5 years in digital banking, 5 learnings, 5 challenges

Mmmm, vacuum

1. It’s transformation, stupid

Personal Learning

It’s called transformation for a reason. Taking stability for granted in retail banking is dangerous now, when consumer behaviour and profitability is at the whim of pandemics (touch wood, singular), interest rates and rapidly changing technologies.

Future Challenge

The challenge in the future will be how comfortable people are continually re-inventing an aspect of their working persona.

Personal Application

This is a hard egg to suck, but I try to keep on top of the latest design software, methods and tools available. The online design community is awash with this stuff.

Time for a change

2. Trust can be lost quickly in financial services, but it takes time to gain

Personal Learning

Going back 20 or 30 years, big banks were viewed as incredibly trusted, but the global financial crisis and the pace of technological change has opened the door to new entrants, into previously protected spaces.

Future Challenge

The big challenge in the next couple of years will be understanding whether true trust can be established in new players such as Monzo and Starling, and whether big tech has the appetite and required trust itself, to take on the customer experience layer in the future of banking. If most people are a bit lazy, then a front end seamlessly offered up by the likes of Apple, Google or Amazon for a more personalised experience, could be pretty appealing.

Personal Application

The old cliche of ‘you are not your user’ needs to be repeated more often than it probably should. I try to remind myself that most people aren’t playing around with the navigation and latest features on offer in their banking apps.

Google ‘Plex’

3. Design isn’t a golden bullet

Personal Learning

You can teach methods, share tools and run design sprints. But you can’t teach judgement, timing and the ability to read the [virtual] room.

Future Challenge

This is why the biggest challenge I foresee is the stewardship of design; if a design lead isn’t actually designing, why is their opinion and team management any different from that of a product owner or marketeer? How can design establish long term trust, that it deserves and requires dedicated leadership roles in big organisations? When many product owners enjoy taking on design leadership themselves, how can designers prove they are worthy partners in these roles?

Personal Application

As I take on more leadership roles on projects, I’m conscious of carrying on being a practitioner too. It doesn’t necessarily work in football, but in design I like the idea of ‘player-coach’ rather than manager.

Designer with the golden gun?

4. Be wary of strategy sooth-sayers and matrix-mediums

Personal Learning

I don’t think there is an award night for foresight and strategy folks to look back at the predictions they make every 5 years and assess their success retrospectively, but if there was, I can’t imagine there would be many given out this year, even before Covid.

Future Challenge

When looking into the future, where do we look for reliable predictions? Who do we rely upon? I’ve found it interesting recently exploring some of the insights from Glimpse; a software company that culls millions of online signals to identify surging trends. They track every keyword that is used online above a specific keyword threshold, before analysing the usage frequency across platforms like YouTube, TikTok, Reddit, Amazon, Google, Instagram.

Personal Application

Rather than making predictions, I prefer to be comfortable with different outcomes. Planning for a few different eventualities generally feels preferable.

5. Fintech that doesn’t feel like fintech to normal people, might be the ultimate winner

Personal Learning

Most people aren’t bothered about the in’s and out’s of banking regulation, whether their bank runs on a new technology stack or whether the app they use has all 15 of the top features a benchmarking service recommends they should have.

Future Challenge

Finance is increasingly moving closer to customer context, and platform businesses are often powering these new interactions. The big challenge I see for many providers and big banks, is how they can take advantage of this move themselves, offering up contextual experiences and new revenue generating services.

Personal Application

In my design and research work, I try to be conscious of where people spend their time and what they’re likely to engage with. So many great ideas or features fail because they’re hidden or mis-placed.

Another day, another app story

To summarise

Who knows what the next 5 years will hold, when the last 5 years was so unpredictable.

  1. The need for greater emotional intelligence and humbleness within design and product leadership.
  2. The need to design with and not for people, to truly understand where the customer context (as mentioned above) actually is.
  3. The certainty of uncertainty when working in transformation, change, service and product design or management.

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Rupert Wood

Rupert Wood

Doing, learning, occasionally writing. Currently Principle Designer / Consultant at Lighthouse.