Bullhorn Financial Branding Series

The difference between fintech and bank brand naming

The financial services industry is often seen as a monolith. It’s all money, after all. However, there are massive differences in the types of brand names. Fintech companies adhere more closely to startup rules than the traditions of their banking peers. I was a little surprised to see how different they are as I set out to determine fintech naming trends. 

Banks rely heavily on people names, place names, and abbreviations. Picture Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and PNC, respectively. Fintech companies are off-script. I combined a couple of lists claiming the top 25 fintech companies in the US. The purpose of the list isn’t important. But, the trends it highlights are interesting. Here are the name types that surface.

English words

This was the largest category by far, with ten of the 25 names. When banks use English words, the name tends to be descriptive, while fintech names tend to be metaphorical. There are brand names that make you feel good, like Affirm and Ally (the only names to appear on both lists). Gemini and Mercury carry scientific connotations. Ramp and Upstart imply serving customers who are new to financial services. Plaid relies on nostalgia and implies interconnectivity with the pattern. Current could be a reference to the time or to a natural force like the tides. And Chime brings a soundscape of dings and alarms that, frankly, put me on edge. 

Foreign language / obscure-origin names

This category is the second largest, with five of 25 names. These uncommon words often have difficulty finding footing initially but can become strong brands over time. They can be memorable. Carta and Avant have Latin roots that make them easy to pronounce and recognize for English speakers. Tala and Talos have multiple possibilities. They might originate in several languages; I didn’t find a definitive story. But without a clear meaning, they are still obscure-origin names that have some success because they are both easy to spell and say despite being unfamiliar words. Ibotta is a head-scratcher. I first assumed it was a foreign language word. When I couldn’t find it and learned that the company had something to do with shopping, I had the nagging suspicion that it is short for “I bought a…” I hope it isn’t true. But I fear it is.  

Compound / phrase names

Compound names (like Facebook) combine two words to create something new. These work similarly to English word names. They can be a wonderful canvas because of the opportunity to combine multiple meanings. OpenSea delivers by implying possibility, exploration. The rest fall flat. PayJoy is pretty descriptive. Same with Tradeshift. Ripple Labs is a phrase name. Ripple is interesting but a little cliche without another word to add interest. Labs isn’t carrying any weight.

*editor’s note: Ripple Labs has since changed to Ripple

People / place names

While not as common as the banks, some people / place names exist among fintech companies. You’ll notice differences. Robinhood is named after a fictional person. Debbie and Dave are common names intended to create familiarity rather than exclusivity or history. And the lone place name is Greenwood. Named after the historic financial district in Tulsa, sometimes called the Black Wall Street, this name successfully uses a place and perspective to hint at their mission: to keep wealth in Black and Latino communities. 

Abbreviation names

This was the most common category for banks. It is last here. Is there a rebellion against tradition happening? Maybe. Or, perhaps they haven’t been around long enough to experience the mergers that often cause uncomfortable abbreviations in banks. There are two abbreviated fintech names in the list of 25. SoFi is short for social finance. According to their website Nav.it is intended to be said as a sentence similar to “navigate it.” Both feel of an era and are already dated. 

So, while there are clear naming trends in fintech, they differ from those in banking. The best of this lot, like Greenwood, use their name to tell part of their brand story, mission, and perspective on the world. The worst are blandly descriptive or forgettable. If you made it this far, you should talk to us in person. We are happy to do a free naming consultation. Email us to set up a time.

Brad Flowers
Brad Flowers
Founding Partner

Keep up with Bullhorn