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A conversation with Charlotte Kent-Johnston



Marketing a new business and building trust is a serious task. P^werFinance Chief Marketing Officer Charlotte Kent-Johnston explains the challenges and rewards of launching a start-up doing new (and sometimes very complex) things, what her experience has taught her about achieving cut-through, and her ambitions for the P^werFinance brand.

Is marketing a startup with the complexities of PowerFinance a challenge? And how did you approach this?

It’s a challenge for sure. PowerFinance is creating a new business model with new technology –  you have to be really clear about the fact that it will take time to bring people on the journey to understand both. Our approach has been to take time, focus on building up knowledge before we build awareness and focus on real examples of how this new way of thinking works for everyday Kiwis to cut through the hype and the tech jargon. It’s important to get the balance right between edgy, new start-up whilst also giving the financial services market confidence that you’re a business people can trust.

Do you have any top tips for brands to achieve cut-through?

I think it’s important to be bold , sometimes controversial, especially when you are in a space where there are strong incumbents. You need to trust yourself but also respect regulation and other players in the market. You don’t want to alienate, rather learn from what’s gone before and carve out a niche. While it might polarise people at times, finding space for your own narrative is important.

How important are industry relationships to building a brand – and have you formed some good ones?

Any brand is the sum of people’s perceptions, so it’s important to be able to build relationships with people who can help you test those perceptions and provide feedback on how to shape them. From our discussions with industry, they understand the need for what we’re doing and know we’re not bound by things such as legacy technology and risk profiles, so we can be a bit more agile. No one disagrees with what we’re trying to do, which is hugely exciting for our business.

What’s PowerFinance’s greatest achievement to date?

I would say the biggest thing is building our team. We have some of the leading experts in their fields joining our team and board and it’s been a process to help them navigate the new space and way of working compared to traditional banking and finance companies.  We are all experts in our field but are very open-minded and keen to take steps into the unknown.

How do you want the PF brand to be perceived? (And how does that differ from other FS businesses?

We always say that our customers are the hero in our story. Our technology is something that empowers businesses to help their customers; they won’t be aware that the financial element is enabled by PowerFinance. We will always only be as successful as our customers are. As a brand, I like to think of us like your bright best friend, there to help whenever needed, approachable, knowledgeable and trusted.

What are the people at PF like, and how do they represent your ethos? 

We are a diverse team from lots of different backgrounds. This is something that we have committed to. The business has a lot of people who challenge the status quo and I think that’s really important because there are plenty of problems with the way things work today. We have a flat organisational structure and understand that fairness and equality are really important. We encourage everyone to have a voice and input on key projects. Having diverse thinking really strengthens our decision-making. 

Why the name PowerFinance and the ^?

PowerFinance names comes from the word ‘empower’. We are here to empower our customers on their finance journey. We want people to think of us as their bright best friend. The ^ symbol is used to signify that something is missing in text. In our case it signals the customer. 

What’s the next story you’d like to be telling? Where would you like the business to be in a year’s time?

Our next stories focus on the changes we have helped enable in the lives of New Zealanders. We have some powerful use cases about how our business has enabled people who have been left out to get a leg up. That’s what we are about and that’s what we want to be known for.

Who do you think is marketing well in the financial services/fintech or B2B space? Any inspiration there?

Sharesies is doing a great job in the consumer fintech space but I don’t think that there is any leader in the B2B space yet. We’re shooting for that spot!

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career?

To trust your gut and take time to reflect. In almost all of my jobs when something hasn’t felt right or roadblocks keep appearing there will be a reason for it. I’ve learnt to be aware of this, and to take time to sit back and reframe the situation in my mind to make sure all elements have been considered.