“It’s a feeling”: Up is reaching gen Z and millennial customers with design

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Neobanks have entered a space traditional finance has left open, with banks like Up snapping up the opportunity with an in-house creative studio that aims to reach gen Z and millennial customers largely alienated from mainstream finance.

Now the bank is entering the home loans space, helping entire generations of young people work towards owning a home, but in a language they understand.

Speaking to SmartCompany, creative director of Up, Pete Johnson says the design was key to helping a generation get better with money. 

According to Johnson, the younger generation neither trusted nor listened to big banks, and this was where Up hoped to make a difference. 

“We don’t look or sound like a bank. We’re not a big corporation absorbing customers into our revenue scheme. We want to disarm, and engage with people,” he said. 

This was the aim of the in-house creative studio, Johnson says, which focuses on getting the message across in a way the younger demographic will understand and engage with.

And if Up’s Instagram page is anything to go by — with 15,500 followers and a psychedelic colour scheme — it’s working. Not only is Up educating its followers about its product, its also engaging with them through a range of initiatives, including last week at Rising Melbourne, where customers were invited out of their homes to hang out with Up over drinks and food. It’s not something a traditional bank would do, but it’s something Up says its customers appreciate and engage with. 

Zapping the customers

Team Soul, as the creative studio likes to call itself, has grown from a team of one (Johnson) to a team of three, soon to be four over the last couple of years. 

The studio’s strength lies in the raw edge a small team with a unified goal gives it: consistency, and the capability to do more than an impersonal, outsourced team can do for a brand. 

If that has meant donning several hats, Johnson has done so.

“We didn’t have a full time professional animator,” Johnson said. “I taught myself how to do it, and then Justin Higgs did the same when he joined. We’ve been learning on the job. It’s not perfect, but we’re not going for perfect.” 

“We’re going for the rough, hand drawn look on purpose,” he said, adding that it gave the work added personality.

This can be seen in many aspects of the team’s designs, starting with Zap — Up’s animated lighting logo — to the unmistakable neon debit cards.

Zap, Johnson says, speaks to the evolution of the brand and their approach to design. 

“We had a sharp-looking app early on, but it lacked personality. We decided to work in the character Zap, and that character has become a feeling. It’s more than a banking transaction now,” he said. 

It may be an odd sentiment for a bank, but Johnson says that 60% of Up’s growth has come from peer-to-peer referrals.

“That’s not how banks are supposed to grow,” he said.

“But we have.” 

It all comes down to how approachable they are, with the help of design. 

“People strike up conversations while waiting in line for a coffee when they notice the [neon-orange] debit card in someone’s hand,” Johnson added.

Breaking generational barriers

In a world where emojis have taken on the function of expression, and words like stan, simp, camp and tea are common parlance, it takes young people to understand young people and Up knows this. 

To this end, the bank has a support team it relies on to ensure its reaching the audience.

“We work with a support team that’s very youthful, and we lean on them to ensure we’re culturally appropriate,” Johnson said. 

It’s this language that’s translated into every aspect of Up’s product, including how approachable they are. 

“We have a direct line of feedback on all channels, including our socials like TikTok and Instagram,” he added. 

Up also has the highest rated banking app in Australia, boasting 4.6 stars on Play Store and 4.9 stars on the App Store, with many rave reviews calling it the best banking app on the market. 

But Up doesn’t want to stop there. The bank aims to build more core banking features like a home loan option that — more than just a loan — is a home saver to home loan journey that helps customers understand the entire process. 

Up communications and content lead Anne Shea told SmartCompany it wanted to be with customers from start to finish.

“Most of our customers are not ready, so we made a saver product which will help them save and teach them about the home loan journey. We want them to tell us about their dream home and we will work with them on that journey, helping them understand a major financial moment,” she said.

And while a home loan can be daunting, Shea says it’s entirely in line with Up branding and speaks to its customers in the same tone.

“We want to make sure it aligns with the rest of our brand and that it feels like the Up you know and love,” she said. 

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