Entrepreneur Spotlight #5: Building A Bank With The Customer At Its Centre

Technology is changing how we think and do many of the things that make up our day-to-day lives. But there are few places where the impact is felt as close as in the way we think about money and banking. In an insightful conversation with Betsy Westcott, Director of Retail Banking at Xinja, we discover just how you can use technology to bring humanity back into banking.

If you’ve always thought ‘bank’ and ‘happy’ don’t belong in the same sentence, Xinja is on a mission to prove you wrong. With a strong and diverse team backing the endeavour, Xinja is on the road to building a bank with their customers, designed in their interests, that helps them make better money decisions without the angst. The best part? It’s all delivered through a brilliant mobile experience.

We wanted to find out more about what it means to empower customers and create a positive experience for them, especially when it comes to such a complex topic like banking. So we sat down with Betsy Westcott, Director of Retail Banking at Xinja for an insightful conversation that we’re excited to share with you.  

Betsy is responsible for building and delivering a world-class experience for Xinja’s customers. She is driven by two obsessions – improving the financial well being of all Australians and bringing humanity back to banking. A luxury hotelier by trade, Betsy ‘fell’ into a career in banking. The self-described Non-banky Banker, she has experience as a Bank Manager for NAB and as a Senior Private Banker at both NAB Private and ANZ Private where she looked after the financial needs of Australia’s wealthiest families. Betsy loves helping people better understand money. So much so she started a side hustle called ‘Own It’ in 2015 which helped young women learn about and make the most of their money.

Tell us about Xinja and what you’re trying to achieve with a digital bank. Why is it something people should look forward to?

Xinja is building an independent bank in Australia and we’re building it from the ground up for the mobile phone as an application. So there are no branches for people to walk into, it’s all through the mobile phone. There are quite a few reasons people are excited about this.

Being brand new, it means our technology is all modern. A challenge for big, traditional banks is that they’ve been built over decades, with lots of old legacy systems plugged together. It’s quite difficult to do some of the things you’d expect to do in the modern world, because of these systems.

Whereas we’re building from scratch and we can bring new technologies to customers, deliver them real-time information, plugin with other financial applications and ultimately we want to develop a marketplace for them. Moreover, people do all of their banking from their phones, a device that’s in their pockets and is valuable for them. We’re just going where the customers are.

I think the exciting part is that – because we are using the best of technology – we can really rethink that customer experience. In Australia, in particular, banking has very much been a chore for people. When they think about it, it’s something that brings up a lot of worry and anxiety. You may walk into a bank – and you might’ve banked there for the last 30 years – but no one recognises you as an individual. You’re just this person with this bank account, that’s it. But this process doesn’t recognise the person behind the account.

So by using technology, we want to ask, first of all:

Why couldn’t banking be fun? Why couldn’t you have it gamified, so that you felt really good about managing your money?

So that when you behave in a way that’s leading to better financial outcomes, you get rewards, and there are celebrations. It’s things like that that make it more engaging and we’re doing just that. I think what’s exciting about a neobank is that it’s banking reimagined.

We do a lot of interviews with our customers, and one of our first interviews was with a younger guy in his 20s who said:

“Everything we do as millennials is different to our parents – except for banking -that is the same.”

And it really struck a chord. Banking hasn’t evolved very much.

Could you tell us more about your role in Xinja? What does your day-to-day look like?

My official job title is Director of Retail Banking. Effectively, what I’m responsible for is taking what we’re building in our product and then turning that into everyday business-as-usual operations. As we’ve got a technical app that is run by people, my job is to insert that human touch into the experience.

I run our Contact Center, Xinja Central, where our customers can contact us through chat or they can call us.

My goal is to create an experience where when someone does interact with Xinja, they feel like Xinja knows them, that Xinja understands them, and that Xinja really wants to help them.

As we’re still growing as a startup, I do a lot of other things – fundraising and investor relations, setting up our office space, keeping our bar stocked, events, and a bit of PR. But mainly, it’s the customer experience that I’m responsible for.

Do you feel that along your career, you had defining moments that made you really excited about this job?

I feel like so many things in my life have led to this job.

I started out my career as a hotelier, and I thought I’d run these beautiful luxury hotels because I really love people, solving problems and creating really great experiences for them. When I was younger, I’d thought I’d do this in hotels.

Then I met a guest of the hotel who wanted to revolutionise banking and his idea was that if you took people who were very customer-centric and taught them banking, you’d change the way people experienced the bank. And I was like: ‘I’m up for that!’

So that’s how I got involved with the financial industry and came to be into banking.

And for me, personally, I’ve always felt that understanding money – gaining financial literacy – can really influence a person’s life. My personal experience growing up was seeing my mum, who was a single mother, and she had 3 kids, and she was a nurse. And nurses don’t earn a lot of money.

But my mum was a really good money manager. So even though she didn’t earn a lot of money, she was very resourceful. Through that and having financial knowledge, she sent us to semi-private schools, paid off her home, and always owned her car outright.

She’s retiring this year – not with heaps of money – but enough to get by and live comfortably.

