Journey to the Brightside

“Hey, let’s launch a new bank.” 
“But we already work at a bank.”
“I know, but let’s build a new one, too…”

Launching a challenger bank from the inside of an established financial institution with 81 years of experience might seem, well, insane. But here we are: looking at the bright side of Transformation at ATB. It’s what we do best. We’re forever digital optimists – hence we like to take big (but calculated) risks. 

This is how “looking at the bright side” helped create Brightside: a new challenger bank whose goal is to provide a new mobile banking experience for Albertans. It’s completely digital and purpose-built, based upon the behaviours and feedback of Albertans, and built on a wealth of data based on human behaviour, emotions, education and decision-making. To date, banking has assumed a fairly deep base level of financial knowledge and competency. Customers are expected to have some understanding of a number of different products, varying interest rates, and too many acronyms to count…but most people just want simplicity. A simple way to have visibility into their finances, ability to make personal choices, and access to tools that help make decisions and encourage financial literacy. Minus all the complexity.

Banking can be personal, emotional and even irrational. You can’t always explain why you want to allocate your money to certain things. You just want it that way. Making financial decisions can easily get overwhelming once you add different banking products into the mix. We’re making Brightside for people who want to be able to handle their money however they please, regardless of whether they know what a GIC is and why they want to invest in it or not. 

This assumption of background banking knowledge has created a huge gap that many people often fall into – and those are exactly the people who we want to share Brightside with. It’s for people whose personal connection to their finances and current priorities may not always be tied to a particular stage in life, which is how banks traditionally market their products.

That’s why we’re launching Brightside with a single simple financial goal: to help Albertans save. Our first savings offerings are designed to help put money away, through several different avenues that are easy, simple, and even (dare we say it) fun:

  • Challenges: Challenge yourself to spend less money on something you usually spend money on. When the challenge ends and you have ended up spending less money, you get to save the money you didn’t spend!  Yep, we’ve embedded gamification design into banking.
  • Save Automagically: Schedule regular transfers to your Brightside savings account.
  • Round Ups: Round up your daily purchases and automatically save each time you buy. For example, if you are buying a latte for $3.75, you can round up your purchase to $5 and automatically direct the remaining $1.25 to your savings account.

From our research, we found that money-related stress is one of the top reasons why people lose sleep. Makes sense right? So Brightside created a MasterCard that connects to a spending account that allows customers to only spend the money they actually have. 

As Brightside grows, our goal is to enable customers to have a holistic view of their finances, not just displaying each separate banking product you have. Why? Because during the design process - this is something Albertans asked for: a sense of control. Customers want to control their money and not feel like it’s the other way around. 

With all this feedback, we knew Brightside would have to be built differently.  Our platform is not built on legacy banking technology that we’ve tried to force fit behind our product. Brightside’s technology stack was built and designed specifically for the needs of our customers. And we didn’t just guess what those needs were, we involved them in the process

Going from an Idea Challenge to Launching a Challenger Bank. The “How”:
In order to build new solutions that aren’t hampered by routine or the ol’ ways of getting things done, we build out autonomous teams with robust mandates of challenging how the financial industry has worked for the last handful of generations; and we commit to ensuring these teams have agile, iterative processes and adaptive cultures in order to test, build, and succeed on behalf of our customers.

Our design and development process has been an ongoing collaborative effort from several departments at Brightside and customers. Starting as a team of 6 testing, prototyping, and validating the idea, the team has grown to more than 120 members, composed of customer-obsessed researchers, technologists, and strategists dedicated to building a product that caters to the gaps we have identified in everyday banking. 

From the beginning, our in-house research team has been continuously working and co-designing with potential customers to ask them to help us identify unmet problems and learn more about our market. With every iteration of our platform, we’ve engaged with a customer focus group to make sure that where we are going is where we need to be. 

Brightside has operated much like an agile startup thanks to the support and buy-in of the leadership team at ATB. We’ve been able to create a great company culture where leadership is trusted, and from our own leadership team, we are able to pass that trust onto our team members. Every team within Brightside has autonomy and we trust them to find solutions for the challenges that we have. This culture of trust and autonomy has enabled high velocity within the organization. 

We also treat internal processes much like product development cycles, which allows us to give attention to every aspect and feature of our platform as needed. Much like a startup, we have been working on developing and releasing certain offerings or features separately or in small batches at a time, so as to not spread ourselves too thin trying to develop everything we want to have all at once. This requires a robust feedback and communications protocol. Within Brightside, we have eight different Scrum teams working on building, refining, and improving our app. There is frequent collaboration between our product and tech teams, and our Scrum masters maintain constant communication throughout. 

Most importantly, we want potential customers to have as much of a personal connection to Brightside as they do with their money. This means that while the product is a mobile app, we’re always deploying team members out into the community to listen to Albertans. 

Even though we’ve been working very hard on making sure that Brightside is the best possible product it can be, we know we don’t have all the answers yet and there’s so much more we can do to make the banking experience better. We invite you to come along with us and influence the journey. Sign up today to be part of the Brightside waitlist and be one of the first ever Brightsiders. Visit our website at

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