Building a fully licensed corporate neo bank

Summary

Founders Bank aims to be the go-to bank for founders and their businesses. We led on helping them create a lean and agile challenger bank with a focus on crypto-driven sectors. We devised the digital strategy, delivered end-to-end implementation across product, technology, and both the brand and product design.

12

Month engagement

10

AWS cloud integrations

40

Interviews with corporate banking clients

4

Parallel workstreams

Sectors
  • Banking

  • Financial Services

The brief

A digital fully licensed corporate neo bank

Outcomes

  • Digital end-to-end
  • World class customer experience
  • Propositions tailored to the audience
  • Account connecting fiat and crypto

Our client, an entrepreneurial team of seasoned banking executives tasked us with the definition and implementation of a new challenger bank.

We were tasked with positioning a green-field banking proposition in a market to provide a solution for the customer niche: business founders and businesses from technology-driven sectors. We started the engagement by delivering an action-oriented digital strategy that was then implemented by a multidisciplinary team across product, design and technology.

Over the course of the initial 12-week strategic definition, we created a strategic plan to guide the implementation phase we had to focus on four key areas:

1. The digital product proposition - i.e. the entirety of the consumer proposition, rather than the internal, operational processes.

2. Branding and cross-channel design - We would help Founders Bank craft a set of values to form the foundation of the visual identity. Based on that, we could then roll out the design for all assets, crafting a complete graphical language: across the digital portal, decks, merchandise, business cards and so on.

3. The solution architecture - We would design a cloud based composable solution architecture across all of the domains required to license and run a bank. Undertake due diligence of potential SaaS suppliers and outline scalable infrastructure that will underpin it all.

4. Value proposition - we helped our stakeholders to focus on a desirable, viable and feasible value proposition to combine the stakeholders’ vision, the market opportunity and the customer needs.

More than any other environment, an application to a central banking regulator requires that every decision we make would be traceable, defendable, backed with proper evidence and an audit trail. Being too light on documentation was not an option.

Elsewhen were uniquely able to assist us in creating a compelling product end-to-end. They excel in harnessing technology to make distinctive propositions possible.

- Santiago Matheus, Chief Product Officer

The Plan

Defining a desirable, viable and feasible corporate neo bank

In order to kick off the Implementation phase, Founders Bank would require a solid plan to provide a unified strategy, value proposition, implementation roadmap and a solution architecture.

During the initial 12-week Discovery process—or digital strategy engagement—we would evaluate, workshop, research and prototype across technology, product design and product strategy. We would converge the building blocks comprising the product, describe the integration points, map out gaps, outline the customer journeys and create a cohesive picture of the initiative and next steps leading Founders Bank into the Implementation phase.

Our approach would incorporate all aspects of product strategy, product design and technology. We would need to give particular attention to rethinking KYC/AML in light of Founders Bank’s unique value proposition, as well as coming up with a scalable brand for the new venture.

To be able to execute the Founders Bank vision we needed to incorporate a combination of off-the-shelf SaaS vendors products, bespoke technology IP developed for Founders Bank, and unique operational processes, and then integrate these into a seamless world-class customer experience.

From day one, it was clear we would be working horizontally across the entire product, as well as vertically into specific features, to define a modern and robust stack. We would need to make decisions from high level infrastructure (e.g. AWS, Google and Azure) down to the specific libraries for development.

Our client was aiming to apply for a full banking license with a relatively quick turnaround, so we had to both be prepared to begin building the bank but also preparing ourselves for a regulatory deep dive. More than any other environment, an application to a central banking regulator requires that every decision we make would be traceable, defendable, backed with proper evidence and an audit trail. Being too light on documentation was not an option.

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The Need

Identifying the Jobs To Be Done in crypto banking

Processes

  • Phased execution planning
  • Stakeholder Interviews
  • Jobs To Be Done
  • Documentation
  • Feature prioritisation
  • Value proposition

The bank’s leadership—made up of investors, partners and other senior stakeholders—held a strong vision on how they could provide value for this underserved segment, but crucially these were just assumptions that would need to be challenged and turned into a robust proposition.

In the initial ‘Discovery’ phase, we began by conducting a global market scan, identifying the different players, their strengths, and where we could seize the opportunity within the areas of interest.