For me, I’ve always been interested in how can I help people understand money and live a better life and not ever feel trapped or scared by finance.

In my eyes, money is kinda like food – something you deal with every day. And if you don’t know how to feed yourself properly, you often get sick or can become overweight –  and as result you don’t live such a good life. It’s the same thing with money. If you don’t know how to manage your money, you can get yourself into all sorts of problems.

But by understanding it, knowing how to optimise it, you can actually really do anything. It opens up a world of opportunity and I get really excited about enabling people to discover that.

You were telling me about how hard it is to innovate in the financial technology and how the established banks have trouble with that. What are the main challenges in building a digital bank and what are you doing to overcome them?

We have so many challenges. Launching a fintech app is hard.

We’re launching a fintech app and trying to become a bank at the same time. The banking environment in Australia is heavily regulated. We’ve set ourselves these two crazy goals: build a fintech app and become a bank.

One of our biggest challenges is hiring. To achieve those goals you need really talented, really experienced bankers who understand banking and how to build products, but who also understand risk and compliance, so we can get the licensing to do what we want to do.

But then we need to build an app, so you need talented technologists. And then you also want to create a really fabulous user experience, and you need that creative insight to build great CX teams. People who have these skills are rare. So our biggest challenge is hiring the right people.

To overcome that, we take our time when hiring. We don’t compromise and just find somebody. We do psychometric testing to understand them and we make sure we look for a lot of diversity. We look in places that you wouldn’t traditionally go to find bank employees. You want to find people who think differently and that might mean they might come from not-for-profit backgrounds, creative backgrounds and things like that.

The other challenge for us is that we don’t have the budget of big banks, so we have to be really deliberate and ruthless and build everything lean.

We’re trying to do as much as we can with the limited funding so we focus on our most important goals. We want customers to experience us as soon as possible, so we’ll get the app out. It might not be perfect – it doesn’t have all the features we want it to have – but it’s something we can get into people’s hands. Their feedback becomes a key part of the process. With that feedback we keep building and iterating. As we get more funding and as we start to make money we invest that back into the business to make it better and better.

When it comes to marketing, we work really hard not to waste money.

Other big banks have massive budgets for marketing and our marketing is guerrilla – very much cheap, easy, grounds-up, digital and guerilla campaigns. You’re not gonna see us marketing by buying the naming rights to a stadium or advertising on buses anytime soon.

Because at the end of the day, we’re putting all the money we have into building a really brilliant experience and building a bank that our customers can be proud of.

You mentioned the challenges of creating a great team, I’d like to tack along one more question here. Many of our founders have non-technical backgrounds. They may be business owners or they may be working in a company, but most of them don’t have the technical knowledge you’d need to build an application, or have the experience of working alongside a designer, or doing marketing. In your case, how do you negotiate these differences between team members, where you have some that are very creative, some that are very procedural and some that come with the technical know-how? How does this whole process happen for you?

We have these 10 golden rules at Xinja, which govern how we behave and who we are. And rule number one is “No dickheads”. You can be the best technologist, you can be the most amazing marketer, but if you’re a dickhead and you can’t work with people, you’re not for Xinja.

That seems like a simple way to solve that problem, but it just works. We’re really concerned about culture and we hire people that we think fit the culture of Xinja because it’s so precious to us. It’s been one where you’ve got to have a really strong ‘why’. That is, why you’re building this bank. And I can – hand on heart – say that the people we have in Xinja really believe in delivering a new kind of bank. The team really believe in it and they really want to make a difference. But I should add, we’re not a bank yet – we’re working to become one.

Having that strong ‘why’ means that you can be having heated conversations and come from really different perspectives, but you’ve got this one thing in common – which is believing in the ‘why’ that you’re doing something. I think you can always find your way if you’ve got that common ground.

I think that’s how most people solve differences – it’s through finding something that they share in common or finding a common outcome they’re working towards. And even if you’ve got different views, when you share the same ‘why’ and that really helps you move forward.

You were talking about your ‘why’ being to create a great experience for your customers. Being digital, it can be harder to build that trust and experience, because you can’t always get that personal touch translated into digital. Do you have any advice to share on how a founder or a team working on an app product can build this trust to provide a great user experience?

My answer is going to be simple, but it can be hard to do. I think that if you want to create a great experience for your users, you have to involve them. We focus on (and get ready for the buzzword) customer-centred design. It’s more than designing around the customer, it’s actually getting them to help you build your product and build out your experience.

Be really open with them, be transparent with where you are on the journey and what you’re looking to do. Bring them into your company if you can. Either digitally or physically, bring them in. Before we even started Xinja, we spent a lot of time interviewing people that had signed up to our waitlist and basically anyone who would let us talk to them. We would ask them: If you were building a bank, what would be important to you? What kind of experience would you like to have? What would you want to see first?

We all have our biases and it’s really important to validate what you’re thinking with your users as you’re moving forward.

