October 28, 2016

FinTechs, focus on tech, design or real people? (part 1)

By Paul Laughlin

FintechsThis week, I had the opportunity to attend and chair a panel, at a leading FinTechs event in London.

Bringing together new entrants, incumbent FS firms, a regulator & technology suppliers – it was an interesting melting pot. As shared in a previous post (on related research findings), one of my goals for this event was to encourage a focus on Customer Insight, in both FinTechs & digital design work. Many of the speakers & panels were encouraging in that regard.

For those who were unable to make it, or for attendees looking to reflect on the key lessons they learned, hopefully these post-event reflections help.

There was so much content to chew on at this event, that I’m splitting it into a two-part series. This post focusses on talks from 3 different incumbent banks & 2 disrupters who, although they have a fresh approach to culture, have more similar business models to traditional banks. The second post will include content from tech companies, a true FinTech bank about to launch & a traditional insurer tackling data governance.

As a summary, there were a number of consistent themes that emerged, during talks & conversations:

  1. Importance of understanding your customers & the jobs they want to get done;
  2. Pay attention to the details;
  3. Recognise that the ‘millennial’ mindset affects older generations;
  4. Apply ‘design thinking’ to innovation & testing;
  5. Co-create with your customers;
  6. Pay attention to employee insight & experience;
  7. Partner with suppliers you can trust.

One final consistent message, was that no company had ‘arrived’. Even Fintechs referenced still being ‘on the journey’. So, there is much still to be achieved & learned about meeting those customer expectations, in today’s technology enabled world. Even more reason to attend such events.

Apologies in advance, that I have not covered every speaker or panel debate. It’s no judgement on their quality, I’ve simply recorded those that were meaningful to me or prompted my own ideas.

Metro Bank (’cultural’ disrupter, UK retail bank)

Iain Kirkpatrick, their Managing Direct of Retail Banking, kicked off proceedings – by sharing how they are seeking to ‘reinvent banking’.

As well as the importance of investments in property, systems etc, his key emphasis was on culture:

  • Take what they do seriously, but don’t take themselves too seriously;
  • Hire for attitude, train for skills needed;
  • Colleagues have to be fans to enable  Customers to become fans;
  • Big focus on training & professional qualifications (still encouraging chartered bankers);
  • They will delay opening a new site, to ensure they have the right people (take time hiring right).

In addition to this strong people-focus, Metro are making use of the ‘full Microsoft Stack’ (with references to CRM Dynamics & Yammer). However, no reference was made to Azure storage or R programming for analysts, but that might have just been because of the business focus of this talk.

Their customer value proposition is also interesting. They understand that customers want choice & to not be pushed into using lower cost digital channels for the sake of the bank. For that reason they have a strong emphasis on physical branches, the details of store design (with lots of details akin to the way a retail shop thinks). They achieve a high NPS (they quote using 82%) & benchmark themselves against the big retail brands for CX (John Lewis, Apple, Disney etc).

One interesting application of behavioural psychology is the design of their flooring (with spaced black tiles on cream background). Apparently it enables them to not need rails/dividers to keep customers queuing well. Without any guidance, customers will stand on the black tiles & avoid the white/cream, thus keeping a line & suitable distance between them. That is neat, in both senses.

BBVA (’traditional’ Spanish bank)

Maria Jose Jorda, their Head of Customer Experience, shared the results of their research into the behaviour of “Millennials”.

Before you switch-off at that point, I completely empathise with being tired of so many posts/articles on millennials. Too many seek to reduce human behaviour to such a simplistic segmentation. What made Maria Jose’s presentation more interesting was their realisation that the 5 keys they found didn’t just apply to the Millennials age group. Instead these are more of an emerging ‘millennials mindset’ or ‘digital mindset’ that is becoming more prevalent across users in all age groups, even Baby Boomers like me.

In summary, the 5 keys Maria Jose identified are:

  1. Trust = sharing, bi-directional, earned by collaboration (trust in people not institutions);
  2. Engagement = only gained by continuing relevance (context, personalisation, emotions, timing, location)
  3. Planning = developing skills & networks  to aid resilience in an unpredictable world (not expecting a rigid plan to work)
  4. Services Management = enabling them to make their own decisions, learning by doing, DIY apps/gamification
  5. Communication = needs to suit their mindset, clean simplicity (c.f. Apple design) & storytelling to humanize

BBVA appears to have done some interesting co-creation with their customers of improved experiences. It was good to hear the role of insight generation in achieving this.

