Dot-com- like names are proliferating among tech startups. But it is dangerous and wrong to infer that these firms lack seriousness or potential. The lesson of the last 10 years is that a small number of startups will rock the world in ways that are impossible to predict. If anything, startups are getting past their “That’s a crazy idea!” stage much faster than ever before. The successful evolution of the financial services ecosystem requires an open mind.
I started thinking about this problem as I prepared a presentation. One of my “logo slides” gives the impression that there are thousands of small, slightly strange firms out there, each challenging a specific aspect of the financial services business model. The blue suits and white shirts have been surrounded by Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts.
It turns out this impression is true– there are thousands of these firms. According to the United States Patent and Trademark Office, there are more than 147,000 live trademarks in Class 36, which is where firms related to financial services must register. According to my colleagues at Lippincott (Celent and Lippincott are both part of Marsh & McLennan), Class 36 is only one of several, overlapping classes in which fintech firms need to find trademark space.
This partially explains why we see fintech firms with unpronounceable, perplexing, even vowel-less names and seemingly random, mid-word capitalization. The search for clear naming and branding space is getting more difficult by the day.
In addition to the legal hurdles, it turns out there is significant science behind the creation of fintech company names. From personal experience, I know that some of these firms have been named by their lawyerless cofounders over a beer. But a significant number are now turning to consultancies like Lippincott, whose expertise is designing relevant and impactful company names, and creating visual branding that supports the name choice. Done well, these tasks reinforce what a fintech firm does and help it resonate with its target audience.
The power of taking a thoughtful, disciplined approach to company names comes through in the visual example that Lippincott shared with me (below). Want to sound established? A name like “Square” makes sense. Want your customers to feel included in something special? LendingClub probably did, and that guided their name choice. Got a product that brings some fun to online investment management? The name Nutmeg reinforces the firm’s unexpected playfulness in its space.
There is also a significant amount of local knowledge behind fintech names, which is increasingly important as commerce goes global. I was puzzled when I saw the logo for “Wonga.” But it turns out that wonga is slang for money in the UK. The right name makes sense for the right audience.
The math behind fintech investing is daunting. Most of these firms will fail, and their odd names will live on only in the Patent and Trademark Office files. A handful, probably no more than several dozen, will alter the landscape enough to significantly change how financial products are created, delivered, and serviced. Perhaps one or two of these firms will capture the popular imagination and become verbs the way Google did. But the blue suit decision-makers should remember that long odds and slightly goofy logos are only part of the story. Fintech firms are bringing attitude adjustment and new ideas to an industry which sorely needs it.