Fintech cozies up to the creator economy

It was inevitable: After shaking up gaming, education, media, and audio, the creator economy is infiltrating financial services. Examples abound: YouTuber Graham Stephan “buying a bank” (investing in Yotta), TikTok sensation Charli D’Amelio promoting the teen-targeted banking service Step, and influencers partnering with Braid to give away $1,000 a week to fund collaborative projects. It would be easy to dismiss all this as a marketing ploy to appeal to Gen Z consumers — on par with, say, Shaq promoting The General’s car insurance or Disney issuing an affinity card — but there’s reason to take a second look. Whereas the previous era drew on celebrity and identity to market to consumers in a purely transactional way, the latest fintech x influencer wave incorporates product features that appeal to an audience of aspiring creators.

Oxygen, for example, bundles LLC creation, invoicing, and on-the-fly insurance into its core banking product. Others are purpose-built for communityStir builds financial products and business tools specifically tailored to creators and entrepreneurs, like revenue splits for collaborations. These companies aim to meld emotional appeal and utility; marketing and product.

There’s precedent for this acquisition model in the Apple vs. PC brand war of the aughts. Though PCs had long dominated the market, Apple introduced a premium, high-margin challenger by targeting creative professionals. That strategy was telegraphed through everything from the aesthetics of the machine to the improved software (Keynote vs. PowerPoint; Pages vs. Word) to the in-store brand positioning. The Mac was positioned as the only choice for aspiring creatives, which spoke to the aspirations of Gen X and Gen Y.

Like PCs, banking is largely a commodity business. Increasingly, neobanks are converging around a commodity feature set: get paid early + debit + cash advance + high(er) yield savings. Thus, fintech companies like Step, Yotta, and Current are differentiating themselves by appealing to the aspirations — and product demands — of Gen Z. This generation is defined more by hustle culture than creative culture; indeed, our conceptions of entrepreneurship and success are being redefined (less Rolex, more F.I.R.E). Like Apple, neobanks and consumer fintech startups are positioning themselves as the premium product — desirable because of their association with top creators and useful (or aspirational!) because of bundled features that empower fans to become creators themselves. This approach works when the product combines brand positioning with utility that is purpose-built for aspiring creators, which lends the potential to be more durable than a traditional marketing partnership.

In addition, there’s opportunity for creators to directly embed their own offerings into banking products. MSCHF’s “Card V. Card” drop may be tongue in cheek, but it illustrates the creative ways influencers like David Dobrik might turn their broadcast relationship into a financial one. (Hypothetically, you could imagine that instead of giving away cars on YouTube, he could randomly award them to folks who have “Dobrik Debit.”)

We believe that consumer fintech companies with embedded product features for aspiring creators will be able to best differentiate themselves from those that are simply using creators as a way to reach an audience at scale.

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