Claudia Vassena, Head of buddybank, explains how innovation is increasingly key to social interactions and celebrates how technology boosts engagement with younger clients.
You were forerunners of virtual interaction before it became necessary. How was your 2020? And what did it mean to be a lifestyle bank in 2020?
Buddybank customers were already used to being entirely digital and accessing their accounts via smartphones, so 2020 was an endorsement of the business model.
Thanks to the immediate security regulations, issued by UniCredit Group early in the pandemic, colleagues started working from home in complete safety, as early as the end of February, guaranteeing our usual 24/7 shifts. In February and March, many customers wrote to us asking how we were, ensuring a strong client relationship.
Even lifestyle requests, which we thought might drop off due to travel restrictions, have remained stable: from booking trips and restaurants, we have moved on to requests to manage flight cancellation policies, find masks (which were impossible to find in those days), contact pharmacies for quick swab tests and send gifts to distant parents.
We understood that the world was changing and stopped the previous marketing plan, moving on to home entertainment proposals such as our podcast Morgana or the Niente di Strano livestreaming concerts. We also provided psychological support with the edition of Prendiamola con Filosofia and the partnership with Mindwork, a digital platform for psychotherapists.
What does innovation mean at buddybank? What are your plans for 2021?
Innovation at buddybank means evolving the concept of banking into something that blends in with other aspects of everyday life. It certainly means improving the app to increase its performance and creating a variety of products that can satisfy all our customers. With this in mind, we started 2021 with a partnership with Paypal; we have expanded the product offering for customers on the Android platform, with both cards and personal loans available for them; we will also be integrating premium partners, who have been excellent at digital customer management.
Does the fact your app is aimed at a young audience mean you have a different way of connecting with your customers? What values and trends do you share with them?
We don't have a different way of relating to them, but our chat certainly makes a difference and helps stimulate conversation. The language that is used, the methods even voice notes or emoji are in line with how younger people express themselves. It puts them at ease and they are not ashamed to ask basic questions, such as understanding the difference between credit and debit cards, understanding amortisation plans or asking for help for a F24 payment, because it might be the first time in their lives.
Digital and human: how important is personal interaction in a moment like this?
Digital technology’s potential in terms of production, work and everyday life processes is amazing. We need to find a way to be "digitally educated", because this pandemic has also shown a strong territorial disparity regarding accessibility for some. From the very beginning, we have been working on empathy. This approach has been crucial, due to the fact that we were born as a small start-up where the human factor – in which we really believe – floods in each area of expertise and is a key element for the success of the project.
And we are curious about you. How much did your female vision help you manage a geek project? Do you think innovation is an area where women can contribute more?
Innovation and banking tend to be linked to the male world, but it doesn't have to be that way. There are still many biases and it is often not easy to recognise them and therefore change.
When I mention the word money, to a large extent you don't think of it as something positive, yet thanks to it we can live our lives or offer a better life to others, innovate and create wonderful things. In our culture, it often has negative connotations and if it's a woman talking about it, it's even worse, someone will say "a good girl doesn't talk about money". These ideas are a huge challenge, but are what will change the world.
A woman will finally have the courage to ask for a salary proportionate to her merits, or will feel the need to have her own bank account, in addition to a joint account with her partner, to use her own credit card and not one with her partner's name on it. The Morgana podcast, we’ve been running since July 2020, aims at making people think about this, recounting examples of women who have innovated taking advantage of their financial independence.
Forbes Italy has listed you as one of the "100 Top Women" of 2020. What did this achievement mean for you?
I wasn't expecting it, it was a pleasant surprise. I immediately shared the honor with the whole team, they put my name on it, but with me there is a team of people who inspire me to do better, who are not short of ideas and criticism... and then I admit I immediately sent a photo to my mum and dad, who I think bought all the copies available at the newsagents in Lecco!