Financial services providers today should always be looking for fresh, innovative ways to solve problems and overcome challenges. Those challenges could relate directly to the experience of the customer, to the performance of the business, or both.
When it comes to finding solutions to the various issues banks and their customers are likely to encounter on a daily basis, one concept that is growing in significance is design. By putting design – and design thinking – at the heart of how they develop products, services and experiences, banks can ensure they are continuously evolving and meeting the needs of their customers.
This is an approach that is being embraced by the likes of Barclays, BBVA and Bank of Ireland.
The case for design in business
Many hugely successful companies and globally recognized brands have demonstrated what can be achieved when design is placed at the heart of how a business operates. Apple, Coca-Cola and Nike are some of the most striking examples, but a strong design strategy can also prove extremely valuable for businesses whose products and services have no – or at least very little – visual dimension.
In the financial services industry, more companies are recognizing how embracing design culture can empower them to deliver customer experiences that are genuinely new, relevant and beneficial.
Speaking to InVision, Ryan Page, head of design for card partnerships at Capital One, said the company has established a “human-centered” design culture that involves “thinking about how we can change and improve the way people interact with their money – and how we, as a business, can also benefit as our customers benefit”.
He added: “Designing with a human perspective is key to developing a human strategy. To develop a strategy in the absence of a strong human need or a perspective on how real people see the world, well, that’s a strategy that won’t be as powerful as it might be if it’s created in collaboration with design.”
Barclays has shown how even the biggest financial institutions can question established notions and reimagine their business models. In a post on Medium, Daniel Santos, design lead at digital innovation lab Future Everything, noted how the bank used the circumstances resulting from the financial crisis – most notably tighter regulation and changing consumer attitudes – as a chance to reconnect with its customers.
Barclays’ former chief design officer Derek White said: “We are bringing the organization together – business, technology, control functions – all together centered and anchored on the customer or the client through human-centered design.”
Integrating design into business culture
One of the big challenges facing financial institutions that want to make design a more central part of their organization is integrating the concept into the wider structure and culture of the business.
Spanish bank BBVA is among the big names in the industry that is taking on this challenge. Speaking at the fourth edition of Spanish user experience and innovation conference Experience Fighters, Rob Brown, head of marketing, design and responsible business at BBVA, discussed how the company has set out to increase the number of design experts in its workforce. It now employs 150 designers across 11 countries, who offer specialist expertise in various fields and collaborate with different parts of the business.
He said this has been instrumental in the transformation BBVA has undergone in recent years, particularly in mobile banking.
One of the bank’s key goals has been to encourage non-designers to become ‘design thinkers’. The aim of this approach is to establish new methods of managing projects and delivering services, with the customer put at the heart of the entire experience.
According to Mr Brown, it is the businesses that have incorporated design into their culture at a fundamental level that are the most likely to develop the most exciting and inventive products.
“These companies understand that design is a competitive advantage and that all employees, regardless of their role, should begin to see themselves as a designer that contributes to improving the customer experience,” he said.
Embracing design thinking
Jeanne Liedtka, strategy professor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, has described design thinking as a “human-centered approach to problem solving”.
One financial institution that has invested in this concept is Bank of Ireland, whose head of design thinking, Lesley Tully, was among the speakers at Inspirefest 2017. During her presentation, Ms Tully explored the process of design thinking and provided examples of how it can make a real difference to banks and their customers.
She explained that the process begins with empathy. If banks are able to truly engage and empathize with their customers, they can move on to the second phase of defining and understanding the key problems that require solutions. After this comes the ideation phase – the first step along the way to finding solutions to problems. This must be based on reliable insights derived from empathy. The final phases are prototyping and testing, during which the business gets the earliest iterations of its product or service into the real world to gauge its effectiveness and relevance for consumers.
In the case of Bank of Ireland, Ms Tully said the company has been using this process to achieve shared value. “We are using it to look at societal and business value coming together, to create shared value for all. We are using it to look at how to make a difference in people’s lives.”
Specifically, the bank has used design thinking methods to empathize with entrepreneurs. After finding that one of this group’s biggest needs was for dedicated, collaborative business space, the company launched its Workbench scheme, providing free locations for co-working, seminars, clinics and events to support innovation. It now operates six Workbenches at its branches in Dublin, Galway, Limerick and Cork.
Bank of Ireland also gave a team of design thinkers the task of meeting customers who had experienced a bereavement. Their aim was to engage with these people and to attempt to understand their situations, in order to redesign the financial processes that take place during an extremely difficult, stressful time.
Consequently, the bank designed a bespoke concierge service for recently bereaved customers, allowing them to hand over all of the administration and paperwork they may not feel ready to take on themselves.
“The human value of that is immeasurable – taking away people’s pain at a time when they need it most,” said Ms Tully. “The business value really doesn’t matter. We are in the business now of helping people create value in their own lives.”
In the years to come, it’s highly possible that the financial services industry will see a big increase in new, exciting services and experiences for customers, based on strategic design and design thinking. The providers that put these concepts into practice most effectively could be the ones that really drive the sector forward, ushering in a new era of customer experience and engagement.