The Journey Back to Trust

Colin Walsh
4 min readSep 10, 2018

The Journey Back to Trust

By Colin Walsh

Trust — verb

  1. believe in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of.

synonyms; rely on, depend on, bank on, count on, be sure of

Trust is something that is hard to earn but easy to lose.

Last week, Varo took a huge step forward toward becoming the first all-mobile national consumer bank in U.S. banking history. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) has given the green light with a Conditional Approval letter (you can read the details here.)

Varo’s mission is to help people improve their financial lives. We believe that every person deserves to have convenient high-quality banking services without fees and a bank that supports their financial success. Our mobile banking model is delivering that.

While the OCC’s preliminary approval is big news for us — we are thrilled that our model is proving itself with the regulators — this represents a sea change for consumers. As a new bank, our work is to earn the trust of every customer, every day, and we are only at the beginning of that long journey.

Think back 10 years ago to the start of the financial crisis. It was a very different picture. Trust in banking had truly been broken. As the financial crisis played out across the country, nearly 3 million people declared bankruptcy between 2009 and 2010, 3,957,643 foreclosures were filed in 2009 alone, 170,000 small businesses shuttered, and 8.7 million jobs lost. It was like staring into the abyss and no one knew how it was going to end.

The crisis was the ultimate consequence of a fundamental breakdown in the relationship between customers and the financial institutions that should have been serving them. The Occupy Wall Street movement represented just how betrayed people felt. They were angry and frustrated that institutions they had once trusted, gambled — and lost — with their nest eggs.

Frankly, that mistrust still continues today. Banks should never succeed on human failure but unfortunately that’s become a business model in far too many instances — fake accounts opened in people’s names, surprise fees to those who can least afford them, sketchy sales practices. Worse, it’s even become normalized so that people just assume there are not better options and that institutions are not on their side.

We can do better. People need better.

At Varo, we’re slowly rebuilding relationships and trust through our fundamental belief that it is better for society when companies put customers — not themselves — first. One of our key investors in our last capital raise, social impact fund The Rise Fund, invested in us for for precisely this reason — social return is as important as financial return.

Our journey back to trust combines Varo’s social mission with better, newer technology.

Smartphones and machine learning, for example, are enabling us to challenge the norms of traditional institutions and innovate in a new, more purposeful, and democratic way.

In a survey of 1,000 people conducted by Propeller Insights for Varo, people 35 and under were significantly less likely to visit a physical bank branch compared to older generations and ranked the 24/7 convenience as the top reason mobile banking was better than in-person banking.

Varo is creating a better banking experience with its no-fee bank account, high-yield savings, and lending products, along with tools to help our customers improve their financial health. For example, we send alerts whenever money enters or leaves a bank account; customers can link all their other bank accounts and credit cards to get a full picture of their financial life; we help forecast monthly cash-flow and provide recommendations in-app based on customers’ individual needs. And this is just the beginning.

As we look forward to the next step of opening as a full-fledged national consumer bank, we believe there are three pillars for the modern bank:

  1. We succeed when our customers succeed. We do not have a business model that is built on fees or punitive costs.
  2. We listen and continuously innovate to meet customer needs. Varo is actively listening to the feedback from it’s community of users and is working with its customers to build features they need to solve everyday financial problems.
  3. We are committed to a social mission to improve financial health by making banking more affordable and helping customers live better financial lives.

The bank charter is a big deal. Government officials have granted only a handful over the last decade. While many new financial companies talk about applying for a charter, few succeed.

Our progress toward becoming a national bank is fundamentally about re-establishing trust in banking — it’s also a step forward to the future of banking. A future where people are supported by banks whose incentives are aligned to improve their customers financial health and success, not just that of the bank. A future where technology solves real-life problems, removes friction, and maximizes delight in the day to day banking experience.

In any community, the individual health of each member is vital to its success. If we can make it easier for people to build a better relationship with their money — we believe that helps everyone’s financial outlook. One transaction at a time.

This is the future of banking. And Varo is proud to be pioneering it.



Colin Walsh

Founder and CEO @VaroBank. Varo is an entirely new kind of bank, fully digital, mission driven, FDIC insured and designed to be a bank for all of us.