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Unicredit launches iPhone-only buddybank

Italy’s Unicredit is trying to give banking’s staid image a makeover and make it “cool” through the launch of a mobile-only subsidiary called buddybank.

A year after it was first slated to launch, buddybank has finally gone live in Italy through the arrival of an iOS app. The current account app offers the usual features, while customers link Mastercard debit and credit cards with Apple Pay integration.

The “buddy” aspect of the service, however, is a 24/7 concierge service. For EUR9.90 a month, the service will use AI and real people to help, over chat, with everyday tasks such as planning trips.

Customers answer a series of questions – such as “What do you like to do in your free time” – to provide buddybank with their “love data” and this is then used to help with planning.

First announcing the subsidiary two years ago, Unicredit said that it was committing at least EUR50 million to the project with the aim of winning a million Italian customers within five years.

Signups will be restrained by the bank’s decision to ignore Android but, in the longer term, buddybank says it plans to grow by moving outside of Italy to other markets.

The move to build digital-only units with distinct brands has become a trend among established banks. JPMorgan Chase recently unveiled its effort, Finn, joining the likes of Santander’s Openbank and Bank Leumi’s Pepper.

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