In the Spotlight... Rebecca James from ME...

In this edition of our In the spotlight… series we wanted to catch up with one of the biggest performers in the 2016 Mozo Experts Choice Awards - online only provider ME. And for good reason too, as this challenger bank not only took out the title of Australia’s Best Bank but Savings Bank of the Year too.

Read on as Rebecca James, ME Chief Marketing Officer, runs through how it’s gaining momentum on the big banks, why it overhauled its brand image in 2015 and the future for ME in 2017 and beyond.

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By Mozo· Friday 06 January 2017

Lower rates than the big banks

Set up by industry super funds, ME originally came to the market in 1994 providing Aussies with home loan rates that undercut the majors. James explains, “at the time, major banks were charging high interest rates on mortgages, making it difficult for the average Australian to buy a home.”

In 2001, ME received its full banking licence and expanded from just offering mortgages to a full suite of banking products. While the landscape has changed since it first launched, according to James its founding philosophy of low cost options for everyday Aussies hasn’t.

Today, ME remains aligned with its 29 industry fund shareholders, which are run only to benefit members.

The 2015 brand overhaul

Customers who have been with ME for some time will know that in 2015, it had quite a facelift. According to James the reason behind the brand revamp - which was carried out across both ME’s product designs and services - was to stand out as a “true challenger” in the digital age.  

“Our rebrand was the culmination of many months of foundational work including recalibrating the Bank’s brand position and values, expanding eligibility to all Australians; refreshing our visual identity; and building new products and services that underpin how ME is a different kind of bank - one that helps Australians get ahead.”

“In a homogeneous and saturated market, ME can’t risk being brand-bland,” adds James.

The award winning product suite

To take out the coveted title of Australia’s Best Bank in the Mozo Experts Choice Awards, ME had to do one thing - provide consistently great value across a range of product categories. And boy did they deliver, winning best value awards in our home loans, credit cards, fee-free bank accounts, savings accounts and term deposits categories.

One of ME’s most popular products has been the frank Credit Card, with no annual fee, up to 55 interest free days and one of the lowest rates in Australia at just 11.99% for both purchases and cash advances.

James attributes frank’s success to its simple design and competitive rate. “We’re pleased to see how these simple yet appealing features are resonating with Australian customers, and getting recognised by reputable organisations along the way.”

Some of ME’s other award winning products include the Online Savings Account, which comes with one of the highest rates in the market at 3.05% (conditions apply) and its Flexible Home Loan with rates starting from just 3.84%, and features like a 100% offset account and redraw facility.

“With housing affordability at an all-time low, we pride ourselves on offering consistently lower home loan rates than the major banks, one of the lowest credit card rates in the market, and high returns for savers,” adds James.

Advice for first home buyers

With property prices skyrocketing over the last few years, it’s common knowledge that getting in the property door hasn’t been easy for first home buyers. James’ advice is to run your own race and buy where you can afford.

“Don’t be pressured to buy in an expensive suburb just because everyone around you is. There is value to be found in suburbs further out from the city centre. It may not be your initial dream location, but it provides an important foot in the door.”

James also recommends developing a savings habit as early as possible and to consider strategies like rent-vesting and buying with family or friends.

The next steps for ME

Over the next few years, James says ME will be looking to streamline its home loan application process, introduce new customer services, as well as launch innovative technologies.

“ME is working to automate home loan credit assessments, valuations and settlements with the aim of providing same-day approval on 50% of our home loan applications.”

Customer services will also become more digitilised, as ME introduces co-browsing and click-to-chat services. Its aim, according to James is to create a “digital branch”, helping customers with tasks they would normally go to a bank for.

“Customers will be able to self-service in internet banking and communicate with ME purely through our digital channels - no calls, no printed forms.”

The last plan on the horizon for this challenger bank is to capitalise on new banking technologies by launching a digital wallet and upgrades to its mobile app. “We’re also looking to introduce biometric authentication to make it safer and simpler to do banking online,” adds James.  

Rebecca James joined ME in early 2014 as the Bank’s inaugural Chief Marketing Officer, and has since been busy reshaping the ME brand, simplifying products and step-changing ME’s customer experience. Rebecca brings with her more than 20 years of experience in marketing and advertising – including as Managing Director of customer experience agency Lavender, whose clients included Westpac, BT Financial Group, American Express, Qantas, Telstra, Coles, IKEA and Microsoft.