Aligning with ‘leaders’: OakNorth’s Nooriala on its partnership strategy

OakNorth offices

In a bid to grow its customer base, OakNorth Bank is partnering with Smarterly, a workplace savings and investment platform, the company announced this week. Smarterly is the first employer financial platform with which OakNorth has partnered, building on tie-ups with Monzo and Moneybox earlier this year.

The U.K.-based digital-only bank is aligning with other fintech companies to extend its reach, but the company is careful in its choice of partners, according to Amir Nooriala, chief strategy officer at OakNorth. With Smarterly, OakNorth can access more customers and integrate its offerings.

“As part of a diversification strategy, we decided to explore the possibility of partnering with other people,” said Nooriala. “The next segment we wanted to target was workplace providers; we think that’s a really interesting play in terms of hitting a lot of people at once. With workplace providers, each of companies [on Smarterly] have tens of thousands of employees.”

Smarterly, according to OakNorth, was seen as a leader among workplace financial health platforms and a good candidate for a partnership given its tie-ups with workplace loan providers Salary Finance and Neyber. Nooriala noted that the Smarterly partnership is more than just business-to-business because it also allows OakNorth to connect to companies that are partners of Smarterly. By working with OakNorth, Smarterly will offer its customers a range of savings options to suit their short- and longer-term savings plans, and it opens the door to “further product development,” Smarterly CEO Ben Pollard said in a statement.

See also: Inside the US expansion plans of OakNorth, an aspiring ‘Bloomberg of SME lending’

While the partnerships extend OakNorth’s customer reach, Nooriala emphasized that the objective of the strategy isn’t to maximize the number of partnerships. Rather, OakNorth seeks to find a select number of “leaders” in various areas of the market. For instance, with Monzo, OakNorth gains a customer base who tend to have lower savings account balances, while Moneybox clients typically have higher balances.

“What we like to do is not dilute our brand and partner with everyone,” said Nooriala. “We prefer to identify who we think are the market leaders and, through the power of our brand, come up with a mutually beneficial partnership. We’re going to continue going through the different categories of fintech services out there.”

In addition to customer reach, with the Smarterly partnership, the bank also stands to gain from diversification of funding sources. “We believe in not distracting ourselves from our core business, which is lending. Instead of us figuring out how to attract all the various different saving demographics out there, we prefer to partner with someone who’s already acquired the same savers,” said Nooriala. “It’s saving us from having to be experts in every single group within the market as a whole, and we can just concentrate on being the go-to fintech provider of savings for the market.”

OakNorth, which currently is valued at $2.8 billion, so far has raised $848 million in primary funding since its creation, including $440 million from SoftBank’s Vision Fund and the Clermont Group in February.

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