Debt is a big problem in the UK. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales dealt with 4022 new debt problems every day during the quarter ending June 2016. Entrepreneur Emanuel Andjelic developed Squirrel with Mutaz Qubbaj to solve his own headache, when he got into debt following a business investment some years ago.
Squirrel is a money management app that helps people control their spending, simplifying budgeting and saving money. Users input their monthly expenses and financial goals. The app then keeps savings safe, paying out spending and bill money as users need it.
The inspiration for Squirrel came from an age-old tried and tested technique.
“People have used jars of money with labels on them to manage spending for hundreds of years,” says Emanuel. “At Squirrel, we’ve built a digital version of that.” Squirrel’s differentiator to other apps is that it adds another layer, controlling how people have access to those jars.
Emanuel explains that being a human brand is about approachability and fun. The name itself suggests playfulness and warmth. “We want it to be like you’re talking to a friend, not a bank,” says Emanuel. “However, it’s important that we’re not just friendly in our interaction with customers but we’re also trusted.”
Squirrel’s biggest challenge was communicating to consumers they could trust a business they had never heard of to look after their money. Squirrel turned to storytelling and PR to humanise the brand and build that trust. Videos on their website shine the light on customer stories and the difference the app has made to
Emanuel concedes that “good old fashioned PR” works well for them. “Seeing Squirrel in places such as The Sun and Wired helps that trust. It would have been hard to communicate that via a conventional ad campaign.”
In addition, Squirrel decided to post reviews from Trustpilot on their home page. The brand has no control over the content of customer feedback.
One recent Trustpilot review is headed ‘Life-saving tool’. The reviewer goes on to say, “I’ve always struggled with overspending. I’m not good at impulse control or keeping myself accountable when it comes to money, but everything [with Squirrel] has run perfectly smoothly and I’m now on the road to financial stability.”
The fact that Squirrel makes a real difference to people’s financial wellbeing and quality of life reinforces its value as a human brand. “Reading tear-jerking,
life-changing stories from our customers gives us a boost. Having that sense of social purpose is important to me as an entrepreneur,” says Emanuel.
That sense of purpose filters down through the whole organisation. Sometimes customers speak to Squirrel in a financial emergency when they need access to funds. Advisers should be empathetic and understanding.
“We hire the right people. We give free reign to our advisers to talk human and deal with problems as they see fit,” he says.
Squirrel is aware of the stress caused by money. The brand is talking to The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute about how it can help the charity’s aim to break the link between financial difficulty and mental health problems.
Emanuel and Mutaz also want to disrupt credit culture and put lenders who charge extortionate interest rates out of business. “Yes, there is a higher purpose to get people out of debt and have a better relationship with money. It feels good to be building something that does good,” says Emanuel. This mission provides Squirrel with an authentic point of difference.
Financial wellbeing used to be a taboo. Now companies are recognising they need to take responsibility for their staff’s relationship with money. Squirrel is working with employers to offer their service as an employee benefit.
“Employers have been providing perks such as gym memberships and fruit bowls for years. Now they’re recognising the importance of both mental and financial health. Financial worries can cause workplace stress and problems with absenteeism. We want to negate the effects of mismanaging money.”
So, what’s the opportunity for this sector? Emanuel is looking forward to the change in the banking industry in 2018 when open banking APIs come into force, part of the government’s review of the banking industry. This change means that apps like Squirrel can plug directly into bank accounts. “Products such as ours can come along and improve banking. More innovations will emerge and the banks will wake up. Banks will become the plumbing underneath what the clever FinTech and startups do. Ultimately the consumer will benefit from all this.”
Being a human brand is also about being there when the customer needs them. In the future, staying human in customer relationships will be provided by a mix of people and AI.
“We see future scenarios where you will barely be able to tell the difference between a robo-adviser and a human. Consumers won’t mind, if it improves the customer experience. After all, a robo-adviser who answers your question quickly and smoothly is better than waiting in a call centre queue.”