Australia finally has its first live digital bank, with Up — founded by Dom Pym and former St Kilda Saints AFL coach Grant ‘Thomo’ Thomas — appearing as if from nowhere.
The launch follows a two-month trial that saw 1,500 customers complete more than $2.2 million in transactions. The cloud-hosted bank allows users to track spending, including showing location and merchant IDs for transactions.
It all provides a ‘round-up’ savings tool, and does not charge international transaction fees.
The startup managed to beat many of its Aussie competitors to market by working with Bendigo Bank, which will provide the financial services.
While it may appear the new neobank has sprung up almost from nowhere, Pym says it’s been in production since October last year.
“We just haven’t told anyone,” he says.
Rather than promise a product that’s on the way, “we wanted to let our actions speak louder than words”, he adds.
The partnership with Bendigo Bank means Up was able to skip the lengthy process of applying for its own banking licence.
Bendigo Bank provides the licensed financial products, leaving Up to manage the design, implementation and support.
“We have an existing, trusted relationship,” Pym says. He and Thomas founded another technology company which has been working with the bank on its own digital offering for the past six years.
“The partnership is strong, and they trust us to do what needs to be done,” he says,
Pym stresses Up provides technology-led banking, rather than banking-led technology.
The startup benchmarks itself against tech giants, not financial ones, Pym says.
The neobank has to have “all the normal stuff” a bank would provide, but there are also “new, unique things that no other bank in Australia has”.
Already in the startup’s pipeline is a “whole bunch of new products the banking sector in Australia hasn’t seen before”, he adds.
This is where the technology becomes disruptive.
Before Elon Musk, nobody wanted an electric car, Pym says. And before Steve Jobs created the iPad, although there were other tablets in the market, nobody wanted them.
Some other digital and challenger banks claim they’re listening to the customer and building products in line with exactly what the customers want, Pym says.
“That’s fine as a rhetoric … but actually the real innovations come not from what the customer asks for, but from what the customer doesn’t know what they want,” he adds.
“An innovation that just changes the way that customers do something.”
That’s not to say Up won’t listen to customers — that’s “an important part of it”, Pym explains.
But the other part is “to imagine what banking could be outside of what it is now”.
Instead of bringing banking products to market, Up is “bringing new technology products to market,” Pym says.
“We think that subtle difference makes a big difference in the end for the customer,” he adds.
Yin and Yang
Going from AFL coach to neobank startup founder is something of an unusual transition, but Pym says his co-founder’s coaching skills come in handy. And the founders’ skills sets are perfectly complementary, he says.
As co-founders, the pair are “the yin and the yang”, Pym says.
“[Thomas] focuses on our culture, our team and our strategy, just like he would at a footy club … my focus is the technology and the product,” he adds.
“When you put the two together it’s a fairly formidable match.”
And, while the technology piece is important for Pym, he says for any startup, the focus on culture is important too.
“The only way you can do that above-level performance is through the cultural play … if you have a great environment where everyone loves coming to work, loves the project their working on and everyone’s passionate and enthusiastic, then it’s no different to a footy club – you win the grand final,” he says.