Starling Bank has signed on as the official banking partner of Team GB ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, a move its brand director says reflects its push beyond early adopters to enter the mainstream market.
Starling is one of the fintech unicorns vying for a share of burgeoning space. As the third-largest neobank behind Revolut’s eight million customers, and Monzo’s 3.3 million, Starling Bank has been pursuing a more affluent audience between 25 to 44 since it launched in 2014. In 2020, it is looking to double its customer base to two million by investing heavily into its marketing and adopting a brand-led approach.
As part of this strategy, the fintech firm now supports Team GB, one of four Olympic Associations in the world run without state backing and instead dependent on commercial partnerships with the likes of Starling Bank, Purple Bricks, Aldi, British Airways and DFS.
Kerrone says: "Team GB is one of the brands Britons are most proud of, behind only the NHS. We are a British born bank, and we choose the company we keep very carefully. Pride in what we do is absolutely key.
"This announcement isn’t about just putting the Team GB logo on our marketing materials, or pushing our product features and benefits; it’s about unifying two proud British brands and celebrating national spirit and a belief in the extraordinary.
"We have first-hand experience of the hard work and dedication it takes to succeed, so feel a genuine connection with our athletes as they prepare for the games."
More than a 'sponsorship'
As part of the deal, more than 350 athletes have been gifted a Starling retail account with £100 deposited. Kerrone is particular about how she defines the deal.
"We’re very keen to avoid calling this a ‘sponsorship’. Sponsorships often lack authenticity and can seem quite self-serving. At Starling, we were keen to build a partnership portfolio built on meaningful relationships with like-minded brands.
"Throughout the past few months, we’ve worked incredibly closely with the British Olympic Association team to find out how Starling can genuinely help athletes. The £100 incentive was borne out of those conversations."
There's more activity to come, currently being brainstormed before the games. One such feature coming to the app will be a Team GB medal tracker. Kerrone adds: "There are lots of opportunities for Starling to support the athletes both during but also after the games."
Late last year, the bank acknowledged the need for brand building in its growth strategy and embraced TV advertising.
In 2019, it grew by 500,000 to 900,000 accounts. New avian branding was embraced to help make Starling a household name Rachael Pollard, Starling Bank's head of growth, said at the time. The goal was to accelerate the marketing strategy to "stop being one of banking's best-kept secrets". The brand, she described as a "gangly teenager”, was to lean into its Britishness, a clue for what lies ahead with the Team GB partnership.
It has its own Olympic pedigree too. Its chief banking officer Helen Bierton was a former British Olympic archer and knows from personal experience how valuable these partnerships are. "It taught me just how important the support of sponsors is when you’re trying to prepare for the Games in the right way, perform to the best of your ability and win medals," she tells The Drum.
For Kerrone the objective is to increase UK brand awareness. "By increasing awareness and trust, more people will consider us as their bank.
"Overall we want to differentiate ourselves - both in what we do, the company we keep and our creative executions. Standing out and being bold about what we believe in is massively important for us as a brand."
From a content perspective, it will look to tell the stories of the athletes, many of whom remain unknown to a wider audience. For Starling, the lion's share of work will run through digital out of home advertising with Team GB partner Ocean outdoor, and on social media with some help from influencers.
Coronavirus contingency plans
Starling's deal with Team GB comes as big events like SXSW and the Six Nations are being cancelled or disrupted by Coronavirus. Toyko 2020 is certainly under threat, with sports federations even floating the idea of the tournament being held behind closed doors.
Of course, any disruption will throw up a myriad of issues for sponsors and Kerrone is monitoring the situation.
"We are speaking daily with our contacts at Team GB, who are keeping us fully up to speed with the situation.
"Should the games be postponed, we would still remain the official bank of Team GB - the timings would just differ. We have contingencies in place from a campaign perspective, but the most important thing is that we are positively supporting our athletes whatever happens."