It’s pretty easy to tell what phone someone has when you’re with them, but what about their bank?
Well, most people probably wouldn’t bother asking a stranger or even a close friend what bank they use. Angelo D’Alessandro hopes to change that with his startup Buddybank.
“Banking is really, really boring. People don’t care about banking. They use banks because it’s a safe place to have their savings and salaries, but we don’t know which kind of bank our friends are using because who cares?” D’Alessandro told Mashable. “The mission is to transform banking into something cool.”
Buddybank, a startup within Italian bank UniCredit, is an attempt to make banking on the go not just simple but fun to use. One way it’s trying to do that is with an aesthetically pleasing mobile app and also an integrated personal concierge service. On Monday, the service launched in Italy and plans to grow in that country over the next year before adding on new markets.
Buddybank’s app, available now, is free to download. But to use the functions of the banking app, you’ll need to apply to get a MasterCard debit or credit card through UniCredit, one of the largest European banks.
If the company continues to grow, the service would be a millennial dream. Buddybank is not a peer-to-peer payments app like Venmo or Zelle, and it’s not a robo-advisor like Wealthfront or Ellevest. It’s a 21st century re-imagination of what a bank should do for its customers in the era of smartphones.
For example, Buddybank customers don’t need to worry about losing a physical card since everything is stored digitally. If their card is stolen, Buddybank can issue a new one in minutes rather than forcing a customer to wait for one in the mail. If someone is traveling abroad, Buddybank can check on transactions via in-app text messaging. The requirement to dial an 800 number or visit a retail store is gone.
“We want to undress the banks,” D’Alessandro said, dressed himself in a black hoodie with the name Buddybank in white. He doesn’t always dress in branded startup attire and noted an Apple executive once teased him for always wearing suits when he visited their offices.
Buddybank is launching only for the iPhone, in part to restrict its market as it grows, according to D’Alessandro. BuddyBank also has developed a close relationship with Apple, and the co-founder cited other reasons for his preference for the device.
“We love Apple for pureness, beauty, and the security,” D’Alessandro said.
The name Buddybank is “because we want to be the buddy of our customers. Besides the technology, UX, iPhone technology, here the core asset is the human value,” he continued.
Direct banking matters, like replacement cards and checking on transactions, can be addressed for free via Buddybank. But another core feature of the startup is a 24/7 concierge service, also accessible via the app, that can help users do just about anything. D’Alessandro said the service will remind people of anniversaries and birthdays and also help plan trips and buy meals, for example.
“When you’re on-boarded from your iPhone we will ask you questions. We call it ‘love data’, a term we invented that’s the ten things that people love to do,” D’Alessandro said.
Example questions include: “What do you like to do in your free time?” and “What’s the trip of your dreams?”
“You won’t keep downloading apps. It’d be easier if you could just ask questions through messenger.”
Buddybank’s messaging service is available for a fee of 9.90 euros per month. Requests will be fulfilled via real human employees assisted by chatbots and artificial intelligence. It sounds like an expensive operation, and it can be. In fact, Facebook offered a similar service called “M” and shut it down this month.
Even though Facebook dropped its virtual assistant, services like Buddybank are betting on messaging. Rob LoCascio, founder and CEO of messaging service LivePerson, told Mashable that he predicts these companies will grow, especially with the rise of Apple Business Chat.
“We’re going to see a great shift from digital websites and apps to conversational user experiences,” LoCascio said. “You won’t keep downloading apps. It’d be easier if you could just ask questions through messenger.”
Going forward, D’Alessandro’s big vision is to hide the bank within Apple’s iOS. He imagines banking becoming more like an everyday activity, similar to texting a friend.
“In your contacts you have Buddybank, and we’ll ask you for another authentication. From there you can manage your financial life and lifestyle,” D’Alessandro said. “We don’t really need any more applications.”