Building Global Products From Atlanta, the World’s Emerging Fintech Capital

It’s no secret that Atlanta is quickly becoming a fintech epicenter as companies ranging from Fortune 500s to startups choose the city for its reputation as the emerging global capital of financial technology.

The top 20 Georgia-based fintech companies generate annual revenue of more than $72 billion, placing the state third in the nation, behind only New York and California. Almost half of the 10 largest digital payment processing companies are headquartered in Atlanta, and more than 120 fintech providers are based or have a large presence in the city. Atlanta’s also known as Transaction Alley because it’s where 70% of all payments transactions are handled. It’s not surprising that many of today’s most innovative fintech solutions are born right here in Atlanta, but with a purpose that extends to the far reaches of the globe.

Opportunities for Inclusion

The efficiency and anytime, anywhere availability of the digital economy is something we’ve come to expect in the Western world, but fintech isn’t just about convenience. Today, 2 billion people are unbanked. This represents a tremendous opportunity for financial products to change lives around the globe by bringing new options to market that give those individuals financial empowerment.

Yet, successfully building products for global users who span different cultures, languages and comfort levels with technology isn’t a simple task. At Brightwell, our journey in helping global migrant workers get paid and better manage, spend and share their money safely, has taught us valuable lessons. We’ve iterated on the best  path to create a fintech solution that meets the regulatory requirements of multiple countries, crosses language barriers and addresses the unique needs of multiple nationalities and economies. We’ve also learned that it requires perspective and deep empathy on culture and community, not just tech specifications.

Here’s what we’ve learned:

  1. A ‘one size fits all’ approach won’t work. If you’re building a truly global financial product, this approach will fail every time. Significant behavioral, cultural and socio-economic differences across the geographies you plan to serve make it difficult to design one simple and intuitive product that covers as much of the financial spectrum as possible. You’ll need to research, dedicate time to listen to what people actually need and pursue a true understanding of the macroeconomic circumstances of the cultures and people who will use your product.
  2. Immerse yourself in the culture. If you’re designing software for a global audience, you can’t approach it from the perspective of Western culture. The Western experience of how money works doesn’t translate to other parts of the world. Instead, you’ll need to get out there and experience firsthand how money works in the geographies you want to serve. Ask questions, get to know the people, understand their comfort level with technology and get to know the culture. When building our mobile app, we knew that 77% of Filipino adults are unbanked and have a strong affinity toward cash. In the Philippines, a deeply rooted and pervasive culture of migration has made moving abroad a common and even desirable option for earning income. Today, more than 10 million Filipinos work or live abroad. Many work on cruise ships and need a way to send cash home to loved ones. While it was important to give our Filipino users the ability to send money home, it was critical that their loved ones could pick up those funds in their preferred method – cash. Without this option, our solution would be irrelevant to a very large segment of our users.
  3. Comfort levels with technology differ. Not every user will have the same comfort level with technology. When you build a solution for a global audience, it needs to be intuitive. Creating something simple and easy to use will meet the needs of users who are less comfortable with fintech and those who are more experienced.
  4. Small details are important. Take time to understand the meaning of colors and words in the different markets you serve. For example, the color red has a meaning of good luck in China but is the color of mourning in South Africa. A quick search will lead you to stories of brands that didn’t heed this advice and suffered big translation fails, such as the one that caused HSBC to rebrand in 2009. The worldwide bank spent millions of dollars on its 5-year-old “Assume nothing” campaign. In many countries, the message was translated as “Do nothing.” In the end, the bank scrapped its original campaign and spent $10 million to change its tagline to “The world’s private bank,” which has a friendlier translation.
  5. Study human behavior. At Brightwell, we send employees on cruise ships to meet with our end-users and interact with them face-to-face. This gives our employees a real connection to the work we do and helps us understand how we can adjust, improve and shift to best meet the needs of our users.
  6. Test and iterate quickly. We learn through end-user surveys and interviews, and follow a lean startup methodology. Working in Agile and Scrum allows us to quickly uncover and address opportunities to make our product better.
  7. Closely align product and marketing teams. Marketing is building a story about the features that the product team creates. Their goal is to communicate on a level that ensures a user understands the product, while the product team is aiming for simplicity and quickly bringing new features/products to market. These two functions can’t succeed in silos.
  8. Education is a part of inclusion. Bringing the convenience and control that comes with fintech also means educating end-users who may be less comfortable with digital currency. At Brightwell we create materials to help our end users plan budgets, understand their options for better financial decision-making and provide savings tips.

It’s an exciting time to be a part of Atlanta’s fintech growth and innovation. Fintech has a tremendous potential to change lives. These lessons apply to any sector and can help bring technology products to market in a way that will help people around the world feel inclusion and freedom, and ensure your product finds success.