We’ve been building our app and our first product – which is a prepaid card – and we are now building home loans and if we’re granted our banking license, we’ll launch deposit accounts. As we do this, we invite in our customers to come and test what we’ve built and we ask them: Do you like it? Does it work for you? What would you do differently? Based on the feedback, we adjust what we’ve built and iterate again to include what they said to us. And that really gets that buy-in.

On another side – and this is a little bit different from the user experience – for us it was really important that customers felt that they owned a part of Xinja. We launched the first retail equity crowdfunding campaign here in Australia. It’s available overseas, but Australia is only just catching up. So we launched our retail equity crowdfund with the guys at Equitise. For us, the campaign wasn’t so much about raising money. It did and that it was great, we raised $2.7 million.

But it was also a way for our customers to own a piece of Xinja, to be really engaged in what we were building and share in the success when we (hopefully) make it big time. That was another way we engaged them.

We also have an active community forum. There’s a lot of different ways you can engage with your customers, you can do it on social media, events, whatever. We created a community forum where we chat with the Xinja community and it’s very much like a speakeasy, you can talk about pretty much anything there: what’s coming in the app, stuff about money, you can talk about whatever you think about Xinja. It’s always a fun and interesting place to be.

In short, building trust and a great user experience for your customers is all about talking to them, validating ideas, engaging them, and getting them to really believe in everything you do as much as you believe in it.

Do you feel that once you start engaging with them, all your actions: the constant interviewing, the community forum, the crowdfunding campaign, they all feed into each other to create a stronger community – a stronger sense of trust?

It feeds into each other massively. And I think people want to feel recognised and acknowledged.

The point is that you create this community and this groundswell of advocates – and remember we don’t have a big marketing budget – but we have a lot of people that are really involved. They own shares in Xinja, they give feedback and Xinja responds and Xinja implements their ideas. They can meet us in person. We’ll do things that we can’t do at scale.

For example, we had a guy trying to register with the app the other day and it wasn’t working. So we went to his office and sat there with him, troubleshooting it. When we’re really big, we probably can’t do that, but we’re small now, so why not?

I feel like those kinds of experiences will really inspire people to want to see us succeed. In some ways, it probably buys us more room to fail. Because people know we’re trying and they know if we mess something up, we’ll tell them about it; if they give us an idea we’ll put it in somewhere. It buys a lot of goodwill.

Is there a thing you’d wish founders and early startup teams would pay more attention to at the beginning of their journey?

I think if there was one thing I would focus on while a startup is small, it’s the things that you can’t scale. We didn’t come up with this, we actually were given this advice by Jason Bates, a board advisor to Xinja who was one of the founders of Monzo, a big neobank in the UK.

He said to us very early “do now what you can’t do at scale”.

We plan to be a really big company in Australia, but for now we’re small and it’s very personal and the things that we can do now – like going to that customer’s office when he was having trouble downloading the app and just help him fix it – can really set a strong foundation. We probably won’t be able to do that at scale in the same way, but we can definitely do it now.

When we did the crowdfunding, our CEO Eric responded to every investor query that we had. We spend a lot of time talking to people, we ring customers on their birthday, we send handwritten notes and little gift packs if they had a poor experience and things like that. Things that you might not be able to do at scale, but that we can do now.

I think it creates such goodwill, it creates such great customer advocacy.

Staying super-close to your customers keeps what you’re doing every day real. And on the tough days, having that closeness to your customers helps remind you why you’re doing something and helps you get through it.  Because in all honesty there are a lot of tough days in a startup.

Conversely, when you have the really good days, you have more than just your team to share it with – you’ve got this whole kind of fan base to share it with too. So that’s what I think I’d say: do now what you can’t do at scale.

And if we’re talking about startups, what do you think are the makings of a good entrepreneur?

I think a good entrepreneur is someone who is prepared to work really hard. There are people who make the assumption that running your own business is the secret to relaxing and it’s super-glamorous. I think you work harder if you own your own business. So be prepared to work really hard.

I also think a good entrepreneur is someone who has a lot of self-awareness and humility to recognise what they’re good at, but more importantly, what they’re not so good at.

You can mitigate where you are not strong by hiring people who are better than you. Never be afraid to hire people who are better than you, they’ll just make you look good. They’ll mitigate your weaknesses and make for a stronger business.

Finally, how would you encourage someone who has an app idea and has been sitting on it for a long time?

First of all get out there in the startup scene. Go to meetups or whatever they’re called in your area. There are lots of business community events, technology community events, meetups and stuff, and just go and listen to what people are up to.

Chat with people about what they’re up to, what they did and how they got started. There are so many resources out there to help you along the way and realise what you need to get going.

I would also say that you should try to validate your idea and get started without going all in straight away. For as long as you can, implement your idea as a side hustle and keep your other job – that’s probably a good idea. Until it gets to the point where something has to give and you can’t do both – that’s when you’re ready to go full-time in your business idea.

Try it as a side hustle, validate your ideas, and talk to people who have been there before you. I think humans are inherently good and people like helping other people out. I think you’ll be surprised how much help is around you and how much support you’ll receive. I think we all love seeing someone having a crack at their idea and backing them, so don’t be shy.

Start typing and press Enter to search

Add CommentCollapse