Tech gets a British accent

Why does 'disruptive' have to look so boring? If only FinTech could embrace its inner Karl Pilkington, it could give us our own British game-changer argues NB.

Britain leads the way in financial technology. We’re the most inventive place on earth when it comes to raising, lending and jiggling digital money about. We’re home to 40,000 tech businesses and more software developers than San Francisco – a humming, buzzing hive of entrepreneurialism and collaboration. But no vernacular to call our own.

Instead, homogeneity rules. Our digital accent comes from 5,000 miles west of here. Business casual, macrobiotic, passive-aggressive, easy-over interface design, straight outta Cupertino.

Of course, there are good UX reasons for following patterns that conform to everyone’s expectations. But does frictionless, effortless and seamless have to mean soulless?

If there’s a revolution in progress, how come I’m still not feeling it?

In the early days of digital, the potent combination of technology and music turned British art direction upside down. Today, where’s the evidence of British counter-culture?

Even Silicon Roundabout has imported its culture from somewhere else: 1990s Brooklyn. For all its non-conformism, a lifestyle that promises local authenticity delivers global uniformity. We’re all lumberjacks now.

So what could authentic British tech personality look and sound like? Why couldn’t British FinTech be a little less Mountain View and a bit more Karl Pilkington?

Photography: NB-studio

Perhaps it’s time to embrace our British contradictions. As a nation we’re the first to moan but the last to complain in a restaurant. We’re overly polite – “sorry” – until we get behind the wheel of a car. We’re uncomfortable talking about our salary but shameless when it comes to boasting about how much our home is worth.

What if we were to design some of these contradictions into the way our technology behaves? The irritable service filter. The rabid bargain-hunter mode. The mortgage tool bragger. The nosey neighbour function. The two-faced gossip feature. The plucky underdog investment tool.

One bank has already anticipated our advice: Monzo we salute you for doing something distinctively British – making the queue popular again.

You might argue that UX is about focusing on users, working back from what people need. The ultimate goal of experience design is to make things relevant and easier for customers, and giving FinTech a British accent is low on people’s list of must-haves.

But as a tech challenger, pure utility is a game you will ultimately lose to the next brilliant thing. The question for us is how today’s insightful and useful service innovation can become a sustainable brand. Utility is fleeting, personality is forever.

Maybe once FinTech embraces its inner Pilkington, it could give us our own British game-changer to compete with the likes of Facebook, Google or Apple.

Now you’ve read this in British, listen to the podcast… in Californian.