Exploring Cauldron: Creating magic in the realm of banking

Cauldron, creative lab of Thought Machine, is bringing new level of art and gaming into banking industry!
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Does your banking app bring a spark of joy? Can it change your behaviour for the better? Who can truly say they love their banking experience?

The evolution of retail banking has always focused on straightforward functionality, with little attention paid to emotion, or experience. That’s understandable. Managing your money is largely considered a serious, adult, endeavour. An administrative task to be handled with sobriety when an adult enters the working world. 

Yet here we see an incredible opportunity –  banking, entertainment and education need not be mutually exclusive. There’s plenty of room to bring the best of modern gaming, design and education into the world of finance. And there’s already one player doing just that, bringing unforgettable banking experiences to the market.

Meet Cauldron. It’s the creative laboratory of UK-based core banking company, Thought Machine. Vacuumlabs recently partnered with Thought Machine to complete the first-ever Asian installation of Thought Machine’s cloud native core banking engine Vault. This significant build enabled a new virtual bank – along with Asia’s first numberless payment card – to go live from inception in just 18 months.

The Cauldron team designs new creative apps and products that harness some of the magic of Thought Machine’s Vault. And just a short while ago we were delighted to welcome Mark Warrick, Cauldron’s Managing Director, as a guest on our ‘Banking on Air’ podcast. Mark walked us through why, until recently, the fintech world chose to steer well clear of creative design and gaming features for banking apps. But Cauldron has now developed some very exciting new game and character-based apps for the digital banking scene. So what’s Cauldron’s game plan?

Bringing art into banking

“Our job is to look at what consumers might want out of a core banking engine in the future and make sure our engine can deliver that. Be it meaningful personalisation for loans, or creating a full game world for a savings app. So that’s our job. We’re totally dedicated to that singular mission.” – Mark Warrick

There were already some glimpses of creative design peeping through challenger banks but, by and large, digital banking is somewhat behind the curve in the use of art and gamification approaches to secure market share. There’s also the question of superapps: multiple banking products wrapped into one interface. A single app where users can manage their lives, financial or otherwise. Do they inherently limit creativity?

Mark reckons that the snag with superapps is that while they bring benefits in the form of consolidation and integration – their ‘sparking joy’ quotient ranks near the bottom end of the scale.

True personalisation is the name of the game

What products does Cauldron have up its sleeves? The company is bringing a focus on true personalisation and gamification into banking apps – specifically an emphasis on creating entire game worlds with engaging characters rather than gamification as ‘merely the mechanism’. Cauldron is shying away from the cookie-cutter approach reflected by the superapps. Its products treat banking app users to some welcome escapism while managing their finances or offering financial education. Cauldron’s portfolio includes:

  • Nestlings: a beta-stage app that introduces a cast of fantasy creatures into personal savings. ‘Nestlings’ are little creatures that help you squirrel away money, such as Shroomo who rounds up your transactions, transferring the incremental ‘rounded up’ balance to your savings account. If you don’t give Shroomo permission to make the transfer, he’ll start to cry. Money transfer actions are triggered by different, novel, events: Grimm is a lord of nocturnal spending and adds money to the savings pot for every transaction detected after 11pm. And another character, Lumen, only comes into action grabbing £2 for the Nest Egg every time there’s a full moon! Users also discover new Nestlings as they make new transactions and can progress through different levels of the game as their savings pot grows.

  • Nestlums: an educational app, live on UK mobile app stores and Apple’s pick for ‘Apps We Love’, helps younger children grasp the concepts of digital money, teaching financial literacy through a cast of fantastical creatures and simple games. It also serves as a real-world chore-sheet with tasks – set by individual parents – for kids to complete and earn pocket money.
  • Vault Rare: Rare enables true personalisation for loans. People are expecting and demanding increased control when it comes to their banking, so Rare harnesses the power of Thought Machine’s core banking technology, Vault, to create an experience which allows customers to have uniquely configured products.

Why has it taken so long for gamification to hit the banking scene?

Mark believes that the financial sector has traditionally been deeply conservative with new creative concepts. 

