Barclays, Transferwise and the curse of Sassy Magazine

I was 14 years old when I put my August 1986 copy of Seventeen magazine in the trash. I remember it well. I was at my family’s beach house close to Cape Cod. It was the ‘Back to School’ issue. Jennifer Connelly was on the cover. She looked beautiful, tall and slim with long thick brown hair wearing an expensive suede jacket. My hair never grew past my shoulders, I was chubby and wore glasses that made ‘Barb’ from Stranger Things look like a Vogue model. I knew the magazine was doing me no good. I knew it wasn’t meeting my needs. I knew it was making me feel all things that every teenage girl probably feels she is lacking in – but in sharp, multi page, photo montage colour. I put it in the trash and never bought a copy of the American teenage fashion bible ever again.

Why am I telling you this story? Well, because I had an experience with my banking app and FinTech last week that made me think of how traditional, established brands react to and serve their audience. First, let’s start with Seventeen magazine.

Everyone read Seventeen at my school – every girl that is – no matter what clique or friendship group you belonged to. Everyone bought the ‘Back to School’ edition or the thick, doorstop sized ‘prom’ volume in the spring. If you didn’t buy it – someone at school had a copy and it would be passed around at lunch or in the bedrooms of a friend later on that afternoon. Seventeen magazine was launched in 1944. It is established, it is incumbent, and it has an inbuilt audience of daughters whose mother’s read the magazine. It has scale and legacy. In 2014 it celebrated its 70th anniversary.

It is still on newsstands today.

In the mid-1980s – I wasn’t the only American girl who felt Seventeen wasn’t meeting her needs.

In 1988 Jane Pratt and a group of editors launched Sassy magazine. Sassy wrote about music that wasn’t on Top 40 radio. They put Kirk Cobain in the cover. Some of their cover models had *gasp* short hair. Sassy magazine was for the girls who didn’t see themselves reflected in the perfect skin, hair and teeth of the Seventeen magazine pictorials and fashion shoots. Yours truly, was an intern at the magazine – housed in the old test kitchens of McCall’s magazine in New York in 1993. Former Teen Vogue editor Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer wrote a book called: How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter To The Greatest Teen Magazine Of All Time.

Sassy ran between 1988 and 1996. I have some battered old copies in my closet – the issues I worked on during the summer of 1993. (I once worked with Spike Jonze!)

Sassy magazine influenced and changed how fashion and lifestyle publications were produced and marketed to teenage girls. Without Sassy – Teen Vogue would never have had an op-ed writer produce an opinion piece about Donald Trump. Seventeen magazine would never have been nominated for an award from GLAAD about coverage of LBGTQ teens.

The established players – Vogue, Seventeen – watched, observed, and learned from Sassy. The customer base of the American teenage girl was changing – her tastes in music and clothes and boys (the holy trinity of teenage girl magazines) – had evolved and become less predictable and more fragmented. The new upstart, Sassy, served as the testing ground for the changing needs of teenagers in America. In 2018 Seventeen still sits on newsstands. Sassy exists on Wikipedia.

So what is the point of all this? Now it is time for the FinTech.

The modern wave of ‘FinTech’ started a few years ago with the launch of a number of remittance providers. One of the most well-known and celebrated is Transferwise. As someone who does not live in the country she was born in – transferring money, cross-border, was something I had experienced. Many years ago I had gone through the long, one-use password, expensive process with my bank just to transfer a few hundred pounds from my UK to my USA bank account. I had used MoneyGram – sending money to a supermarket in America for my mother to pick up and physically deposit into my account. I had used Transferwise – happily.

Recently, I used Transferwise again. I needed to pay someone in the US. I had all the needed account numbers and routing numbers etc… I went to Transferwise. A few days later, I got an email asking when this payment would arrive. ‘I sent it Transferwise,’ I said. I had seen the money leave my account. A few days later, my husband, looking at our banking app remarked. ‘Oh darn, I thought we had more money in our account – an amount from Transferwise just got returned.’

Now, nothing against Transferwise, I wasn’t out of pocket. I had used them previously, with no issue. It was just annoying. It was then I logged onto my traditional, established banking provider mobile app. I noticed an ‘international payment’ button. I used it. Needless to say, five minutes and £4 fee later – I made the payment. (The actual payment arrived three days later – but you get my drift).

Now does this mean Transferwise sucks? No, it doesn’t. However, what it does mean is that the incumbent banks have been paying attention. They have been watching how the ‘new upstarts’ are serving a changing customer base. They have been taking advantage of a testing ground they do not need to fund.

Most industries go through periods of fragmentation and consolidation. Issues of scale and the slippery notion of ‘trust’ have always been mentioned as advantages of traditional banks. Our industry has seen many players start up and grow in financial services over the past few years. We may be at a crossroads. How much have the established banks been paying attention? Which one of these FinTech companies will remain on our newsstands in the coming years and which ones will have books that remensince about that that ‘one, bright shining moment’?

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