Lindsay Beltzer, Account Lead

Key Findings from BrandCap’s Financial Relatability Index

Rapid developments in technology are ushering in a new era in the world of financial services. Blockchain and cryptocurrency, the rise of mobile banking, peer-to-peer payment services, micro-investing platforms, and other advances have rattled traditional banking institutions. The number of fintech startups are continuing to grow, and more money is being invested in the category. According to FinTech Global, fintech startups raised an astounding $41.7 billion in the first half of 2018 globally. The implications for incumbents is clear: embrace this technology or risk being replaced.

With a focus on the U.S. market, we set out to explore how consumers relate and feel connected to financial services brands in this new economy, and how well brands are delivering on these expectations. As mentioned in our previous article on the topic, Modern Financial Services Branding: The growing importance of relatability, while new technology is accelerating the number of tools that can be used to develop the consumer experience, without creating a relatable connection with your audience, those investments are dollars wasted. To that end, the findings from our Financial Relatability Index reveals not only are the leading players building meaningful and valuable relationships with consumers, but how they’re doing it, and offers insights for those lagging behind.


Our first step included having discussions with Gen Z and Millennials to learn more about how they think about financial services brands and the options provided by financial services firms. We then conducted a quantitative study with this cohort, 1,000 consumers, ages 18-34 in the U.S., to assess their views on the drivers of relatability, as measured across the following four attributes:

  • Competence: Is this a brand that allows me to interact with it in a way that suits me best?
  • Empathy: Is this a brand that understands my changing needs?
  • Character: Is this a brand that reflects me and my values?
  • Confidence: Is this a brand that can be relied upon?

In our view, it’s these four factors that together help to build relatability which in turn, influences the decision-making process when choosing a financial services provider. The overall index is a composite of the highest scores across each of the four attributes that comprise the most and least relatable brands.

Building Relatability

The Leaders of Financial Relatability

4JP Morgan Chase116
6Capital One112
9Bank of America97
13Wells Fargo79
14TD Bank78
15Navy Federal Credit Union72

Key Findings

Despite their limited time in the market, digital-native brands are significantly breaking through. For some, the association back to their parent company is propelling their growth forward, instilling a sense of trust and confidence among consumers.

Marcus, Venmo, and Finn top the ranking as the most relatable brands. Double-digit scores above the index median on ‘Competence’ and ‘Character’ were the biggest drivers of relatability. Translation:these digital-savvy brands are relating with this age group by meeting, and often exceeding, their expectations of their products and services, and doing so in a way that highlights the unique benefits of their brand and offering.

Why they win

Marcus by Goldman Sachs, is the 140-year-old investment firm’s first online lending business. Built to be a bank for the digital age, its ethos is to be the financial services platform that eliminates customer pain points. Three things the brand does well to relate with consumers:

  1. Builds competence – offers an approachable way to help people manage their finances, offering fixed-rate, and no-fee personal loans. For example, a customer can request a personal loan for $10,000 with a payment of $275 a month, and the company will provide flexible loan options, letting borrowers choose their monthly payment amounts and loan terms.
  2. Demonstrates empathy and character – educates customers (and potential customers) about their options for managing debt and savings for free. Financial education and literacy is an increasingly hot topic in banking and the company excels at creating content that explains personal finance basics, the reality of overcoming debt and how a Marcus personal loan can help in the process. Marcus has also teamed up with influencers with strong audiences and followings, such as The Typical Mom and Money Crashers to help illustrate how the platform played a pivotal role in meeting and advancing their financial goals.
  3. Evokes confidences – intentionally aligns the name Marcus closely with the Goldman Sachs master brand in an effort to convey the institution’s heritage and history. The name Marcus comes from Marcus Goldman, the founder of Goldman Sachs, helping to introduce the company’s legacy in a fresh and modern way to younger audiences. According to Dustin Cohn, Marcus’ head of marketing, the association ‘by Goldman Sachs’ helped to increase consumer trust of the new brand. In an interview with com, Cohn said that consumers’ willingness to provide personal information, such as Social Security numbers, income, and other financial information, went up significantly when they knew Marcus by Goldman Sachs was backed by Goldman Sachs. Additionally, purchase intent shot up when the platform was associated with the parent company.

Venmo, which is owned by PayPal, has become one of the most popular peer-to-peer mobile payment apps among U.S. Millennials. Of the 65% of 20-30-year olds who use payment apps, more than two-thirds (68%) of them use Venmo, compared to the 22% using their own bank’s mobile app. The platform has an estimated 27 million users in the U.S. and is expected to grow in 2019 through new strategic partnerships and product extensions. Three things the brand does well to drive relatability:

