Why Atom picked Creature to help it disrupt the banking sector
Digital challenger Atom Bank appointed indie agency Creature without a formal pitch recently. The brand and agency tells us what they are planning.
Atom Bank was the first app-based lender to launch in the UK / Atom Bank
Atom Bank is one of the biggest new challengers to have emerged from the banking sector over the last decade. Having established itself as a mobile and digital-first bank, it has carved out a niche in the competitive personal banking sector.
As it steers a course towards an initial public offering (IPO) and works to build on a series of recent startup milestones, including reaching break-even and launching a four-day-week policy, it has appointed indie shop Creature as its lead strategic and creative agency.
According to Leigh Peacock-Goodwin, head of marketing for Atom and a former account manager for VMLY&R and Saatchi & Saatchi, the lender wants Creature to help it build a brand worthy of contending with the big high-street banks.
”That’s why we wanted to choose Creature. The reason we’re here, and why we do things differently, is to take on [financial institutions]. I could say we’re redefining banking comms, but really it’s about making great work, simply.”
Atom previously came very close to appointing Creature back in 2015, when it was first breaking into the market. Though the agency was ”pipped to the post” back then, its strong pitch and strategic nous stayed with Peacock-Goodwin and the bank appointed Creature without a pitch last month.
”I’ve always been impressed by Creature and always had it in the back of mind that, when we had really meaty strategic challenges, it was an agency I wanted to bring on board to talk with,” he explains.
The two companies have personal ties – Peacock-Goodwin worked alongside Creature co-founder Dan Cullen-Shute when they were both at London agency Glue – and a cultural fit, he says.
”I knew that any agency that would have [Cullen-Shute] at the head of it would have a really strong culture that was really open and inclusive and fun.
”We felt that in 2015 and the things that have happened subsequently at the agency – in terms of working practices, the accounts it has gone after, the great work it has created – we could really see that it was a business shaped by the right kind of values.”
It’s still early days for the partnership, which commenced two weeks ago. Hanisha Kotecha, chief client officer at Creature, says work has begun on creative, but that it won’t be unveiled until the autumn.
”We’re excited to take on a sector where everyone has agreed the rules already, where everyone has decided how people should be communicated to – and disrupting that. Atom gives us a great opportunity to do just that.”
Atom’s planned IPO will be a major event for the business. In the run-up to that moment, Peacock-Goodwin wants to bolster the bank’s brand. ”It gives us a really strong brief as a marketing team,” he says. ”Creating an asset such as that really adds strong value to a business... the intangible value that a brand brings is a big element of an IPO.”
Having established a strong digital presence (natural for an app-based bank) and invested recently in performance marketing work, Peacock-Goodwin now wants to improve the bank’s brand platform.
”You have to have your own identity. The reason we looked at Creature is that, from a purely brand positioning perspective, we’ve got some really interesting strategic challenges.”
First among those challenges is the need to position Atom away from the jargon and wonkishness of the challenger, or ’neobank’, sector and frame it for consumers as a ”new business” with modern values, while also launching a plethora of new banking products.
”Over the next 18-24 months, we’ll be looking to create a brand, articulate a brand purpose and positioning that differentiates us, not just for the products we’re launching but for the way that we are and what we do,” he says.
The consequences of the 2008 financial crisis still persist in the UK – it was only last week that the Treasury sold its majority stake in Natwest, a legacy of the bailout granted to RBS – and still shape the personal banking market.
The loss of consumer trust in financial institutions helped pave the way for companies like Atom to poach customers from bigger banks. If it wants to grow further, it’ll have to do that at scale. It’s another interesting challenge for Creature to pitch in on.
”It starts with the actual products,” says Kotecha. ”Atom is looking at other banks and asking how it can be faster, easier, better value and put more effort into the customer experience. So our job is quite simple – we just have to get through.”
The financial incentives often available for customers switching accounts, and the hangover of the crisis, mean Atom has spent the last decade pushing at an open door. As the business prepares to scale up, Creature hope to kick that door down.
”We have to find a way to get people to be disloyal to their banks and our whole strategy encourages active disloyalty around banking,” she says.
Peacock-Goodwin says the biggest challenge is disinterest: ”How man people wake up thinking about banking products? Very few. So how can we get people to reappraise something they’re not interested in?”
”It starts with activating curiosity around it,” answers Kotecha. ”Can they do better somewhere else? We have to start by encouraging people to think about that a little bit harder. If they’re hearing about interest rates going up on the news and they’re not seeing that in their savings account... if we can connect those dots to the noise out there, to what actually matters to them and how much money they could be making, we can ignite that spark.”
That rationale is why Atom offers interest rates on savings accounts well above the market standard, for example. ”If we don’t treat customers well, if we don’t give them the rates that they deserve, they should leave us,” says Kotecha. ”If we go in with that attitude, we’re sat side by side with customers.”
As well as fomenting distrust of its competitors, Atom needs to build up its own trustworthiness. After all, it’s asking potential customers to trust it with their savings.
Peacock-Goodwin says: ”A couple of years ago, we saw in our brand tracking a question around trust; our TrustPilot score was lower than we’d expected. When we got into it, it wasn’t because customers thought we were untrustworthy, it’s just because they hadn’t seen us.”
Kotecha says that a bigger brand presence will help solve this challenge. ”If people have heard of Atom, are aware of it and are seeing it out there as they spend in the real world, not just living in an app on their phone, that adds a lot of credibility. A brand helps build credibility.”