On the up · 26 July 2017

Creating a trusted brand to get customers to part with hard-earned cash

How do you create a trusted brand to look after people's savings?
How do you create a trusted brand to look after people’s savings?

Emanuel Andjelic founded Squirrel, a savings tool, after hitting financial road-blocks of his own. But how can you convince people your trusted brand is worthy of their savings?

Squirrel is an online tool that allows people to manage savings more efficiently. It helps you set goals and a budget, and automatically diverts the agreed amount to a separate savings account.

The idea was born out of the founder’s own personal struggles with finances. Emmanuel Andjelic nearly went bankrupt whilst running his first business – he had taken out a load of credit on top of his student debts to get the business started and wasn’t making any money.

He admitted he was all over the place – jumping train barriers to get to work and borrowing money from employees to make ends meet. Fortunately, the business eventually did well, his finances recovered and he later sold the business. However, he pledged that his next business would put an end to payday lenders. Together with his business partner, he created Squirrel.

The journey has not been without its challenges, and key among them has been gaining the trust of consumers. Here, Andjelic explains how he deals with such obstacles as part of our Problem Solvers series – an ongoing campaign highlighting some of the shared challenges early-stage entrepreneurs face.

What challenges have you faced since starting the business?

Raising money to enable us to grow a team and build an awesome product was challenging back in the day when we just had an idea and vision of what Squirrel could become.

Next, we had to find suppliers that were willing to take us seriously and invest their time and energy in getting us off the ground, all off the back of the promise of greatness.

Finally, getting accredited by the Financial Conduct Authority was another mountain we had to climb with few resources, customers or credibility.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The hardest part of this journey was acquiring our first clients. We designed a solution that involves handling customer’s money, and that requires a lot of trust. As a small business without a trusted brand, we had to work really hard to convince people they could trust us with their money.

How do you reassure people that their money is safe?

The fact is that money held in Squirrel is completely safe and ring-fenced in an FCA regulated account, held in Barclays. If anything happened to us or Barclays, customers would get all their money back as it is money held in their name and protected as such.

Whilst that message alone is a strong one, people naturally seek additional social proof and we gained lots of that through a load of positive PR in most of the mainstream newspapers, as well as winning a host of awards for our product.

How else do you market your services and get your name out there?

In the early days when we needed it most, we got a lot of great exposure by being part of the first ever Barclays Techstars business accelerator programme. We then went on to win the Duke of York’s prestigious “Pitch at Palace” competition, followed by WIRED magazine’s 2015 London tech show.

Since then we’ve had a steady stream of positive media – featuring in the The Times, The Telegraph, The Sun, Mirror, Evening Standard and CNN. Most recently, we were awarded best savings product in the Fair Banking Foundation’s 2017 market report, beating last year’s winner NatWest to first place.

How has KPMG Small Business Accounting helped you get to where you are now?

The early days of any business are a real challenge, in our case it was especially tough, as we were effectively building a new type of bank account from scratch. Having a partner like KPMG from the outset gave us lots of credibility with our banking partners, suppliers and especially the regulator. Easy access to KPMG’s extended network of professional advisors within the organisation has also proven invaluable at crucial stages in our development. The small business accounting service is also priced extremely competitively, meaning we get an A class service at the price of a high street accountant.

What advice would you give to any other businesses who need to build a trusted brand right now?

You need to start with a product or service that is genuinely great and one that works, only with that kind of foundation can you build a good reputation. The trust then follows and has to be earned.

Tell the world what you’re doing at every opportunity and try to tell a story that is genuine and human. If people buy into that story, they will tell others and people will write about it. Opening yourself up to public criticism and scrutiny is key to making people believe in your business.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I sometimes wonder if it wouldn’t just be simpler to get a job and not have all the stress, but it doesn’t take me long to realise that it’s the stress of running a startup and trying to build something amazing that gets me up in the morning.

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Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Business Advice. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.