Ever struggled to open a bank account? You are not alone. That’s why Neat, the award-winning alternative to traditional banks was launched, to make your life easier by helping you open and run a current account from your phone.
Despite being regarded as the financial capital of Asia, Hong Kong’s traditional banking system has been criticised as inaccessible to young professionals, entrepreneurs, startups and expats. In 2016, entrepreneurs David Rosa and Igor Wos launched an award-winning alternative, NEAT. We talk to Neat’s Growth Hacker and first employee Iris Ten Teije, who introduces us to banking in the 21st century and what she sees as the future of personal and corporate finance.
Moving to Hong Kong from the Netherlands in 2015, Iris echoes the struggles of many when she tells us of her battle to set up a personal bank account upon arrival. After having to hand deliver signed letters to various branches and dealing with mismatched signatures, she finally got an ATM card only to later give up altogether on her third rejected application for a credit card. She says, “What attracted me to Neat was its story, the vision and the problem they were trying to solve because that’s what I had experienced myself.”
So, what is Neat? Two and a half years ago, Iris helped the two co-founders launch their first product – an online, personal current account controlled through an app. Unlike the standard Hong Kong ATM card, the Neat MasterCard and app allows you to transfer quickly and easily, shop online, track your spending and – crucially – set up an account from your phone in ten minutes, receiving a card just a week later.
Then, in 2017, a new void in Hong Kong’s financial scene began to surface. “Whilst the first year we focused on our personal product, we began to get feedback from our customers who wanted business products due to the difficulty of setting up a corporate account with traditional banks. So, we launched Neat Business.” Targeting startups, local entrepreneurs and international customers doing business in Hong Kong, Neat created “an alternative to a corporate bank account. Neat Business provides a dedicated Hong Kong bank account number in the name of the company, local and international bank transfers and the ability to get multiple MasterCards.”
The root of Neat’s success lies in its innovative technology that all points to an easier and faster customer experience. Iris tells us how it’s probably the most mundane part of their offering that has actually proved to be the beating heart of Neat’s popularity. “Our digital onboarding and KYC, which means Know Your Customer, is central to our company. This is the due diligence process that any financial institution has to go through, so when we thought of our process, which includes using facial recognition technology to sign on a new customer, we immediately patented it. When a new customer signs up for a business account with Neat, all they need to do is upload a one sentence video of themselves and we use technology to match their face to the passport they have uploaded – it’s fully automated. We then have our technology conduct various background and compliance checks, but this is seamless and invisible to the customer. It’s cheaper and faster for both us and them.”
This new and improved access to financial solutions not only opens a number of doors for customers but also comes with manageable fees. As it is completely online, Neat doesn’t operate any physical branches and therefore avoids Hong Kong’s monstrous rent. It can also keep the team small as everything is automated. With this cost structure, they’re able to provide solutions for fresh startups, young professionals and entrepreneurs; a customer base that is typically not profitable for a traditional bank. And then there are those operating from abroad. Hong Kong is second in the world for new company incorporations per year, many with directors operating from overseas. “Online account opening is a major advantage for directors who don’t live here. Unlike opening a bank account with say, HSBC, you don’t have to spend money and time flying to Hong Kong to visit a branch and set up an account, you can just do it in ten minutes from your laptop.”
At their core, all Neat’s technological developments have been created with one purpose: a painless customer experience, even in the very machinery of the product development process. Iris explains, “We have a Customer Wish List where customers can put down their requests online and other’s can vote on it. As well as this, we ask them to trial new features and give us feedback, whether this be in an interview or a survey. We prioritise our product planning based on that because it just makes sense. We build the product for our customers so we need to give them what they want.”
With a Net Promoter Score of 91%, Iris tells us that they want to do more than provide an easier way to handle personal and corporate finances but rather create a community and change the relationship people have with financial institutions. “We want to enable and help entrepreneurs rather than hold them back which can sometimes be the way it feels with traditional banks. We just want to create a solution that adds value and saves people’s time.”
With hints of expanding to Chinese businesses and adding ten new staff members to their tight-knit team of 25, Iris assures us that this modern take on financial management has no plan of institutionalising into a branch. “We do have people come in sometimes to our office to chat and have a look around. So, if we were to open an official space, I don’t think it would be a traditional branch like you see today. It would be more like a meeting space or a community coffee shop where customers can come in and relax.”
Wrapping it up, we ask Iris the big question: is Neat the future of banking? To which she simply replies, “yes.” Having won Hong Kong’s prestigious ICT Fintech award in 2017 only a year into their launch, she could quite well be right and see Neat become a household name in the international banking game.