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Roman Balzan

Building a bank in today’s world goes hand in hand with building a brand. As Switzerland’s first digital private bank, Alpian has the task of communicating what makes it different enough to be ‘the first’ and why it should matter to its future client partners.

To dig a bit deeper into the bank’s journey from a brand’s perspective, we spoke to CMO Roman Balzan to understand the power and pitfalls of telling a compelling brand story. 

Let’s begin from the beginning. What compelled you to join Alpian? 

Honestly, I never wanted to work for a bank. If you live in Switzerland and have ever read the news, you’ll know that banks don’t exactly have an excellent reputation. And for good reasons.  

But after many efforts from Alpian, I joined a call to hear what they had to say. That’s when I realized that Alpian was something completely different. And we had the chance to build this vision from scratch. I sat down with Schuyler, Alpian’s CEO and I told him: “We are in the business of building trust and there is an opportunity in Switzerland to do just that.” I was starting to gain interest and wanted full autonomy to make this more than a bank, but a lifestyle. 

What does true wealth mean? Purpose, freedom, and belonging. But it’s more than that. It’s specific to every person.

Not a bank, but a lifestyle?  

Yes. The vision we saw for Alpian was bigger than a bank. It was about becoming an organic part of people’s life. Why? To help them pursue what really matters. But what matters? This question became the focus of my research. It was important to understand the idea of happiness and how we can help people achieve it. What does true wealth mean? Purpose, freedom, and belonging. But it’s more than that. It’s specific to every person. And that’s what really got me. We are not building a bank, but a brand that enables you to pursue your specific vision of happiness.  

As we understand it, it’s been a long journey to the launch of Alpian. What challenges have you faced along the way? 

You know, at some point I feel like I am going to take every single person that was involved in this journey to a retreat in the mountains and we are going to write a book called “How to Build a Start-Up Bank”. Because we – a team of seasoned professionals – have learned so much in the process. 

Having spent a chunk of my career in high-growth tech startups, I thought I had seen everything. But coming to Alpian was a more intense experience by far. Think about it. We are still rooted in the financial sector as a bank – which at its core means being careful and deliberate at every step. But we’re trying to move with the agility of a startup.  On paper, these two approaches don’t mix.  Startups are all about growth, pragmatism, and taking risks, whilst bankers must focus on procedures, processes, security, and safety. 

Finding a way to bring these two mindsets together was by far the biggest challenge. 

So, how did you find a middle ground?  

The other day, I was giving a presentation on Alpian to some of our new team members. One person came up to me and said: “I’ve been working with banks for so long and they always focus on the complexity of technology. But you’re right, we must focus on the problem we solve.” 

That’s how we bridge the gap between a startup and a bank. That’s the common ground. We don’t have the burden of a legacy or blindly follow how “a bank should work”. As I said, we see Alpian as a lifestyle company – something more human that understands and solves real problems. 

In your words, what is the problem you’re solving? 

To give people the tools and the support they need to pursue their ambitions and fulfill their purpose. This is not an easy task for anyone to achieve – there are ups and downs on this journey. Good times and bad. That’s life. We want to be the partner that stays by their side through this entire journey, to help them achieve what we call ‘wealth beyond money.  

In my first 3 weeks at Alpian, I probably said the word “Purpose” a thousand times. To embed the idea of first building a purposeful brand and then a transformational one.

What is the story behind “wealth beyond money”? Where does it come from? 

My mentor always told me that you must build effortless loyalty from your customers. You need to build a bonfire brand – a brand with a soul. Like a bonfire, we want to build a beacon where like-minded people gather and grow. I believe this is essential to achieve a feeling of community. That is what the core was for me – creating this bonfire. 

In my first 3 weeks at Alpian, I probably said the word “Purpose” a thousand times. To embed the idea of first building a purposeful brand and then a transformational one. Because that is what is missing from the Swiss market. It’s hard to find banks that you really believe in. 

“Wealth beyond money” came out of that. It was the logical outcome when we looked at what we were trying to build. True wealth does not sit in bank accounts, it lies in purpose, freedom, and belonging. 

Now with the launch of Alpian here, what can you share about the process of creating the campaign around it? What does it really mean to launch Alpian? 

Firstly, I want to say that this journey is not only about me but also about all the people that made this happen and everyone who was involved at various stages of our growth. The campaign is the culmination of aligning everyone to a vision that inspires them and motivates them to make Alpian a part of their lives. 

One of the key challenges we had to face was to build trust and awareness while simultaneously drawing in customers, all through one campaign. That is something unique to a bank that’s a start-up. The challenge was there, and we faced many roadblocks and hiccups along the way. But here we are. And I honestly believe that if it hadn’t been for the challenges we overcame, the campaign wouldn’t have evolved to be as compelling as it is today. 

In your opinion, what makes Alpian special as a bank? 

It’s a mix. 

First, the timing. The world is ready for disruption and our product fits right into the market. People want certainty, they want values and security. It’s not about “get rich quick” anymore. They want to leave a legacy and live sustainably for their children. That’s at the heart of our service. 

The second is a great team of visionary people. People who you can believe in. People with a vision to positively disrupt the banking world and bring something real into the Swiss banking system – a system that hasn’t changed for 150 years. Our Alpianists are our biggest strength. 

And to end, what is your definition of wealth? 

I honestly think I am a money magnet. Because I never cared about money. But money is its own thing – if you don’t treat it with respect, it will leave you very fast. And I’ve done that, it came and went because I never really understood what it means. 

Purpose, freedom, and belonging is now my chosen definition. This applies directly to my work with Alpian. I am so lucky to be part of this company and work with these people doing something that I love. That is the meaning of wealth to me. 

Did you enjoy this reading? Then head to: “Building a Bank: Part I with Schuyler Weiss” and “Building a Bank: Part II with Victor Cianni“.

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About the author

Driven by a need for clarity and simplicity on all things wealth related, the i-vest team works closely with senior financial experts and advisors to dive deeper into the world of finance, investment and wealth to make it more relevant for you.

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