“I think a big reason behind this stems from the legacy banking technology side. It isn’t like people in these banks don’t have these creative ideas. They have them. But it takes a week to come up with the idea and then it’s 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration with usually 6-9 months to get a product truly testable in the hands of the target audience. It takes such an effort to get things out there in the right form. And legacy banking technology has generally inhibited that happening. But over the last five or six years, we’re now seeing a major sea change and that old dynamic just isn’t the case anymore.” – Mark Warrick

“For most banks across the world, replacement of core banking systems is a top priority. And I think the reason why we will see more novel products and experimentation coming into banking is because the shackles of legacy banking tech will be released  – they can start to dream up how to win consumer market share and know the modern core will be an enabler.” – Mark Warrick

What does Cauldron’s product development journey look like?

As any creative agency will attest – market feedback is critical. A key difference with Cauldron is that it believes in investing in the build of a demo experience that is as close to the vision experience in order to truly test.

“I think the biggest thing a lot of people say is creating resilience around letting go of a concept. There’ve been a lot of things in the studio which, with heavy hearts, we’ve just had to let go. We needed to call a halt because, despite its novelty, it just wasn’t going to make commercial sense.” – Mark Warrick

But these are the kind of singular-focused decisions which have established Cauldron as a leader in its space. The creative division of Thought Machine has a ‘furious mission’ to reinvent financial technology, injecting the staid realm of retail banking with creativity, energy and even humour. 

How far has the banking industry come in the last 30 years? What more can be done? When it comes to the business of banking – we’ve merely scratched the surface. 

Vacuumlabs are proud to be unlocking some of Vault’s magic and partnering with Thought Machine on a global basis. Find out more in our joint report, Building a Digital Bank.

To find out more about Cauldron and bringing art into digital banking, listen to our new Banking on Air podcast episode featuring Mark Warrick of Thought Machine – Available on Apple Podcasts, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, Spotify or here:

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Full transcript of this episode is available here.

Here’s a rundown of this episode:

  • 01:15 Mark’s journey to digital banking and what Cauldron is
  • 06:56 Mark’s view on the superapp
  • 08:36 Art in digital banking
  • 11:03 examples of Cauldron projects and how they are developed
  • 22:38 Gaming in the digital banking
  • 29:22 Legacy banking as a blocker for more art in banking
  • 36:13 Who are Cauldron apps for

Mark joined Thought Machine in 2015 to push Vault to adhere to the future of consumer banking by leading the creative laboratory of the company. This experimental arm is called Cauldron and the team of designers and engineers have been inventing and building pioneering digital experiences for over 5 years with products such as Nestlings, Saviour, and Vault Rare demonstrating the true flexibility of the core banking engine.

Since joining the company, Mark has been responsible for evolving the company culture and acts as a pillar within the wider team to deliver world class levels of team satisfaction with his boundless enthusiasm for hard work and fun going hand in hand.

Mark’s background is in electronics engineering and creative design. Prior to joining Thought Machine, Mark founded a digital design company delivering creative solutions to clients, including Selfridges and KPMG, and worked as a financial services consultant at Accenture and Capco. Mark began his career as a Weapons Engineer at The Royal Navy following the completion of his degree in Electronics Engineering at Southampton University. 

Mark founded the award-winning ‘Busking Cancer’ initiative and a cashless giving app called SnapDonate, and received the Young Engineer for Britain award in 1997.

‘Banking on Air’ is the official Vacuumlabs podcast covering the challenges, opportunities, perspectives and opinions that matter to you and to our community. In this podcast, we are looking under the hood of the changing face of tech: the acceleration in all things digital, the impact of regulation (and disruption), the need for genuine collaboration – and the specter of competitors old and new as it plays out in fintech and financial services around the world.

This podcast is brought to you by Vacuumlabs – and we’re sharing our experience and expertise in creating solutions for the digital journey for professionals, community banks, and fintechs. We believe that the future is in communities when it comes to digital transformation in financial services, and we invite you to join us and our guests over the coming weeks and months.

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