Humble brags and low key trolling are some of the ingredients of a small Twitter spat between the leaders of two of the UK’s leading FinTech companies.
TransferWise and Starling Bank were supposed to be partners, but instead the leaders of the companies have found themselves on opposite sides of a low intensity war of words on Twitter. And with low, we mean blink-and-you’ll-miss-it low.
Back in 2017, the transfer company and the neobank announced that they would team up to give Starling’s customers access to TransferWise’s services in the bank’s app. While the partnership was supposed to go live in the summer of 2018, it never materialised.
Eventually, Starling CEO and founder Anne Boden told TechCrunch that she believed the challenger bank’s customers would be better served by it providing a payment solution itself.
Even though little about the cancelled team-up has been mentioned since, it seems as if emotions could be running, if not hot, then at least lukewarm.
That became apparent when one business owner tweeted, wondering if anyone had any idea of how to transfer huge sums via a Starling account to suppliers.
This gave Kristo Käärmann, co-founder and CEO of TransferWise, the opportunity to reply by telling Starling it could “build TransferWise into the Starling app. Similar what Monzo, N26 and many others have done. It’s pretty easy.”
This prompted TechCrunch reporter Steve O’Hear to tweet, “FinTech trolling is a thing.”
Boden replied to O’Hear’s tweet with a kind of humble brag. “Sorry to be so slow in responding – we have been busy lending £258m to SMEs since Monday and also funding another £300m [through] Funding Circle. Getting the loans to the people that need them!” Boden tweeted.
The tweet came on the back of the digital bank being accredited by the British Business Bank as a lender under the government-backed Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS). This has empowered the challenger bank to offer term loans of between £2,000 and £50,000 to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are struggling financially as a result of the coronavirus emergency.
The scheme would enable SMEs to apply for loans with a fixed interest rate set at 2.5% and they would be able to enjoy zero interest in the first 12 months, as the interest will be claimed by Starling, on customers’ behalf, from the government. SMEs would be able borrow up to a maximum of 25% of their annual turnover without any personal guarantees required.
It opened for BBLS applications on Monday 11 and the bank has been understandably busy ever since, having reported that it had approved hundreds of millions of pounds in loans since.
Boden acknowledged this effort earlier this week by tweeting, “Thank you to the [Starling Bank] team who are working round the clock to get Bounce Back loans into the hands of the owners of small businesses. We still have a lot of applications to process but we will work night and day until the job is done.”
But as the old adage says, you can’t satisfy everyone. Several small business owners reached out on Twitter, asking Boden why they hadn’t been granted a loan.
“I am in desperate need, fit the criteria, yet declined with no reason why,” one user tweeted. “Your staff customer service levels have been great all the way through the application. But now I have never been so stressed in my life. Please help my business and family depend on it.”
Another one added, “I can’t cope. Hoping for good news today.”
A third said, “I meet the criteria, solvent business that has reported a profit in every tax return, have poor credit from previous business six years ago. Was guaranteed this would have no bearing, clearly does with Starling. Even though they opened me a sole trader business account and took my deposits. Feels like it’s a case of if your face fits. Even though my local MP has confirmed that we shouldn’t be declined on credit rating. That or I’m a fraudster.”
FinTechs taking the mick out of each other is nothing new. Earlier this year digital banks Revolut and Monzo were at the centre of a similar, albeit more intense, incident.
That story started with Monzo’s Twitter account tweeting, “If you had a magic wand, what’s [the] one feature you’d add to Monzo tomorrow?”
Revolut’s account quickly replied, “Auto-switch to Revolut button.”
As FinTech Global reported at the time, some people loved the humour, whilst other took it as an opportunity to call out Revolut for what they thought of as poor customer services.
“The hijack was a bold move from Revolut,” Sarah Moloney, managing director at KWT Global in London, a public relations agency, told FinTech Global at the time. “However, unless you’re a robust brand and in a position to wow potential customers, it’s best to play safe and in your own playground. The reaction to Revolut from Monzo customers, saw what was a positive request for feedback from Monzo turn into a rather public social stoning of Revolut. Not cool for Revolut and definitely not cool for Monzo as its unwilling host.”
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