Where's the experience design gold in Financial Services?

The Experience Designers I work with thrive on taking complex products and services and turning them into elegantly simple customer propositions. It’s enjoyable to be challenged by a complex problem, and it’s rewarding to solve the problem through design.

I want to make sure we tackle the intellectual challenges inherent to the risky, breaking wave, disruptive propositions we see in Fin- and InsureTech, but I want to balance these with the incremental improvements in customer experience so needed and so valuable to established financial services giants whose experiences reach millions of customers.

Today’s financial products are often commoditised, and both FinTech disruptor and established brands are aware that the battle for market share will be won by those who can provide the most relevant, useful and attractive user experience.

I’m interested in both ends of a client spectrum whose poles are defined by time in the market. This tends to be reflected in characteristics like business size, customer base as well as the freshness of the business model and the technology stack. ‘Simplicity’ isn’t in the list because the new stuff isn’t necessarily the simplest.

There are two levels of complexity at play here:

  1. The complexity (and subsequent comprehensibility) of the proposition
  2. The complexity in the way it’s experienced.

What needs doing?

The ‘techs (both fin- and insure-) say they have a laser focus on the customer experience, but some of the experiences out there do beg the question of whether actual human users were considered in the design.

For example: although I admire what Atom Bank are up to, I’m not a great fan of the way they surface their experience UI conversely I like where Starling Bank and the insurers Lemonade and Brolly are going. Their bold propositions and vision mean there’s interesting work to do here making this comprehensible and consumable.

Most people are familiar with conventional personal and retail banking products, and because of this, the propositions seem pretty straightforward. But the experience offered by many High Street banks is often complex, as evidenced by labyrinthine product application processes, and that’s a job to be done.

Few people understand investment products because balancing risk in a portfolio is more complex than understanding how a loan works. Simplifying these and other more complex propositions is also a job to be done, and outfits like Nutmeg and Swanest have started tackling this in different ways by trying to make the process of investing simpler and clearer.

A really exciting new category are those players that will take advantage of Open Banking. There is a revolution about to happen here. Starling Bank’s positioning suggests they think the future lies in personalised plug ‘n play FS eco-systems, where you choose from interoperable FS services that all plug into the same middleware as shown by their marketplace proposition.

But this will be a horses-for-courses game, and few people will want to be exposed to the full possibilities of the emerging API economy . However, many will wish to benefit from the advantages that new data-driven services will be able to offer financial consumers. That will emerge from a deep view of what customers are spending their money on, and how.

Opportunities abound in this emerging category to define the way that financial services will deliver to customers – and indeed what those services are. This will be tricky, it will be complex and it will be fantastically exciting to translate these into a valuable, usable experiences.

However, as if descending from the ‘Ministry of Complex Propositions’ are the products and services emerging in the PIE (Personal Information Economy) space – a genuinely new category of things for providers to communicate and for customers to understand. Layers of complexity exist here all tied in with the notion that if you own your data then you can also choose to trade it – and that’s just the beginning.

With so much choice, where to play ?

In choosing where to look for future rewarding and engaging work, experience design teams are spoiled for choice.

With so much disruption and innovation at one end results in challenges to shape and package new products and services as comprehensible and easy to use. At the other end of the scale, traditional FS institutions labour under the weight of outdated technologies that make it difficult to deliver a contemporary experience, as defined of course by the slab of tech in your pocket.

There will be winners and losers in this sector over the next five years – the challenge for experience designers is to make sure that the customers stay in the winner’s enclosure

Mark is a Chartered Psychologist and systems thinker. He has worked in complex system, service and digital product design for 25 years across multiple sectors. Now increasingly focused on finance.