ATB lends its name to new digital challenger brand

The 80-year-old financial institution launched a new fintech using an "endorsement strategy" to build credibility.


ATB Financial began discussing the idea to create a digital-only challenger brand a few years ago.

The 81-year-old, Alberta-based financial institution, established in 1938 to help Albertans through the Great Depression, has credibility among older demographics, says Carol Shmygol, SVP of brand at ATB. However, the crown corp now needs to pull in younger, more digital savvy customers entranced by the many fintechs promising a more empowering approach to finances.

Last week, the bank finally brought that vision to fruition with the launch of Brightside by ATB, a free banking app aimed at helping customers organize their finances, save by rounding-up their purchases, and earn cash back when using a Brightside Spend Card.

The app connects to customers’ existing bank (so there is no need to switch to ATB to use the platform) and only requires a few minutes to set up. The company doesn’t charge for transactions, though customers may be hit with fees for exceeding their bank’s transaction limits when transferring money to and from the app.

“The vision for Brightside is to empower people to live their best life today, while still setting themselves up for their best life tomorrow,” says Shmygol.

After formally announcing its plans for a digital challenger brand in January 2019, Shmygol says ATB placed the Brightside team on the “edge” of the organization, with new employees having their own dedicated office space.

The goal was to give the team the freedom to create a unique and differentiated brand – free from the legacy of its more than eighty-year-old parent company, she says. “The Brightside brand was created on the edge and benefited from that independence.”

APP-homescreenBrightside soft launched in March with ATB employees and a small pool of customers, which revealed the importance of a seamless digital enrolment process and suggested customers require some help understanding the Spend Card feature, which Shmygol describes as “part debit card, part MasterCard.”

The soft-launch also confirmed that ATB was on the right track by positioning Brightside as  “supportive, cheeky, transparent, bold and positive,” Shmygol says.

Like most digital-only banks and fintechs, from CIBC’s Simplii Financial and Scotiabank’s Tangerine to home-grown upstarts like Wealthsimple, Moka and Koho, Brightside (as its name suggests) brings more levity and positivity to the stress and complexity of finances.

In addition to being digital-savvy, Brightside’s target customer tends to focus on “the here and now,” Shmygol says. “They’re less concerned with tomorrow. They’re not necessarily great with their money, but they’re looking for some help today, and they don’t want to be judged. Their entire lives they’ve been told, it’s either today or tomorrow – you have to sacrifice today in order to achieve something tomorrow. They don’t subscribe to that philosophy.”

Another key consideration was how closely to associate Brightside with its parent institution. The bank considered a range of possibilities – from “ATB brings you Brightside versus Brightside by ATB versus something completely different,” says Shmygol – and concluded that an “endorsement strategy,” in which the wording “by ATB” would appear across the branding, would help differentiate the startup from the plethora of other fintechs.

“Research clearly indicated that that level of connectivity back to ATB was important to credibility, because of the equity of the ATB brand across Alberta,” she says.

With every aspect of Brightside now decided, Shmygol says ATB pulled the 90-person Brightside team into the organization ahead of the September launch. Brightside director of marketing and communications Michael Ulrich, for example, now reports directly to Shmygol, providing both teams with “mutual awareness and a deep connection” and allowing them to avoid competing from a marketing perspective, she says.

A launch campaign is running across paid, owned and earned channels. Though ATB has endorsed Brightside, Shmygol says the campaign is being run independently and will not leverage ATB assets or platforms.