Table of Contents
The Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two characters that mean danger and opportunity. The 2008 Financial Crisis sowed distrust in Wall Street but the shift in consumer sentiment creates opportunities for fintech startups like Cleo.
The London, England-based mobile app has an unconventional approach to making Millennials and Generation Z financially literate. It uses an AI-powered (artificial intelligence) chatbot; communicates honestly and humorously; and aligns money advice with user interests (and not banks’).
A demographic that’s annoyed with banks
“It’s Your Money. Own It.” That’s the mantra on meetcleo.com.
In financial services, consumers don’t necessarily “own” or control their money 24/7. Banks lend out deposits (meaning the money is not in the vault) while compensating depositors just 2% APR (annual percentage rate). Customers also have trouble accessing their funds after 5 p.m. and weekends.
There are other banking practices that agitate people. Overdraft fees, hidden charges, expensive ATM fees, legalese that absolve the bank from responsibility. And self-serving advice that seemingly put customers at a disadvantage.
Cleo, the personal finance app, is the antithesis of that.
Meet an AI-assistant for money
Barney Hussey-Yeo, CEO of Cleo, believes there’ll be a Google-size company that will emerge in the next five years, telling Forbes last year that such a firm will “become the financial interface” for Millennials and Generation Z. Cleo’s conversational interface speaks the young crowd’s language: Younger generations are informal and use images, emojis, and memes to get their point across.
“Memes and culture are interchangeable,” says Stephen T. Johnson, CEO of the influencer platform Flipmass and expert who has worked on meme-advertising campaigns with brands. “Memes transcend culture in a way that anyone can understand.”
Since 2016, Cleo has amassed nearly 2.8 million users worldwide, with a fairly strong rating of 4.8 out of 5 stars. The AI-powered assistant helps users to manage their finances by accessing bank transactions and payment history. The data provides a basis for how a consumer can save money, and how much he/she can spend on food, shopping, and other expenses.
The power of conversational language
Cleo’s magic is found in its convenience and unassuming communication style: You can ask simple questions and get immediate answers about money, such as daily or weekly budget. The AI-powered app also tracks expenses and what categories they fall under. In short, the AI-powered app helps people reach financial goals.
That’s in contrast to bank websites, which tend to communicate in a traditional but hollow tone. The content, including the fine print, are also filled with jargon that most folks won’t understand. Moreover, the underlying mistrust creates a psychological barrier: It prevents a skeptical audience from embracing what the bank says.
With Cleo, you might read an occasional f-bomb. But you feel that it’s chatting honestly.
This contrasts with Wall Street’s formal but self-serving and lifeless message. Cleo’s money advice is delivered tongue-in-cheek and with emotional intelligence. The lighthearted approach wins over audiences, all 2.8 million of them.
“When people communicate over the internet, there’s a new emerging style that audiences pay attention to,” says Johnson. “On the internet, there’s a different way to communicate and memes are part of that. Brands can be more effective in communicating over the web by using memes. It’s also important to make sure that brands feel good about the content.”
He says memes have been effective in capturing impressions. When working with brands, he has seen hockey-stick performance in terms of digital marketing.
There are new media companies like Atlanta-based Doing Things Media who specialize in meme advertising. A picture speaks a thousand words, and memes have the advantage of conveying much to audiences who have micro-attention spans. The agency has run Cleo ads on Instagram pages like @fourtwenty and @shitheadsteve that have millions of followers. Memes have an ability to generate viral impressions at a lower cost than other advertising methods.
Advertising through memes
As a banking/financial app, Cleo differentiates itself by using comical memes in its chats, as well as advertising. The funny images or texts often spreads rapidly online, which makes them a lucrative medium for brands. Cleo’s memes resonate with audiences who want to achieve financial goals without taking the process (or themselves) too seriously. Readers, who range from high schoolers to post-college Millennials, follow meme pages from social publishers. That’s in contrast to older audiences reading stale blogs or articles.
“Everyone follows meme pages,” says Stephen Johnson. “It doesn’t matter what industry you pick — whether construction or finance — people communicate through memes on the internet.”
So what does the future hold? Johnson thinks it’ll be harder to publish long-form content as more people shift to mobile platforms. “It’ll be easier to publish higher quality but short-form content. Solo content creators will also have more impressive capability to publish using only their phone.”