We speak with Aussie Neobank Up’s Head of Marketing Paul Tagell about building an award-winning customer experience.
The banking sector doesn’t usually cause much of a stir when it comes to innovation. Solid, reliable, safe, and probably boring are words that come to mind when I think of financial institutions.
That’s why it’s so damned cool to see Australian NeoBank Up explode onto the market with a brand and product that feels so fresh. (Yes, I just used the word cool and bank in the same sentence).
From the “face-melting” welcome packages and colorful branding to the sheer intelligence and gutsiness of their product, Up is a fantastic example of what can happen when you combine world-class CX with a tech-driven customer-centric product philosophy.
That’s a lot of buzzwords, I know. But bear with me—Up is proof these terms aren’t just empty slogans. They are real things, and when implemented effectively, they are the secret sauce that results in groundbreaking innovation.
So let’s dive a bit deeper and unpack it all a bit with the help of Up’s Head of Marketing, Paul Tagell. Hopefully, by the end of the article, you feel inspired to take some risks, think deeply about your customer experience at every touchpoint, and understand how a focused philosophy and mission can bleed through in every interaction you have with your customer.
Not like other banks
The first impression I get of Paul is that he isn’t like other marketers. In my mind, the Head of Marketing at a bank wears a suit—even in the shower—they live in an office filled with polished mahogany and talk in smooth three-letter acronyms.
Paul, on the other hand, is a regularly dressed, down-to-earth guy who seems genuinely stoked to be doing cool shit with his team. He’s kind of nerdy and clearly smart. He feels like the kind of person you could chill and have a beer with.
This is the energy I get when I look at Up, too. Their distinctive orange branding, colorful onboarding packs, and fun flourishes throughout the app, ooze personality, authenticity, and good vibes.
“We’re always looking to create an experience that doesn’t feel like a bank,” Tagell tells me during our convo. He doesn’t say it with any animosity directed at banking. After all, Up is a bank. But he does make the funny distinction between what Up and other neobanks are doing and what they refer to internally as “all caps banking.”
“From a marketing perspective, you get a really engaging ad or newsletter, go to our website or talk to us, and you speak to a person who’s human and treats you like a mate,” he elaborates. “Our platform does some really useful and powerful things, but at the same time, when you interact with us, you feel like you’re talking with a friend. It’s technology made for humans.”
Up combines a human-centered approach with powerful technology and a customer experience that not only delights and engages but consistently reiterates the fundamental philosophy of Up. Everything is designed to make dealing with money easier and more engaging. The entire experience gives the customer a sense of control over their finances that they previously didn’t feel they had to improve their financial wellbeing.
First interactions matter
When you first sign in to Up, the onboarding flow is quick, atomic, and easy to follow. Tagell says it was built with a coffee line in mind. The idea is that someone could tell you about Up and invite you in app at the beginning of a line, and by the time you get to the front, you’d have an account with five dollars in it as a referral bonus. It’s called “instant provisioning,” and Up was the first bank in Australia to offer it. The message from the very first interaction is clear. Up is not like other banks. In fact, you can turn everything you know about how banks operate on its head.
Then, your welcome pack arrives in the mail. “We put in a lot of time into considering what customers’ first physical experience would be. Most banks would send you a tri-folded piece of paper with a card glued into it. You’ll open it and just chuck it away,” explains Tagell. “Our goal was to deliver a bank card but also melt people’s faces.”
The colorful welcome pack comes replete with stickers and a custom mailer made from beer mat board that you can slide your bank card into. It looks fantastic, and there’s a bingo game on the back that encourages you to pick a number each week, cross it off, and add the amount to your savings over the course of a year. “For us, that was about setting the tone: we’re here to help you manage your money. We want you to understand that everything we do is to help Upsiders spend wisely and save effortlessly,” says Tagell.
The fun flourishes and charming elements aren’t just there to entice; they serve a fundamental purpose. They disrupt, differentiate, engage, and deliver a clear message about what the bank is all about. Every detail of the customer experience is focused on delivering the right message, and every moving part of the business works in sync to achieve this goal.
Driven by technology
“We’ve always been super technology and product-led, but the most important thing is that our ethos has always been to help a generation of Australians get more control and understanding of their money,” explains Tagell. “So, we built a whole lot of features and a bunch of things that don’t necessarily make sense if all you need to do is have a bucket to hold your money.”
Up allows its customers to create an unlimited number of savings accounts that can be named and dedicated to whatever they want to save for. In the spirit of taking risks and making bets around customer experience, they provide emojis to attach to each saver account and a gyroscopic “wave” animation that fills the screen you add to your savings. Quite frankly, it’s totally unneccesary. But it works. It engages customers and encourages them to save. What’s more, it encourages them to tell others about it.
“Because the accounts are so visual, people have started to share the index of their savers. And sometimes, they scribble out the amount. Sometimes they don’t. Ultimately, the risk of doing something that most banks would consider a bit of a childish novelty has turned out to be really engaging,” says Tagell. “It’s what makes people go, okay, I know what this is for, and I’m going to contribute money to it regularly because I want that thing. It helps reduce reliance on credit. It means that people are saving for purchases in advance.”
There are plenty of examples of this kind of thinking littered throughout the Up product. From the “Round Ups” that put the extra cents from your purchases into a savings account to sophisticated and detailed tracking of your purchases that provide insight into where your money is going, the details are sweated on each feature and flourish to drive home the message that controlling your money and saving is achievable.
Marketing in a product-led company
“People are more likely to get divorced than open a new bank account,” Tagell tells me, perfectly summing up the challenges of marketing in the banking sector.
He tells me how stunning and distinctive brand creative is one way Up cuts through but admits they’re still trying to figure out the best mix of messaging to balance talking about “the shiny new things,” which they love, and the routine stuff that gives people confidence Up is a safe place to leave their money.
Word of mouth referrals, the sign of a great product, and a key marketing instrument in PLG companies are still Up’s primary source of new customers. “Ultimately, referrals happen because what we’ve built helps people. Once people have used Up, they understand that one plus one equals three and go and tell their friends about it,” says Tagell. “The goal of all of our marketing is to help our customers understand how everything fits together.”
That being said, Tagell and his team certainly know where their audiences are. Though he tells me Up is for everyone, the brand feels undeniably young.
Naturally, Up brought their message to the social media app TikTok. A place more famous for twerking videos than banking, TikTok presented a big opportunity for the neobank to connect with younger customers. Up ran a campaign called “Easy Money,” the first-ever Australian branded Gamified Effect. The effect gave anyone on the TikTok platform the chance to play a 30 second game, munching as many coins as they could to potentially win $1000.
“The TikTok thing was obvious for us, a lot of our customers are quite young, and one of the places that young people are at the moment is on TikTok,” explains Tagell. “We’re happy to experiment with things like that, which again, are not what a normal bank would do.”
Combine this with activities like sponsoring PAX, one of the world’s largest gaming conferences, and the Melbourne International Film festival. You begin to see how Up can use its differentiated brand to slide into spaces that banks would struggle to exist in authentically.
Up and away
It’s the little details that go a long way in today’s crowded markets. Up has shown that differentiation doesn’t need to be difficult, but it does mean taking some risks. And beyond that, we’re giving a shoutout to Up because their customer experience is so focused and their product and service deliver on the hype. And at Dovetail and Outlier, we appreciate useful things—products that serve a purpose and solve real problems in simple, ingenious, and fun ways. While I can’t imagine going out of my way to praise banks of all businesses, particularly on innovation, Up is exceptional and a valuable addition to an old and often stale institution.