10 things we learned from Up Bank

By Bryna Howes 19 March 2019 5 min read

Last week, we held our first Talks @ Spaceship event for 2019, with none other than Dominic Pym (co-founder and CEO) and Anson Parker (head of product) of Up.

The inspiring duo shared some unconventional wisdom and growth tips with our very own Jessica Sier, and if you’ll pardon our bias, we think the event was a resounding success!

We’re not ones to keep what we learn to ourselves. On the contrary. So, we’ve put together a list of the best things we learned from Up on the night.

1. Up is powered by Ferocia

To know Up, you first have to know Ferocia, which was created by one of Up’s co-founders Dominic Pym and his business partner Grant Thomas. Ferocia is a software company helping financial services companies (i.e. banks) reimagine banking for a new generation of customers.

Since its inception, Ferocia has helped numerous banks create forward-thinking apps (and it even built a few online banks that sadly weren’t rolled out).

Ferocia also powers Up, in more ways than one. Naturally, Up is built using Ferocia’s software. But Ferocia is also a profitable business, and it uses those profits to help fund Up (along with collaboration partner Bendigo Bank, and other partners happy to contribute to Up's success). So, Up is not beholden to any venture capitalists, as of right now, which is interesting.

2. Up keeps it lean

Up has a pretty lean, keen team of just under 30 people.

Part of the reason for the small team is they “didn’t want to become bankers”. Rather, they wanted to stay in the software world.

Up makes this possible by partnering with a financial institution (Bendigo Bank) that does the core banking, which frees them up from that aspect and allows the Up team to stay small.

It also allows Up to prioritise culture and choose a “quality over quantity” mentality.

3. Up has a public product roadmap

We don’t mind saying we love a good exclusive. As such, we were pretty excited when Up revealed its brand new public product roadmap, The Tree of Up, for the first time.

Dom and Anson explained that customers make a lot of feature requests, which isn’t surprising. Placing them on a repurposed “technology tree” was a great way for customers to see what was coming up around the bend and where Up’s plans are at.

Are Up worried about competition? Not so much. In fact, they stressed, they’re all about transparency. There are banks that will copy their products anyway, and there’s not much they can do about that. So, they decided to ignore the noise around that and focus on what a public product roadmap would do for their customers, which is always the priority.

4. Up is creating banking for the future

Up says one of the most commonly requested features from customers is BPAY, the electronic bill payment system. However, Up has no interest in plugging into legacy technology.

What to do?

Instead of immediately compromising its beliefs or ignoring the requests of customers, the Up team decided to see if there was a solution. So, as Dom told us, they “went and met the BPAY guys and said, ‘What’s the future of BPAY?’ ” Ultimately, the two teams were able to discuss the future of the bill payment system and see if BPAY fits in with Up’s future plans.

The result? Well, let’s just say, BPAY is on the roadmap!

5. Up believes design is a life choice

If you’ve taken even a sideways glance at the Up app, you know it’s a pretty beautiful piece of work. Especially — especially — for a banking app! Who knew?

Well, the Up guys knew. In fact, Up believes design is a life choice. And that was in their minds from the very beginning, as they set out to build the app.

Here’s how Dom explained it to us...

Imagine you were standing in a queue at a coffee shop with a buddy. And your bud gets his phone out to show you this fab new banking app. You look at it. It’s pretty cool. You want to sign up immediately. So, you download the app and you punch in your details and by the time you reach the counter, you can order your coffee and pay using your new Up account.

That was the vision the Up team had in mind. It took them more than a year to whittle down the sign-up process to the necessities and turn it into a beautiful, simplified undertaking.

According to Dom, you can sign up for a regulated bank account — a bank account that comes with instant Apple Pay, no less — in 2.02 minutes with Up.

6. Australia is moving towards open banking

When asked about the opportunity to disrupt banking, Dominic handily reminded us that banking tends to be dominated by major players in most countries. As for us Australians, we tend to look to the United Kingdom as a model for what we do, which brings us to open banking.

The UK moved to an open banking system a few years ago, and following that move, digital banks began to pop up. Australia will move to an open banking system this year — from 1 July 2019, to be exact — but we already have seen the rise of digital banks.

In fact, Up was the first fully cloud-hosted digital bank in Australia, and Volt, a Sydney-based company, recently became the first neobank to be granted a fully-fledged banking licence.

7. The first three digital banks ever were launched by Australians

Although we’ve only just started moving into the digital bank and open banking eras, Australians themselves have been in the industry for a while. In fact, according to Dominic, three of the first digital banks ever — Simple, Moven, and Up — were founded or co-founded by Australians.

8. Up believes in living, not banking

When Up first launched its website, it crossed out the word “banking” and replaced it with the word “living”. Why, you ask? The answer, put simply, is because Up believes consumers should consider how banks can help them live, not help them bank.

For consumers, this means thinking about how you can best use your bank to live the life you want. For instance, let’s say you want to buy an iPad or you want to go on holiday. How can you use your bank’s tools to save the money you need?

For Up, it means connecting people with their spending. Creating the tools necessary to help people understand their financial habits and optimise them in order to live.

Side note: At one point, the Up team considered removing the word “bank” altogether.

9. Up tries to dream up features you can’t imagine yet

Early in the evening, Anson told us when they started to put Up together, they asked themselves one simple question: “What could a bank look like if we took the best capabilities and technologies that are out there today?”

To answer that question, the Up team essentially had to strip back the idea of banking. As Anson also said, “People want us to be like every other bank, just better.”

That’s a fair request. But what makes Up different is that to be better, the team doesn’t just optimise current banking features. Instead, Up looks at each feature at its core and asks itself what the customer needs out of this feature, exactly?

Up tries to, in Anson’s words, “surface unrealised needs”.

As an example, let’s look again at the idea of BPAY as a bill payment system. The Up team had to ask itself whether BPAY was actually the best way for customers to pay bills, rather than simply partner with BPAY because that’s what customers thought they wanted.

10. Up is tech-led

Last, but by no means least, let’s mention the fun fact that warranted a round of applause from the audience. (Shout out to the engineers who know what all this means…)

Dominic revealed that Up can “spin up” its entire banking platform in 45 seconds, create thousands of copies in parallel, and then test every single feature and every new feature, and do a full regression test in 26 minutes.

Words by
Bryna Howes Right Chevron

Bryna Howes is the Head of Content & Brand at Spaceship. She's equally obsessive about cinnamon donuts and scouring the web for great reads.

10 things we learned from Up Bank