For more than 2 million European customers, banking now has a name: George. He creates a personal digital banking experience that simplifies financial lives AND receives the industry‘s highest form of acknowledgement: being copied. George is the pan-European financial platform that aims to become the App store of European finance.
George was born in 2012 – before Open Banking was even in the cards – as a brainchild of Erste Group‘s in-house Innovation Hub in Vienna. He took the Austrian market by storm in 2015 and expanded to Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2017 and 2018, respectively. More countries, such as Romania, Croatia and Hungary, are about to open up for the platform that transforms mass market retail banking with digital g(e)orgeousness.
Like every maverick, George has two parents: analysis and ambition. In 2011, hot on the heels of the crisis and faced with a rapidly shifting landscape – technologically, politically and socially –, Erste Group concluded: The way we do banking must change! But can an incumbent disrupt itself before it is disrupted by others? To test this, Erste set up an independent innovation lab: with unconventional thinkers who moved fast, turned conservative banking on its head and came up with gutsy ideas. Their mission? Make banking great, …ehm …, simple, intelligent and personal again.
And so, George‘s other parent set to work, guided by a couple of key principles:
- Design that uncomplicates money: reimagine customers‘ experience
- Banking that feels personal: make George your own
- George for all: financial inclusion mindset
- 100% agile
George is driven by a simple vision: Being the most likeable, the cleverest and most comprehensive financial platform interface across Europe. Being the face and name for well-established and distributed retail banks in the mass market.
Because he is raised in the Erste conviction that disruption and innovation are not the prerogatives of single feature-focused fintechs alone. Erste Group does indeed have a history of two hundred years – and it is precisely because it is quick on its feet and able to transform itself, that it will be around for another two hundred years.
George has an early edge: API & plugin architecture six years in the making
You may have reasons to believe George‘s parents had foresight: from the very beginning six years ago, George was designed as an open banking platform. He is, effectively, a front-end interface with an API-based architecture built on top of existing core banking systems. There is a practical reason for this: it minimalises the impact of systems on real-time financial transactions. At the same time, it opens up the model of a traditional bank with data-driven services that add real value for customers.
George is open, connected and ever-expanding: PSD2? Bring it on!
Because he started as an early open banking platform, George can be bold about seizing the opportunities thrown up by PSD2. There is no question about it: whatever we call bank today, will have a different meaning tomorrow. But while the exact meaning is yet to surface, we are deeply convinced that platformisation will be the name of the game. As a platform so deeply open for external partners and service providers, with plugins intervening in his code, George is exceptionally customisable and flexible. George opens up through APIs and a modular platform architecture to create an ecosystem of partners. Don‘t just take our word for it: Erste‘s API hub, based in Prague, was recently ranked among the „Masters in Openness“ in Innopay‘s Open Banking Monitor.
One face, one voice, one name. And many plugins.
George can travel anywhere, yet his interface is one and the same across all countries: visual, lean and intuitive, based on the key principles of personalisation and modularisation. He also has one name and speaks with one voice in all of his home markets: human and un-bankish, addressing his customers personally and responding to them.
Here is another way to think about it: George is a modular platform, a digital financial companion with key functionalities for all customers, on top of which they can build their very own George by opting for various plugins and extras. To make banking feel personal, George has a solutions store, where some solutions are free while others come at a cost. „We use a sandbox approach to learn which services are adding value from a user perspective and to test whether users are willing to pay for them,“ is the way Erste‘s Chief Retail Officer, Peter Bosek explains.
To make real personalisation and modularity possible, the plugin concept sits at the heart of George. With over 220,000 activated plugins, George has already developed into a marketplace – or, as Peter likes to say, a financial app store, the iTunes of banking.
George‘s multiplier effect: financial literacy x 16 million people = better societies
Customers‘ response so far has been more than heartening. Once they‘ve been introduced to George, they keep coming back to him. On average, they use George Go, the mobile app, five to six times more often than Erste‘s previous mobile offerings. Emboldened by this, Erste Group is fast-tracking the rollout of George to all of its seven markets and 16 million customers – not just geographically, but also by continually adding new features and services. So much so that the Hub is set to double the number of staff –engineers, designers and coders – working on expanding George.
What does the future hold for George? And what does George hold for the future? Sure, the clever design and cutting-edge technology already make him one of Europe‘s most successful banking platforms. But with one parent a well-established bank whose DNA is to spread prosperity and the other parent an unconventional lab driven by design thinking, George was always going to be more than just a cool platform. His true usefulness lies in his wide reach. Making him accessible for as many people as possible is the real endgame. The thinking is simple and is starting to work: George helps you to better understand your money and – multiply this by 16 million – to make societies better overall.