The average person in the UK carried around 3.6+ bank cards in 2016, while in the US that figure is almost 7.5 cards per person. Imagine if you could combine all your cards into one, and spend money across accounts with it. That’s exactly what London-based fintech Curve has set out to do.
Since their digital-only payments solution launched out of beta to 50 thousand people a year ago, it’s grown its customer base to 400 thousand users across Europe. We’ve caught up with Harsh Kandoi, Student Brand Ambassador for Curve, to talk about what’s going on and what’s to come in the financial world before our joint webinar, ‘What can banks learn from neobanks and fintechs?’, on 21 March.
There are a lot of new payment solutions on the market. What sets Curve apart?
Most new payment solutions, from Revolut to N26 and Monzo, are essentially competing among themselves. For example, if a customer has a Revolut account, they will probably be less willing to open another one with N26 and then yet another one with someone else. Curve, however, doesn’t go head-to-head with other fintechs and incumbents but encompasses them all. Whatever debit and credit cards a user has, they can combine them all into one Curve card, and one app, while keep using all of their existing bank accounts.
The hassle of carrying around a fat wallet with multiple bank cards is finally a thing of the past. Curve is more like an aggregator for financial services and as such, the aim is not going into competition but making alliances that are beneficial both to consumers and business. It’s also a pretty complex product that can’t be summed up in one simple sentence. In fact, most people don’t realise that they need a Curve card until they’ve given it a go.
Curve: “our aim is to become the Amazon of banking”
Curve’s CEO Shachar Bialick said in an interview that the aim is to become the “Amazon of banking”. What can banks and fintechs learn from tech giants?
Big companies have the resources, the technology as well as the infrastructure to bring about massive disruption to the sector. If they do decide to enter the financial market, they will be able to do things that we as startups are just building the infrastructure for. As I see it, the future lies more with TechFins than with FinTechs. They have a lot of data, and they know how to turn it to their advantage: they use it to cater to every single person according to their individual needs and preferences.
Data is now even more valuable than oil – and remember how many wars have been fought over the latter. Just like tech giants, banks have huge amounts of data but it basically goes into the trash. More often than not, they don’t use it to create customised, targeted offers and solutions that meet individual needs. Instead, they bombard everyone with the same message, even though it will be irrelevant to the majority of their customers. It’s a huge waste.
If you know which of your customers will be interested in a particular product, you can offer them the very product they want and you can do so at a lower cost and with better efficiency. Targeting customers based on their individual habits and needs can save a lot of resources and boost growth.
Personalisation is the future. Curve’s app is incredibly personalised and it creates insights that help users get a better overview of their finances and keep track of how much money they spend in each category, across accounts. Further down the line, Curve will be able to personalise its services even more, based on spending habits. It’s a win-win.
The competition for customers is getting fiercer by the day. Who do you think will come out as a winner? What matters to today’s banking customers?
I’m no fortune-teller but one thing is for sure: today’s market is very consumer-oriented and what really matters to consumers is convenience. Everyone’s trying to win the battle but only the best will survive. And the biggest winner in the end will be the customer.
Card platform: benefits for all
Curve cooperates with traditional banks. How does such a partnership benefit both parties?
Curve cooperates with both incumbents and challengers on their platform; it’s like a huge family. There are mutual benefits, as many traditional banks don’t yet provide the features Curve does. For example, the 0FX, which, if you have a Curve black or metal card, is unlimited and if you’re a blue card holder, you can spend £500 with 0FX, both with an added weekend charge of 1.5%. Also, there is the “go back in time” feature, which allows you to change which bank account you want the transaction to have come out of. However, if a customer connects their traditional bank account to Curve, they get all these perks and without having to open a new bank account.
The thing is many people today are scared of switching to a new account. With Curve, they don’t have to make the switch: they can stick to their existing provider that they trust and still get all the features fintechs would provide them with, from real-time instant notifications to fee-free currency conversion and ATM withdrawals, subject to certain limits. It benefits traditional banks too, as they tend to take longer to digitally transform their organisation and offer the services that make challengers so attractive to customers. If incumbents partner with Curve, their customers will get all the features any neobank would be offering them – and more. In other words, the customer who might have switched to a challenger will no longer need to do so.
So far Curve has taken a platform approach. What are the benefits and disadvantages of this?
Basically, you don’t need to start from scratch in developing new solutions in every area. Curve has an open banking approach, meaning that the customer is no longer restricted: they have all the options and can get the best out of what’s on offer. Collaboration and co-innovation are key for such an approach. For example, customers can already connect to Xero to streamline their accounting processes, and more connections are coming soon. On the other hand, ironing out initial glitches to enable seamless connections to other service providers requires a lot of backend work, but I know Curve has a fantastic tech and product team!
What are Curve’s plans for the future?
Curve has huge things coming in 2019. Its biggest market is the UK right now but it’s improving its prominence in major European markets like Italy, France, Spain and Germany among others this year. Curve is also planning to roll out a lot of new features: we’ll be launching peer-to-peer payments that work like money transfers and introduce our one-of-a-kind Curve Cast feature. This will allow users to share their card virtually and let their family or friends use it, without handing over their actual card details, and staying in control of how much they may spend and in which merchant categories. Also, Curve now offers worldwide travel, gadget and car rental collision insurance to all its UK customers and to a few EU countries like France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
In the next five years, what changes do you expect in the financial sector?
Everything will be about digital transformation and inclusiveness. I expect loads of changes: there will be a lot of acquisitions and mergers and a lot of dissolutions as well. Big brands, even large traditional players, may disappear. At the same time, I think the financial sector will become much more inclusive. No one, including those who previously had no access to a local bank branch and people with poor or no credit ratings, will be excluded from financial services anymore.
As for traditional players, they’ve started to innovate slowly but steadily. If they get it right, they may survive the storm. Some of them have even set up their own special digital banking units to create fintech products like BNP Paribas Bank’s mobile-only subsidiary, Hello bank! in several European countries or UniCredit’s buddybank in Italy.