Just as crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter have revolutionised how entrepreneurs take their ideas to market, digital platforms are revolutionising business loans. Funding Circle serves two audiences: businesses looking to borrow (at time of writing 21,465 businesses have loans); and lenders looking to invest their money (58,193 people are lending).
At the heart of the brand are the simple beliefs that there is a better way of helping small business get the capital it needs, and there is a better way of helping lenders make money from savings.
“That belief is what drives all of us here” says CMO Darryl Bowman.
While there is an innate need for financial services in society, Darryl doesn’t feel it’s a prerequisite that all brands be human. He adds however that Funding Circle is different. “Our proposition – peer-to-peer lending – is human. We put those two customer groups at the heart of our business.”
Its greatest marketing challenge, as a previously unheard of brand, was how to compete with the big banks who have large profiles both on the high street and in the public consciousness. Funding Circle had to demonstrate to the market how it was different. One way it does that is by having lender and borrower videos on its website. The stories bring to life the human impact, highlighting the benefits and making business lending more tangible and understandable. “The easiest way of shining a light on the real, human benefits on both sides is through telling stories.”
Funding Circle also uses storytelling to emphasise what it does to boost the UK economy: how it helps businesses survive and grow and increase employment. “Let’s face it. Small business lending was an unloved sector. No-one was talking about it,” says Darryl.
The company’s organisational culture and ethos are aligned with its mission to help small businesses. Its employees have a real passion for helping establish and grow such enterprise.
“Part of our job in marketing is to take that genuine passion within the organisation and expose it to the outside world,” says Darryl. That humanity is manifested in the way they speak and do things. “It comes through in the language we use. Our culture. We do it with big hearts.”
Funding Circle hires people who share that attitude. “A cultural fit is essential for business growth. When you’re a 30-person startup and everyone can shout across the office, that’s easy. But when you’re like us, nearly 1000 employees, that’s harder. Recruitment and internal communication is so important.”
The challenge for Funding Circle is how to keep that spirit alive. They do that by measuring their people on teamwork. The company conducts annual performance reviews, evaluating people 25% on what they do, and 75% on how they do their job and on the values they display.
On whether humanising is becoming a bandwagon, Darryl feels sometimes that financial institutions try to retrofit a human-centered ad campaign to the brand. At Funding Circle he says he has an easier, more authentic marketing job since the brand has been mission-based since day one.
“At the heart of the business, we have a desire to do something good and to make a difference. And we have a team of people who want to do that. We have the ethos there, we have the ethics. So in a way, marketing all of that is the easy part. It’s telling that story authentically and making it relevant to customers.”
For Darryl, the key to great customer service is consistency. “Delight your customers by treating them like human beings. Every time a customer contacts us with a query or a problem it is an opportunity to live and breathe our mission and to keep building towards our vision.”
To stay ahead of the curve in the face of financial services brands jumping on that bandwagon, Darryl’s answer is to ensure the company keeps the magic strong and does not dilute it. One reason Funding Circle has such a good reputation is because it has a lot of happy customers – the challenge is to maintain that.
Darryl admits that servicing business loans could be felt to be a ‘vanilla’ activity. Yet his brand has succeeded in injecting a spirit and passion into this previously overlooked financial service. Outmaneuvering the competition will require maintaining that emotional engagement with its audience.
“We help investors earn money, we help business grow. Money is a human need: how much we earn and how much we require. At Funding Circle, we differentiate how people feel about that.”