Bank of Ireland (’traditional’ Irish bank)

Lesley Tully, their Innovation Manager, began the theme of Design Thinking that recurred in a number of talks & panel discussions.

This began by explaining the principle of “Wicked Problems” which included how to communicate with millennial (mindsets) and how to adapt as CX overtakes price or product as the key differentiator.

Lesley went on to outline an encouraging story of how they have used Design Thinking to both generate deeper customer insights & act on those insights to design & test new ideas.

Key principles that guided their approach included:

  • Human Centric design
  • Interactive process & outputs
  • Challenge existing assumptions
  • Collaborate (across the business & with customers)

She had lots of positive examples of empathy, idea generation, rapid prototyping & co-creation. They have also tackled some genuinely sensitive need areas (like their bereavement process). Recognising what it felt like for customers & redesigning to proactively help those going through such a painful time.

One quote, from their Head of Strategy, struck me: “The power of Customer Insight for Product Development is unbelievable.”

That is what it should feel like when insight-led proposition development is done well. Design thinking can really help with that.

Barclays (’traditional’ UK Bank)

Clive Grinyer, their Design Director for Premier business, continued the Design Thinking theme.

Coming from a design background outside of FS, Clive provided a very entertaining & visually engaging talk about why design matters & how it helps. A number of times this reminded me of the principles also shared by a fellow designer (Jeff Patreane from Caffeine Creative) at CIM event, where I spoke last month.

As well as, surprisingly, extolling the value of ‘cheating’ (pretending you can do something just to learn demand/interest), Clive introduced a number of cracking ideas that were taken up by other later speakers. Most notable was the idea of Minimum Viable Experience (MVE). This is basically a refinement on the idea of Minimum Viable Product (MVP), an approach typified by technology companies more focussed on shipping product than having removed all the bugs. In this case your focus should not be solely on the product viability, but whether the experience is workable. That is a nice twist on the idea, as it balances being more customer-centric than some MVP tactics (that irritate users), whilst retaining the pragmatism that it is best to ship early in order to get real world feedback (test & learn).

Clive shared his high-level design thinking methodology, that guides their work at Barclays:

  1. Personas (pen portraits of target customers – despite my concerns about stereotyping, there did appear to be some multidimensional depth to these visualisations)
  2. Bus Stop Sign (be able to tell an ‘elevator pitch’ for the challenge you are tackling – job customer wants to get done)
  3. User Journey (a visualisation of customer experience intended to meet the above need)
  4. Prototype (launching an MVE, then continuing to test & learn as you refine this to what is really needed)

Once again, it was encouraging to hear two pieces of advice recommended by this blog:

(a) Mobile is different & your design needs to respond to that challenge/opportunity;

(b) “Deep insight” need to guide all that design work seeks to do.

Aldermore (‘cultural’ disrupter, B2B UK bank)

Pamela Brown, their Marketing Director, shared the vision & development story of this start-up. It was interesting to hear that her background was British Gas’ Hive team, as a number of themes were consistent with those made by Jim Anning (Head of Data & Analytics at Hive) at #DILS2016.

Aldermore focuses on providing lending & savings products to UK’s 5m SMEs. It was interesting to discover that their name comes from the Alder tree, because it is the only UK tree that grows in infertile soil. That is apparently a reference to the experience of starting a new bank in the wake of 2008+ banking crisis.

They’ve clearly done a number of things right, with their focus on customers, as they reached over 200k customers and an NPS of over 29 (very good for the industry). However, they recognise that things like their multiple “Contact Us” numbers/emails and digital navigation still need to improve.

Pamela’s focus was on Customer Experience journey mapping & especially co-creation with customers. Having prioritized 5 key customer journeys, we were shown a video of how they invited customers in to co-create with them. The events appeared really well facilitated & genuinely acknowledged the expertise & importance of their customers. Designs were based on customer insight, but the Aldermore team were rightly humble enough to realise there is always assumption/perception in hypotheses & prototypes created internally. The workshop gave them time to go through proposition ideas & working prototypes in detail & learn which worked for customers.

Customer feedback following this co-creation event was stellar & their Customer NPS has now reached over 43. There is more work to do on their Broker NPS, but a similar insight-led co-creation workshop approach should serve them well there too (if they are willing to travel to the advisers).


I hope those rather detailed notes were useful. I’ve been more thorough than my previous write-ups of recent events, because of the number of consistent themes I was hearing across those events. Part two, with the perspective of technology firms & FinTechs is coming soon.

If you haven’t started your own journey toward internal innovation, utilising customer insight generation, design thinking & co-creation – I recommend you do.

The pace of change is not slowing down any time soon.