Lately, we have been in Medellin and Bogota, Colombia, for a new digital banking project. Among others, we have organized a series of focus groups there. Without going into detail about the outcomes or setup of these sessions (we have previously written about those subjects), let’s talk about a very specific thing we covered: the tone of voice of a bank.

Traditionally, banks are seen as serious, ‘grown up’ companies that have to be taken seriously – and with good reason; money is an important factor in one’s life, and the last thing you want is ‘funny business’ to happen to your hard earned cash.

For this reason, the tone of voice has often been very serious, talking to customers in a formal way, respecting a certain ‘professional distance’, much like Batman’s butler (Alfred) would serve his master, or a valet parking boy in front of a chic hotel.

Banking is changing

But banks are changing. The good old days are over and banks seem to have found a ‘fresher, younger way’ to communicate with their audiences. FinTechs force a radical change on incumbents to reconsider their tone of voice and reinvigorate their brand presence. Sharp looking apps, millennial-focused tagline, and vibrant colors show how banks go about this change in trying to appeal to a younger audience.

Example of hip FinTech bank: Nubank

Focus group results

In our focus groups, this general trend was definitely underlined by individuals. We spoke to people ranging from 20 to 32 years old, and we asked them what kind of tone of voice they wish for, from a bank. The answer? The way a friendly yuppie talks: someone who’s a friend, of similar age, dresses nicely and has good manners. Yuppies are known for being a bit preppy and talking with a certain vocabulary, but never ’take it too far’ in being too serious or old-sounding. Instead, they have humor and know how young people think. They are your smart friend, who knows what’s up and can help you join in the success they themselves have harvested.

Another reference that was given: Jarvis, the friendly voice from Iron man’s suit. Albeit a bit more serious, she’s also a friend and companion of Iron man, wishing him the best and helping him through thick and thin.

Iron man’s Jarvis Heads up display

The reason why people would dislike a more serious tone, is because they expect a bank to understand a millennial’s busy, dynamic life: technology plays an important role in this, being at the core of many daily activities: ordering an uber, posting a Facebook comments, uploading an Instagram dinner photo, etc. Across all those platforms, they connect with their peers and communicate in a way similar to a face to face conversation. The same thing is expected and desired from banks, frankly.