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cool bank card

Cool bank card! Still a place for physical assets in digital banking

Do you love your bank card? We’ve written many times about the bank branch – about how it can be repurposed, about the rumours of its demise, about the role it can play in a supposedly mobile-first world.

So it struck me as interesting that, here in the Mapa millennial cocoon where we fawn over cool new banking apps and lament making telephone calls, visiting real branches and the word ‘fax’, we do love our bank cards. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the trendy new challengers are giving those much-used pieces of plastic some love and attention…

Monzo: The Coral One

Surely the most famous example in banking of a new entrant making a splash by not just having a whizzy mobile app but also having an eye-catching prepaid card. They’ve even got a blog post dedicated to how the card is made and delivered – it’s hard to imagine a large bank publishing something similar. Many Tweets both to and from the brand promote this aspect of Monzo’s proposition – something you may find surprising from a mobile-only bank, but maybe not when you consider that this is an East-London-based startup aimed at young hipsters.

monzo coral bank card

The now-nearly-iconic coral Monzo card, from the original Mondo beta, came about by happenstance. Founder Tom Blomfield told The Memo, ‘We found out about our card design deadline about an hour and a half before the printers needed it.’ Although their ‘talented and passionate’ designer Hugo Cornejes ‘hit the roof’ about the timescales, he used the hot coral colour from his trainers and ‘it turned out we loved it. It’s really come to define Monzo and became a happy accident.’

But now it’s a serious focus. In a comment thread reminiscent of that business card scene in American Psycho, Hugo, now Monzo’s head of design, suggested in February that the new debit (as opposed to prepaid) card will have coloured edges. ‘We’re just getting approved the first designs of Monzo debit cards and we’ve decided to invest a bit more to replace the white layers that sandwich the contactless circuit (the dark thin layer you can see if you look at the edges of your Monzo card) for hot coral plastic. We don’t know yet how the actual result will look but we hope it’ll make the card feel more like a solid object made of hot coral material :slight_smile:’ That’s a lot of attention to detail.

monzo coral debit card

They’ve also made noises about potentially using recycled or biodegradable materials to make their cards in the future.

Revolut: A Rose Gold One (if you pay for it!)

Revolut has actually released four new bank card designs as part of its Premium account offering. By paying £72 a year, customers can select a pink, black, silver or pink & black card – created by design agency Blond to distinguish the banking app from the rest. ‘Other similar premium cards utilise detailing and embellishments in order to elevate the product above the standard option,’ James Melia, Blond’s creative director, told Dezeen magazine. ‘We wanted to avoid this dated approach and find a way to achieve a modern premium feel that suits the bold Revolut brand.’

revolut rose gold bank card

The design is so simple that the long card number doesn’t even appear on the front – a great idea if you want people to feel comfortable taking pictures of their ‘gorgeous new bank card’ for social media.

Chad West, Head of Brand & Communications at Revolut, told us: ‘We wanted to create a design that would stand out from the rest of the cards in your wallet as well as offer a card that people would be proud to show off. From the choice of colour to removing all text from the front of the card, we believe that we have achieved our goal of offering a unique and a truly premium card design.’

Tandem: Any colour you like, basically

According to the Tandem blog, ‘You carry your cards with you everywhere. They peek out of your wallet. They get flashed at bars, restaurants, coffee shops, supermarkets, petrol stations, and on holidays around the world. They’re a staple of everyday living, so why wouldn’t you want yours to look good?’

tandem bank card range colours

Sven Schindele, Head of Credit Cards at Tandem, told us: ‘We’re not just giving customers a choice of great colours… the design actually embodies Tandem’s values and ethos. Tandem has been built with the help of our Co-Founder community, a group of over 12,000 people that want to help us reinvent banking. They have helped name us, they come to our office to test products and give feedback, and we’ve been to their homes to interview them on how we can build a bank that helps them with their real life needs. When it comes to the card design, they also have helped us design it. We interviewed them about their attitudes towards money and then used that to create the artwork that forms the background across the four colour cards, so each of the cards represents a piece of our Co-Founders. And since they are a special community for us, they also get their very own exclusive card design. So as you see, we’re great believers in cool bank cards playing an important role in the relationship we’re building with our customers.’

The rest

Of course, older banking brands have tapped into the consumer desire to both stand out with a personalised offering, and stay in with the cool crowd. Virgin Money used cool cards as a way to show they were ‘shaking up UK banking’, launching Sex Pistols cards in 2015. Barclays lets customers personalise their cards with any picture they want, while NatWest charges £5 for a personalised debit card and it’s only available to those 11-18 year-old customers with the bank’s ‘Adapt’ account.

Further afield, card personalisation is very popular in Germany (Deutsche bank offers it, for example) and in India, where ICICI has all sorts of options for your card’s special look. But while a photo on your bank card offers the customised approach consumers love, it doesn’t necessarily offer the strong branding tactic that the new banks are enjoying.

ICICI personalised bank card

Conclusion

Should we be intrigued that the young, tech-savvy brand mavens of Monzo, Starling, Revolut and the others are taking to social media (and the pub) to boast about their bank cards? Should it surprise us that mobile-first, digital-only, branchless challengers are spending time, effort and column inches on bank card design? Probably not. These new providers are entering the market under the banner of ‘reinventing banking’. They are looking to retail and other verticals to bring something new and fun to the table. Technology is treated as a vehicle (not the end goal) for ‘making banking fun’. It’s a vehicle that makes sense for their main audience – the largest consumer group, those smartphone-loving, personalisation-adoring millennials. A great app + a cool card that represents my individuality is exactly what this 28-year-old desires from her bank.

The fact that these new players may have a team of excellent geeky developers building apps that aim to improve our financial lives doesn’t mean they’ve overlooking the bigger picture and the key opportunity in banking today – to build the sort of active loyalty (and passion) from their customers that incumbent banks can only dream of. And if hot pink cards make that possible, why would these smart entrepreneurs dismiss them?

Read a full list of all the ‘new banks’ in the UK in our free Challenger Banks Report.

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