Volt Bank may be small, but it has delivered an almighty shock to our banking sector. A little over a week ago, Volt’s heretofore short history was written into Australian banking lore, becoming the first among a handful of emerging ‘neo-banks’ to be granted an unrestricted deposit-taking licence by APRA.
The tech-centric challenger is among a handful of local start-ups vying to capture the hearts, minds, and digital wallets of Australian consumers and – perhaps more loftily – to rebuild trust within a sector marred by the revelations of the Hayne Royal Commission.
FST spoke with Volt Bank’s co-founder and chief executive, Steve Weston, on the start-up’s future prospects as a fully-fledged retail bank and why Volt will challenge expectations of what financial services can do and be for customers.
FST Media: First of all, congratulations on being granted a full banking licence by APRA! Tell us a little about what will this mean for the future of Volt Bank and how it will shape your digital agenda for 2019?
Weston: It’s an extremely exciting moment for our team, and it was no easy feat to get this far. In addition to removing the restrictions on maximum loan and deposit amounts, receiving our unrestricted banking licence before any other new entrant gives us a competitive advantage. We plan to seize upon this by rolling out digital consumer deposit and lending products in the coming months, in addition to the more immediate launch of Volt Labs, which is really going to democratise how we and the broader industry develop banking products.
FST Media: How does Volt seek to differentiate itself from Australia’s incumbent banking institutions?
Weston: We aren’t too fixated on the incumbent banks – our biggest competitor is the consumer perception that it is too hard to change banks, and we’re really looking forward to showing how simple it can be. With that said, any customers that break ties with the big four banks – whether they are joining Volt or another challenger institution – have to be considered a positive for competition in the sector.
FST Media: The reputation of established banks has undeniably been dented by the Royal Commission hearings over the past year. What is Volt Bank’s approach to providing ethical financial products and building digital trust with customers?
Weston: The misconduct exposed by the Royal Commission is undoubtedly an opportunity for challenger banks. Australians are reevaluating their relationship with their banks, which is something consumers don’t do often enough. At the same time, we realise we can’t succeed by default; we need to present an alternate vision of what banking can be and show that it can be done in a simpler and better way. Our vision is for a banking experience that is open, honest, and fair, and we believe that giving consumers greater transparency and control over their data is the best approach to doing so.
FST Media: When you spoke at FST Media’s Future of Financial Services, Sydney conference last year, you mentioned that you view Volt as much a data player as you do a bank. How, then, is Volt Bank leveraging and securing customer data?
Weston: Data is the driving force behind our push to offer competitive, innovative and tailored products and services to our customers. On an opt-in basis, customers can enable Volt to analyse their data to, for example, provide tailored tips on how to most effectively achieve their financial goals. The foundation for this is trust; we’re committed to employing best-in-class security measures, and unlike some disruptors, we are not in the business of monetising data.
FST Media: As we approach the imminent launch of Open Banking in Australia, what opportunities do you see for Volt Bank and how will you leverage your partnerships with PayPal and Collection House?
Weston: Australians have suffered from a lack of transparency and control over their banking data for a long time. As a result, changing banks, or at least shopping around for the best deal, has become too complicated and difficult. Knocking down these barriers to true competition in the sector is going to have tremendous benefits for consumers and for competition in the sector, and by extension, for Volt and other challenger banks.
The partnerships with PayPal and Collection House are particularly exciting. As their first and only Australian bank partner, new Volt customers will be able to create their accounts using their PayPal credentials. We’ll also enable greater integration between the two platforms, giving users improved visibility over their Volt and PayPal balances through the one platform, which creates an overall more seamless experience. PayPal has similar relationships with Citi, Bank of America, and Barclays in other markets, and I think it will be a big drawcard here in Australia.
We have also partnered with ASX-listed Collection House, who have acquired 4.5 per cent of Volt. We intend to collaborate on analytical tools and resources that help customers and believe more can be done on the digitisation of financial hardship identification, assessment, and treatment programs.
FST Media: What emerging technology is Volt Bank looking to implement to achieve its mission to empower customers and make financial services easier and more accessible?
As a digital and mobile-led bank which isn’t encumbered by legacy infrastructure, we’re looking forward to making banking simpler – cutting down on waiting times and excessive fees, and rolling out cutting-edge, data-driven products and services. Our Australia-first partnership with PayPal is one example of how we’re leveraging technology to empower customers, and we’re excited to roll out new consumer products and innovations in the very near future and show Australians that banking can be done in a simpler and better way.
FST Media: Can you tell us a bit more about the forthcoming launch of Volt Labs? What impact will Labs have on Volt’s wider business operations?
Weston: We have launched Volt Labs to invite customers to share their thoughts and ideas on how banking products should operate, look, and feel. In addition to collecting their ideas, it’s a platform for us to conduct early-stage testing for our latest innovations, collect feedback, and ensure that we’re delivering products which meet the needs and expectations of our customers. We’re hoping that it will be the start of an industry-wide push towards greater democratisation and collaboration of banking products and services.
FST Media: In preparing Volt for this new era of digital-centric and customer-focused banking, who do you look to for inspiration?
Weston: The UK introduced its restricted banking licence regime a few years before the comparable scheme here, and already neobanks like Monzo, Starling, and Revolut are having a big impact on the UK banking sector. They are certainly a point of inspiration – but any company which has innovated, improved competition, and empowered customers in the banking sector is worth listening to and learning from. ■