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Notes from the editor

Worst case: Number26 teaches us how not to communicate

The first of June hasn’t been a good day for Number26. In fact, it has been one of the worst days in the still young history of the Berlin-based startup that was founded only three years ago, but is already seen as one of Germany’s leading players in financial technology (FinTech). The reason for Number26′ image loss is not necessarily the fact that the company has dismissed more than hundred of its customers, but that Number26 made at least five avoidable communication errors companies should avoid to communicate successfully.

 

1) Number26 has underestimated the power of social media 

There can be no doubt that Number26 didn’t expect that terminating the contracts of more than hundred customers would inevitably provoke thousands of negative comments in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Otherwise their communication and social media team would have communicated this step proactively by sending out a press release to at least a couple of reliable journalists and publishing a statement on its blog and social media profiles to explain the terminations and lead the public discussion.

 

2) Number26 unsettles its customers by not giving a reason for the termination

As financial technology is still very new in Germany, all FinTech players are struggling for trust. A good and reliable image is crucial for them to be considered as a better alternative to banks and credit institutions in general. Normally, Number26 does a good job in this area and has developed a strong, reliable brand. But currently it seems like they are ignoring this virtue: They haven’t explained the reason for the termination in the letter of cancellation and even refused to provide further information when their (former) customers asked for it. This didn’t only affront the dismissed customers, but also confuses the

Number26' official statement at Twitter and some of the reactions.

Number26′ official statement at Twitter and some of the reactions.

still existing ones. Actually, nobody except of Number26 knows anymore how to use the service correctly to avoid a termination.

 

3) Number26′ official statement came late and didn’t answer any questions

Number26 finally decided to publish an official statement – at a time when the hashtag #number26 was already trending on Twitter, many customers complaint at the official Facebook fanpage, the tech blog mobiflip.de has published a story on the terminations and many leading newspapers and magazines such as Süddeutsche Zeitung and Handelsblatt spread the news. But neither the timing of the statement nor its content and tonality were chosen very well. The statement reads like Number26 tries to play down the issue and doesn’t provide any reason for the terminations. Instead of countering the rumors and excusing for the confusion, Number26 fueled the debate and ignored its customers feelings by quoting that “the number of affected accounts” would be “insignificant”.

 

4) Number26 doesn’t explain why the company has queried the creditworthiness of several dismissed clients

The current discussion is about two aspects: a) the (reason for the) cancellations and b) the reason why Number26 has queried the creditworthiness of several customers just before terminating their contracts. Until now, Number26 has only commented on the first aspect while a explanation for or at least a comment on the second aspect is still pending. This lack of transparency is still provoking several questions.

 

5) Number26 still refuses to speak with its customers and is thereby damaging its own image

When you take a look at Number26′ press page you can see both founders wearing hoodies instead of tailor-made suits and looking very casual. The message is clear: Number26 wants to be seen as a grounded, pleasant and somehow even pally alternative to banks that are often considered to be old-fashioned, firm and conservative. One could expect that Number26 communicates with its customers at eye-level. But the company still refuses to answer any questions. On Facebook and Twitter many customers ask for further information, but Number26 ignores them completely. There can be no greater contradiction between the way how Number26 wants to be seen and how the company is currently acting.