  1. Drives competence – offers an easy to use and frictionless user experience, allowing users to transfer money to each other in real-time, while incurring no transaction fees. Users can easily split bills, request payment from friends, and pay as a group at any given time. An in-app balance allows users to store money that they have yet to spend, send, or transfer to their bank account. In 2019, expect the brand to roll out new user experiences that will help to monetize this feature in the future.
  2. Illustrates character and empathy – incorporates a social feed and chat functionality, providing a unique glimpse into people’s social lives and spending habits. Every payment appears in Venmo’s newsfeed, with information on the who, when, and what of the transaction – making it full of social intel that isn’t being shared across any of other of the major social networks. In an age where data is king, PayPal found that more than six million payments on Venmo mentioned Uber in their description during the past year. Turning that insight into action, Venmo announced a partnership with Uber and Uber Eats where users can pay for their rides and food with their Venmo balance.
  3. Provides confidence – bridges the gap between online and offline spending. Beyond entering into partner agreements with Uber (and Grubhub), the company announced in June that it would be introducing its own debit card in partnership with MasterCard. The aim, according to the company, is to enable consumers who use Venmo to spend their balances in more places.

Finn, the all-mobile banking platform by JPMorgan Chase, is the first national digital banking brand across the U.S. It’s a completely mobile banking experience largely designed for Millennials in mind. Developed in-house by JPMorgan Chase, it successfully drives consumer relatability by:

  1. Demonstrating competence – allowing customers to do all of their banking from their phone, such as open an account, make a deposit or send money to friends through the Zelle digital payment network. The Finn debt card, which customers can now activate through the app, offers fee-free access to more than 29,000 Chase and partner ATMs across the country.
  2. Providing confidence – offering “autosave rules” popularized by investment apps such as Acorns, Digit, and Stash that help users save money automatically. For example, Finn’s Pocket Your Pennies feature rounds up purchases and moves the extra change to a savings account. If you were to buy a latte for $4.72, the feature will automatically round up the purchase, take $0.28 and place it into a savings account.
  3. Building empathy – incorporating rating features, such as marking a transaction as a “want” or “need” within the app and assigning emojis for how those purchases make the user feel. Over time, this data is amalgamated to the Trends feature, where charts and graphs summarize spending based on needs, wants, and categories, such as Transportation, Food & drinks, and Bills & utility. With this feature Finn hopes it will continue to drive engagement and loyalty among young users by empowering them to better track and manage their spending over time.

The generational divide: Gen Z (ages 18-24) and Millennials (ages 24-36) view the world of financial services very differently. Gen Z wants a financial services provider to reflect their values and respond quickly to their changing needs. Millennials, meanwhile, prioritize ‘Competence’ and ‘Confidence’, wondering is this a brand I can rely on and does it deliver on its promises?

When we sliced the data between these two cohorts, we noticed different prioritization among the drivers of relatability. Gen Z prioritized ‘Character’ and ‘Empathy’ while Millennials prioritized ‘Confidence’ and ‘Competence.’ As a result, the winners of relatability differed within each age group.

For Generation Z, the relatability ‘winners’ include:

  • Marcus
  • Finn
  • Venmo

For Millennials, the ‘winners’ include:

  • JP Morgan Chase
  • Venmo
  • Capital One

It’s not surprising that Generation Z, a demographic known for breaking norms, having an entrepreneurial mindset, and a desire for independence and financial success found digital native brands, Marcus, Finn, and Venmo, as the most relatable within the category. As mentioned previously, these brands are providing unique benefits aimed to appeal directly to this age group. As in the case of Finn, they are letting go of the notion of being ‘perfect’ – getting products out quickly, gathering user’s feedback and creating new features and experiences based upon user input.

While Millennials are at ease with digital banking, they are less inclined to stray from traditional banking institutions. A 2017 survey from SurveyMonkey revealed that 80 percent of surveyed millennials wanted the option to visit a brick-and-mortar bank branch and valued in-person relationships when it came to financial management.

Relatability of big traditional banks among both Generation Z and Millennials falls short. HSBC, Wells Fargo, and TD Bank are among the least relatable brands.

Numerous accounts of fraudulent activity and controversies hit these financial services giants in recent years. From HSBC admitting to laundering billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug cartels, Wells Fargo admitting to creating fake bank and credit card accounts, and TD Bank employees alleging they broke the law in order to meet sales targets, it’s evident these incidents have contributed to younger consumers feeling less engaged and connected with these brands.

In an era of cyber-attacks and digital fraud, it’s imperative that these institutions make honesty, ethical practices, and transparent communication top priorities. Furthermore, numerous studies have found that both Gen Z and Millennials prefer to do business with corporations and brands they know will act responsibly, both on social issues they care about and when it comes to protecting their assets and data.

Implications for Branding

As we’ve seen from the top performers on the Relatability Index, the winners are iterating their products and services quickly to meet user needs, creating mobile-first experiences that build loyalty, and are offering new ways of banking that puts flexibility and convenience front and center of the customer experience.

Bringing relatability to life needs to become inherently part of the brand experience. If built through a progression of steps, by instilling competence, empathy, confidence, and character, the financial leaders of tomorrow have the potential to win over young audiences and develop lifetime loyalty, throughout their prime earning, spending, and borrowing years. It’s an opportunity finance brands surely can’t afford to miss.