When thinking of lifestyle applications, mobile banking doesn’t exactly pop to the top of the list. Richard Steggall, CEO and Cofounder of Urban FT, is all about changing that perception. He sat down with MPD CEO Karen Webster to discuss how Urban FT is reinventing banking — the digital way — by helping banks and non-bank FIs deliver a banking app truly optimized to a consumer’s lifestyle.
Lifestyle and banking apps may not be two concepts often used in the same sentence, but as Steggall said, that’s part of the problem with banking today.
“Banking isn’t about just providing the core banking functionalities customers now expect; it’s about coupling that with things that have social relevance,” he explained.
He says that means long gone are the days of banking apps being a one-stop shop where users quickly log in to check their balance or confirm a transaction and just as swiftly log out to go explore something more interesting. If bankers want to be integral to a consumer’s life, they need to, well, be integral to their lives.
Which means bringing socially relevant information to financial services in a digital format, including consumer-focused features and capabilities, such as deal and event discovery, reviews, money-saving alerts or the ability to see where friends have been or have shopped. When that happens, Steggall says, “The user finds this to be a more rewarding outcome and something that they are actually happy to browse on when they’ve got a few minutes of spare time.”
That’s Urban FT’s mission: transforming the typical banking infrastructure into an experience that is not only more appealing to users but also more rewarding to all stakeholders involved. And it wants to serve as a platform for smaller banks and non-bank FIs to leverage on behalf of their customers — which has helped Urban FT gain traction over the past year.
“Since properly launching our product and going live with it late last year, we have had a tremendous amount of traction — with well over half a million end users on the platform now and gaining a lot of success in getting the attention of bank and nonbank issuers,” he added.
Urban FT’s recent partnership with Sprint, powering Sprint Money Express, is an example of its ability to power a non-bank segment — the telco. Through this partnership, Sprint customers have access to banking functions, social features and specifically targeted loyalty offers.
Steggall described the collaboration as a case-in-point of its lifestyle application “bringing together the best of breed banking functionality with personal financial management tools but also integrating into it things that are more meaningful and relevant to their particular customer base.”
As a digital “lifestyle” app, Sprint Money Express includes local deals that save customers money, the ability to buy airtime and send money internationally or domestically.
Sprint, however, isn’t Urban FT’s first foray into the mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) space. Last month, the company acquired Wipit, a provider of digital wallet solutions to the MVNO market.
But Steggall is the first to admit that turning banking “utilities” into sought-after lifestyle functionality, in a heavily regulated environment like financial services, on the ever-evolving mobile platform, that is directed to the increasingly fickle digital consumer, comes with its fair share of challenges.
“It’s very hard to do that these days when everyone operates in such a compliance-heavy and compliance-oriented environment. Clearly, that’s got to be something that’s at the top of everyone’s priority list when looking at solutions like ours,” he remarked. “But you can’t lose sight of the fact that there are things that customers need, and you have got to find a way in which to deliver those needs within the compliance goal posts that have been laid out for us,” he continued.
From the introduction of real-time notifications alerting a user to money-saving opportunities to providing meaningful data related to a snapshot of spending behavior, the availability of these types of functionality is contributing to the continuing evolution of banking applications.
“Whether it be a bank or a non-bank financial institution, both want to provide an exceptional solution to the customer they serve,” Steggall said.
“By giving this functionality to the end user, far more brand touch points are created for the bank, resulting in increased engagement and lifetime value. It also establishes a new revenue stream for that banking customer, one that complements what is otherwise a very thin margin banks are currently dealing with.”
CEO & Co-Founder
Prior to cofounding Urban FT, Richard was the CEO of Waspit Group, Inc., a banking alternative for students in both North America and the United Kingdom. Before entering the FinTech sector, he spent 17 years in multiple sectors of the IT&T industry, ranging from streaming and digital media through to B2B IP-based telecommunications. His prior roles include COO of U.K.-based Burlington Rye PLC and head of corporate strategy for Nasdaq-listed and U.S.-based Kit Digital, Inc. (formerly Roo Media, Inc.). During his time in the IT&T industry, he was responsible for the growth strategies of a number of private and public companies in North America, the United Kingdom and Asia — particularly strategies focused on acquisitive and capital growth. He also led a number of IPOs (including via reverse merger) in North America, the United Kingdom and Asia. Richard is a successful and results-driven entrepreneur with a passion for accelerating and capitalizing on emerging opportunities.