Designing a better banking experience

Published October 26, 2016   |   

Last week at Money20/20 in Las Vegas I spent some time behind the scenes at Capital One to see how they are using technology, innovation, and design to create a better banking experience.

I sat down with Scott Zimmer, Capital One’s Global Head of Design, to focus on how design is taking on a growing role in banking. He describes himself as a “Disney-bred creative, someone who’s driven to create”. Not exactly a common bio quote for most bankers, but one that may grow more familiar as design takes an increasingly important role in the industry.

“There’s a pretty compelling story in banking, and the things we do for people matter to people on a human level,” says Zimmer, “and in the design community, that’s what designers were born to do.”

Listen to the interview here:

The designs about a lot more than making things look pretty. It’s about making things work better. Technology has been a democratizing force across so many industries, and banking is no exception. Customers have more choices than ever, and those choices now include products, services and experiences that are often far superior than the you’ll-take-what-we-make era that prevailed for so long.

I have heard a lot of bankers proclaim their desire to make their branches more like Apple stores, but for too many of them that desire begins and ends with the clean visual aesthetic. The effectiveness of the design of the Apple store that makes it so successful goes far deeper than that. Zimmer agrees, “Steve (Jobs) was famous for saying ‘design is really how something works’, and what’s interesting about the Apple store in all its starkness, is they simplified it, to make it work better.”

The business case for beautiful products and compelling customer experiences is a tough one for most boards and executives to get their hands around. I know this firsthand from my work helping some of them with their strategic planning, as they fret about making big bets that might not payoff. A good design process involves a ‘test and learn’ approach that is well known to any fintech entrepreneurs following lean startup principles. It’s an approach that banks should be using in more of their business decisions.

As Zimmer puts it: “We try to avoid failing at scale”

Scott Zimmer Headshot

Scott Zimmer – Global Head of Design, Capital One

Las Vegas is an appropriate setting for using a poker analogy to describe the advantages of this approach (blackjack works too). Rather than pushing all of their chips to the center of the table and declaring “all in” as the first cards are dealt, the savvy player makes small bets and only increases them until the cards are in their favor.

“It’s the thing that has transitioned product development dramatically”, says Zimmer, “in days past you might have made two, three big bets a year, and now, any team that’s working in this collaborative, iterative fashion can be making sixty, seventy bets at one time, but with minimal investment.”

Zimmer and his team have brought this iterative test and learn approach inside the organization too. They’ve built user labs to test ideas with customers much earlier, and this gives them better insights into what’s working and what’s not much sooner. He contrasts that approach with the typical big meeting going over a PowerPoint presentation that someone has worked on internally for weeks. That approach can cause teams to be defensive about their hard work instead of working through the options more collaboratively with more early contact with customers.

The future of design is evolving beyond spaces, products, and services. Zimmer also talked about the challenge of designing for voice with the Capital One skill for Amazon Echo, with a team focused on conversation design “obsessing around the humanity that has to come through in interaction and what the word choices are”. That work is continuing with the release of an update to the skill called “How Much Did I Spend?” that was built with a natural language query, “as though you are talking with your money”.

Zimmer sees parallels between financial health and physical health, and he thinks software and good design can help us to set goals and achieve them. “The ability to leverage software’s capability to do that is this new era that’s upon us of creating new products and services. I think design plays a huge role, and there’s a bright future ahead.”

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