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Building Mobile Banking the Way It Should Be

August 25, 2016

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We know it’s broken.  Now let’s fix it.  

In previous posts, I have talked about the challenges facing the financial services industry. Now, I’d like to share what Varo is doing to find a better solution.

Building a mobile banking experience with our customers

At Varo, we started co-developing with our early customers right from the start. The company was only weeks old when we gathered together a room full of... well let's just say folks a lot younger than I and started asking them:

    • If you could design a bank from scratch, how would you do it?

    • What services would the bank offer?

    • How would this bank improve your life?

From this early conversation, we started to build, step by step. Our customer advisors chose the name “Varo.” They selected our color scheme and logo. They even helped with the early designs of our bot.

I remember clearly that during one session we were excited to reveal mockups of how our customers would interact with our bot. We wanted to point out the authenticity in tone and the sleek design, but one of the advisors stopped us before we could get started. He asked us, “Why are the customer’s messages to the bot on the left side of the screen instead of the right as they usually are in my other messaging apps?” It was a great catch! We incorporated this feedback immediately into our subsequent designs. While not every insight was groundbreaking, these early sessions helped lay the foundation of where Varo is today.

"These early sessions helped lay the foundation of where Varo is today."

We are now almost a year into our journey and this collaboration is still central to what makes Varo, Varo. We can now proudly count over 200 people as part of our customer advisory panel--a far cry from those early weeks. They attend monthly meetups, answer survey questions, and even come to our office for design research interviews. They are helping us learn about their relationship with money, the financial resources that would make their lives better, and how they uniquely define financial wellness. Every step of the way, our customers have been central in defining what Varo is and what we will become.

Setting the right priorities

We are realigning priorities, ensuring our customers always come first. As said before by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon: “Above all else, align with customers. Win when they win. Win only when they win.” The current relationships between major banks and their customers could not be further from this standard. However, as a mobile banking startup, we are uniquely positioned to redefine the relationship between our customers and their bank, placing our customer’s financial well-being at the center of our decisions.

To make this a reality, Varo is focusing on our customer’s financial well-being first, then designing products and experiences. Too often, banks today do the reverse, placing an emphasis on building features with the objective of making money (the bank’s incentive) without assessing how the product will solve the fundamental challenges facing their customers (the customer’s incentive).

Let’s take a real example. One of our advisors, a customer relations agent at a big tech company, had a roommate who broke their lease, leaving him on the hook for both shares of the rent until he found a new roommate. It was already difficult enough for him to balance paying his own share of the rent in San Francisco and paying off his student loans. He had to scramble at the last minute to borrow money to cover this expense. The anxiety people have over not being able to cover emergency expenses is a big issue, and one we can help solve.

Hearing situations like these prompted us to start building a low-cost, flexible line of credit that will be accessible after signing up for a mobile deposit account to help customers cover unforeseen expenses. We want to make it easy for customers to manage the ups and downs in their cashflow and solve an all too common source of worry and stress. The flexible line of credit is just one of the many tools and solutions Varo is planning to offer our customers that will help make their lives easier. We believe this is what banking is supposed to be.

"Varo is and will continue to be about improving our customers’ financial lives."

In summary, we are building a mobile banking app from the ground up, with the input and guidance of the people who will ultimately be our customers. Varo is and will continue to be about improving our customers’ financial lives and creating better outcomes for them.

So join us on our journey to reinvent banking. Visit and sign up for early access to our beta today!

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