned “everyone is different, we are working hard, give us 72 hours” response which felt utterly outrageous at this time so we decided we’re done and will instead go with someone who was actually the absolute FinTech darling of Julia, my business partner over the last two years– Revolut.

As the decision hit, I was having coffee with Devie Mohan, so I thought who better than a well-respected analyst to witness the magic of FinTech onboarding.

We sailed through the first two screens while I was explaining to her how Tide managed to get stuck and how they weren’t able to verify her address and shortly realised that Revolut had the same issue of lack of data but an amazingly elegant way to handle it – they said they needed more data but offered to email Julia to ensure she verifies herself. An obvious coup ensuring they get another sign-up AND can talk to the director directly.


Incidentally, the fact that I later discovered none of the other competitors implemented this incredibly elegant and intelligent solution just reveals a sad fact: they never saw it, never did any onboarding with Revolut themselves.

With little else left to do but wait for Julia and Revolut to get together, Devie and I mused over the various fees and whether or not the 25 GBP a month for the basic account is not a bit too much and we returned to our coffees and more pressing FinTech gossip.

Meanwhile, in the land of “no, can’t do”…

 Now with my appetite for non-Tide well and truly whetted and Revolut having me in limbo I decided I would systematically try the remaining options so I found the first list of Challenger SMEs I could find and started going through the list.

With Starling at least the pain was swift – after a few glitzy screens that got my heart racing with the promise of the most awesome free and functional account they frankly admitted they basically do sole traders only and can’t support multiple directorship. Same goes for Coconut. Sure, business accounts but only if you’re a freelancer, otherwise we should take our limited needs (ha!) elsewhere.

Monese let me “register my interest” while Monzo claims no interest in business banking at all.

With CountingUp I got stuck in an endless loop of trying to deal with two different directors and kept sending me back to the login screen in the app and while I enjoy a Beta-app challenge and normally would try my best “spot the developer-FU and try to work around the coding” game this time I was not amused.

I then fiddled with Anna – which I initially thought was a dumb name till I realized they acronym-ed “Absolutely No Nonsense Admin” which gave me the warm and fuzzies because let’s face it, who in banking doesn’t love a good acronym? Aside from how I found their graphics are a bit too cutesy – will everyone take kindly to this piglet face representation?- I made the mistake to register with the company where I am sole director and after having been through the pain of being asked for 2 different ID documents and a bill with my address on it I couldn’t be bothered to even try our two directors limited so the comparison isn’t perchance fair but I’ve included what I know nonetheless.


While all of this was unfolding –and make no mistake about it, no unfolding was instant and straight forward as it said on the flashy press releases- Revolut had managed to open our account and we were nothing if not over the moon. Only clear glitch – neither Julia nor I could escape the prison of having previously logged in as private Revolut customers in the app on our phones so we sign up with our brand new business account, and after a fair amount of deleting and reinstalling we each started messaging them (in the app, on Facebook and and on Twitter) for ideas on how to sign out of the personal and sign into the business.

Seeing how no one was answering our multiple queries (and even when they later did, it was so flippant that it broke Julia’s die-hard-Revolut –early-adopter heart!) I thought the race was still on and returned to Tide where compliance had managed to vet the documents and there was now an account! Success!

Or was it? As soon as I sent the details to one of our team and asked them to upload them to the invoice template I realized I had no IBAN/BIC or SWIFT code to add so I got back to them and then they broke my heart like this:


A package came in the mail yesterday though and it was delightful indeed. Now I have this beautiful card the useless-to-me Tide account and no faith they will be getting back to me any time in the next century.

I gave up after this and gave in. We are now Revolut business customers. I’d like to say that’s because they were the best but really it’s because they were the only ones who showed up at all.

BSTER – Blood, Sweat and Tears Empirical Report

This is what I’ve learned and if it saves even one limited, international directors company (oh the design-for-Brexit jokes!) from the pain of trying challengers or if, even better, makes any of these guys step-up then it was worth it.

Digital Onboarding using only ID and Face YES YES YES
Mobile App Existence YES YES YES YES
Accounts for Ltd vs. Sole Trader YES YES YES ?
Multiple Directorship support YES YES YES ?
Non-UK Director address YES YES ? ?
Monthly Usage Fee (aka Expensive) YES ?
Clear Communication of Features YES YES
Facial Recognition YES YES YES YES YES
Upload of Picture for Onboarding (i.e. instead of live camera access)
Easy log-in (i.e. Touch ID) YES YES YES YES
International Transfers YES ? ? ?
Speed of Account Opening YES ?
Customer Service YES ? YES
Connection to Xero or FreeAgent YES YES ? YES ?

I could tell you what went wrong with each of those steps. Where their authentication provider was poor, where the prioritisation of features was appalling, where there was no user testing, where API calls were impotent, why organisationally their customer service is crippled et cetera, but these are just excuses in 2018 and after all the hype and promise of the user centricity FinTech in general and UK Challengers in particular should bring.

Looking at the above and considering that after all this pain and suffering I only have ONE (hopefully “functional” – we have yet to see the test amounts we set over arrive) account that can take international payments that we could add to an invoice as I write this, Revolut wins the SME banking race hands-down.

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 06.19.31

While they were rather horrid Customer Service wise, I accept they may –wrongly- presume I’m part of a some FinTech influencer clique or other and intent on disparaging them, so that would have added to their lack of promptness in answering me so it’s possible that they would be far less painful to deal with, to others.

Ironically, a while back I was headhunted for a leadership position in one of the banks above and in my chat to the board I said something about how I would like to see the budget for “people-back-up until AI and experience deliver” and they didn’t like that much at all, they said it doesn’t belong in my acquisition strategy presentation. Uh well.

This banking was very emotional indeed

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 06.18.43

How did it make me feel?

Frustrated, fearful, concerned, burdened, unsafe.

All that and I’m not your average consumer, I want it to work out, I want to find the way around the lack of testing or the app interaction error, I’m a technologically savvy and hell-bent-on-getting-in user. Is that who we should design for though? Am I Customer 0? Would every other company director have the same patience and drive?

This is why we can’t have nice things

Sadly, I have a feeling that because these companies are still small and fairly defensive, this won’t be taken as constructive criticism but bad PR, but I look at it as efficiency: sending them each a long email with suggestions and complaints wouldn’t have gotten me or their Backlog prioritisation anywhere much, and would have also not let other new users go and try it for themselves.

So there you go banking, free user testing and publicity with a very restrained dash of snark considering. You’re welcome.

Now I can only hope these challengers don’t release my frustrated 5 am selfies in retaliation!