As always, we conducted a series of user interviews as part of this process. The challenge here was to identify and access the right individuals. We were on the lookout for company owners, entrepreneurs, CEOs and finance directors. We leveraged our network of partners and user researchers, and ran about 40 interviews over the span of three weeks. Using the Jobs To Be Done framework, we shaped an evidence-based understanding of needs, how they are being met today, and what solutions will better these stakeholders’ situations.

Across those interviews, we identified 10 Jobs To Be Done. After a prioritisation process with the team, Founders Bank had a clear understanding of needs, and could steer efforts and budgets into the right direction.

The interviews, alongside the initial assumptions, proved to be key in shaping the proposition of the future bank. Some elements which started as high-priority were deprioritised, while others which originally seemed to be less important to the core offering, were assigned a much higher priority.

Operational Complexity

Underserved customers and a lack of frameworks

Through our initial conversations with the Founders Bank team, and following further research into the customer and market, it became clear that existing banking solutions were badly undeserving the very customers Founders Bank hoped to help.

To understand why, it’s important to understand the full context for those customers: On the one hand, the market for SME banking is becoming more competitive than ever. A single or dual-director SME would face no issues opening a bank account within minutes in the UK and Europewithin a matter of days in most European countries. However, businesses operating in the space of blockchain, cryptocurrencies and other innovative technologies face an enormously high barrier to bank, whether with neobanks or an incumbent due to the KYC/AML risks associated with the ecosystem.

The lack of risk frameworks and aversion to risk held by these banks leads to immediate rejection in most cases, or a lengthy, non-transparent onboarding process, which may take up to six months. Accounts, once opened, are under the danger of sudden closures, with no prior notice or means to prepare for such an eventuality.

The lack of frameworks and the risk appetite of most banks, highlight the opportunity and laid the foundations for our business case - a niche for the new bank, focusing on high(er) risk clients, while ensuring rigorous KYC and AML process as means for business continuity.

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Risk

Rethinking KYC/AML for a new customer profile

Due to Founders Bank’s unique value proposition that incorporated crypto-enabled banking and banking for customers in the crypto ecosystem, we needed to design a new KYC/AML process. The goal would be to safely onboard customers who have less conventional risk profiles.

This meant creating a robust risk scoring and analytical capability to be able to set monitoring rules. While there is a lot of off-shelf technology that has been developed for traditional customers to cover some of Founders Bank’s needs, we needed to gauge what was actually possible, while of course working closely with Founders Bank stakeholders to determine the appetite to create original IP in this area.

Brand Design Approach

A digital-first brand

Solutions

  • Brand positioning
  • Logo
  • Marketing assets (web and print)
  • Design principles
  • Digital brand guidelines
  • Design system

We worked on designing a scalable brand for Founders Bank that would form the basis for the visual language across the user interface, sales collateral and marketing touchpoints. We helped Founders Bank position the brand personality, by building on the stated values and mission, and mapping out how the brand would live on the different touchpoints.

Our process:

1. To start, we ran interactive workshops to form an agreed creative brief for our work, and also create a shared understanding of creative references shared by the Founders Bank team.

2. We then took early findings from the JTBD and user story mapping work to help us create website and platform concept screens, and design two to three different creative executions of how Founders Bank could achieve this vision.

3. From feedback sessions with the Founders Bank team and select CEO users, we narrowed down this execution to three possible routes, one of which was a clear winner with the Founders Bank team.

4. Based on that one route, we were able to establish rules for the creative direction of the website, platform, and the Founders Bank brand online, with a plan for how to roll it out further to all remaining outputs, from the user interface to the final collateral that we will be handing over.

5. We then continued working in sprints to roll out the creative decisions we’d made together, designing key template types.

Technology approach

Buy vs. build and vendor due diligence

Processes

  • Phased execution planning
  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Jobs To Be Done
  • Documentation
  • Feature priorisation
  • Value proposition

In terms of technology, we consulted on all aspects of the product and solution architecture, running a workstream in parallel to the product discovery process. This was focused on helping the bank make the right technological choices. We decided whether to ‘build vs. buy’ for each component or product, consulting with Founders on the tradeoffs and risks in respect to particular technical decisions that had to be made before execution starts.

We were at once fleshing out the practical proposition for its desirability, feasibility and viability, considering potential pivots that might be required in the future, and taking into account time-to-market requirements. To meet these time-to-market requirements, we made a decision to use third-party providers when possible, and focus our efforts on ensuring smooth orchestration of services. Being API-led, we also needed to ensure that we will be exposing certain services to the world while keeping others internally.

