The great fintech name grab

A decade or so ago, most banks and financial services companies had solid, reliable names such as National Westminster, HSBC and Bank of America. These titles were dry and uninspired, perhaps. But, there was no reason for these banks to even attempt to be anything different from the traditional institutions that they were.

Consequently, when a new online bank arrived on the scene calling itself ‘Egg’, it was like a ray of yellow sunshine on a grey landscape. By then many of the old established banks were closing smaller branches, it was becoming increasingly difficult to speak to a bank manager and customers were beginning to feel alienated from those holding their money. Enter a bank named after a something we often have for breakfast and already its intention to be a friendly, accessible alternative was clear.

Since then we’ve become used to banks with punchy titles such as ‘Smile’, ‘Atom’, ‘ ‘Square 1 Bank’ and, for those who like their brands to be more literal, ‘Simple’. At the same time, there’s been a huge rise in financial technology (fintech) firms creating products – either software or products and services for customers or the banks themselves made possible by technology.  Previously, the very thought of financial institutions offering ‘products’ rather than their services would have appeared strange in itself. However the need to differentiate from the competition has become a market life force.

Now, it seems, UK fintechs registered a record number of trademarks last year – 4,228 up from 3,141 in 20111. Recognising how easy it is to   for emerging competitors to copy financial products, they have sensibly decided to protect their intellectual property before it’s too late.

Numbers look set to rise further. Despite fears that Brexit would harm the industry, it’s predicted that 2017 will be a record year for fintech with London as one of the leading centres. Currently, investors are pouring hundreds of millions of pounds into promoting new products and services for the financial industry. According to research from London & Partners, they have pumped over £825 million into UK fintech companies so far this year. In the US, Forbes reports that fintechs raised $3.5 billion in the first half of 2017.

As a result, finding and registering a unique mark in the same industry will become increasingly more difficult. It’s also going to become more important to protect each brand, especially in a crowded market, with trademark infringement on the rise and more channels than ever to monitor. Despite registering their trademark, these start-ups will need to be vigilant to ensure their brand continues to be protected.

Traditional banks also recognise the importance of creating and protecting strong brands. –Over the years we have gradually adopted the term ATM or automated teller machine for the machine that gives us our cash. But if you think the word ‘cashpoint’ is preferable, you should know that it’s a trade name belonging to the UK high street bank Lloyds.

Likewise if you like to visit the ‘the hole in the wall’. Surprisingly this term was registered as a trademark of Barclays in 2006.  The bank may not be called something warm and friendly, but was obviously determined to do something to show its human side after all.