The market for tech products that could support our requirements is quite broad, so to select the most suitable vendors to work with, we ran a due-diligence process for services which are core to our offering. Among other aspects, we inspected API availability, readiness and documentation as part of initial vendor due diligence. Where possible, we used a combination of our already existing relationships and expertise to recommend potential partners that can satisfy requirements and key APIs we could utilise.

Where we were instead developing our own technology, we defined in detail how it would function and integrate internally and externally. The final decisions were captured in an architectural document corresponding to the roadmap, customer journey and prototype.

Solution Architecture approach

Event-driven microservices design

Due to the sensitive nature of handling finances, it was paramount to see in real time the health of every service and the system as a whole, which introduced complications around encryption and security. This fundamentally shaped our decisions on how we designed the bank's infrastructure.

We aimed to design a clear flow that could be submitted to the regulator ahead of time, and reflect the highest standards of banking technology and clear adherence to compliance.

We knew we wanted to take advantage of Kubernetes, both from the perspective of rapid scalability and stability. The infrastructure would be built on micro pieces that communicate with each other, so each piece can be recreated, and if a piece needs more bandwidth, the state can scale that, and can replicate those micro pieces. Then you can do the reverse: i.e. if a piece becomes unstable, you just kill it, and therefore maintain overall stability.

One of the other great benefits of event-driven design is that we have a sequence of events/actions that are ordered by time. This is extremely valuable from a compliance point of view, as we can replay history and find the moment that an event took place.

We designed a flow that meant we could isolate the core banking solution, keeping products and services separate so they could be easily swapped out, and new products added further down the line. There were many important challenges to resolve in our decision making:

1. Consistency in the data and the order of events will need to be maintained. How could we easily ensure this consistency?

2. Potentially, most of the third parties services would be invoked through https, which has the potential for errors and latency, how could we mitigate those risks?

3. We would need to find a solution to avoid overloading the system with queue back-ups in case one of the third party services is down

4. We would also need a correct split of the microservices to avoid creating a distributed monolith.

5. Finally, we would also need to make the right decisions to effectively handle the event pipeline messages encryption and the security boundaries in the cluster.

Implementation

Agile multidisciplinary teams

Technologies

  • React
  • Python
  • PostgreSQL
  • Serverless
  • Kubernetes
  • Terraform
  • Drone

We delivered the Founders Bank team a solid plan that outlined a unified strategy, value proposition, execution roadmap and a high fidelity prototype. The plan was communicated in detail with the stakeholders and signed off. This allowed us to move to the next phase, the Implementation phase.

No plan survives contact with reality, however planning is paramount. Once we commenced Implementation, the ability to release software often and react to change became the key policy for our team. Elsewhen became the Founders Bank product team (from an IT perspective).

Our multidisciplinary team of product managers, product designers, front and backend engineers worked in two week Agile sprints to implement the Roadmap. The Roadmap itself was a living artifact, meaning it was constantly evolving to respond to the reality that the team encountered.

The design team moved slightly ahead of the engineering team to define user stories, making decisions on delivering value so it always positively impacts the users. We released software daily to the cloud environment, allowing us to concentrate on producing working software, and every two weeks demo to the stakeholders the progress the team is making.

We used the latest technologies and methodologies to be able to move quickly through the backlog. From the design perspective we bypassed wireframes, instead working directly into high fidelity designs that become the cornerstone of the user stories. The designs were executed in a collaborative design and prototyping tool Figma. The user stories are then worked on by Frontend and Backend engineers to deliver the API and web components that satisfy the acceptance Tests. Automated testing is securing the code through the change iterations. At every code push and integration, test suites are executed by a continuous integration server to insure stability and quality assurance. In parallel to this work, our team continued to configure the acquired capabilities such as the core banking system.

Our product, design and engineering consultants are all working directly with the stakeholders. This means that every person on the team has an understanding of the business context and the customer needs directly. This is a much more effective, streamlined and inclusive way of working. This agile collaborative approach to software engineering ensures that we deliver value fast at the highest level of quality.

Summary

Founders Bank aims to be the go-to bank for founders and their businesses. We delivered a plan that ecompassed a unified strategy, a value proposition, an execution roadmap and a high fidelity prototype. The plan was signed off, allowing us to move into the Implementation phase.

12

Month engagement

10

AWS cloud integrations

40

Interviews with corporate banking clients

4

Parallel workstreams

Let's talk about your project

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