An Interview with Aden Davies, Financial Services Specialist on CX Design & Fintech

As an analyst, I talk to a lot of bankers — from various IT groups and business groups — across the enterprise and write about the trends that are impacting the financial services business environment – trends like “customer experience design,” “customer-centricity,” and the various ways consumers, digital technologies are disrupting the ecosystem of services, apps, and business models.

To get into the thick of how trends, like customer experience design and user experience are changing – or not changing – the way banks develop apps, applications, solutions for their customers, I interviewed Aden Davies via email.

I have known Aden for a few years now from Twitter. He’s spent most of his career inside banks working on innovation. In this piece, I am interested in how he viewed these trends and their role in digital innovation. Take a look at our conversation on user experience, customer experience design, and Fintech:

 

What does UX mean to you? How do you define it?  

It is everything. The term clearly came out of UI and digital primarily. I prefer the more encompassing term of service design or, you know, just design. Brands like UX and Fintech are both a blessing and a curse. The more vague the term the more conflation, but their history can also pigeonhole.

I would define it as design. It is how things work. From front to back and beyond.

 

What do you make of the current emphasis and/or hype about UX design?

It is a good thing. Design should always be of great importance because it is how things work. The better things work, the better they are for customers. Hype will ebb and flow around certain brands, such as UX, and their evolution due to technological progress.

This will bring out the snake oil salesman and all manner of experts, but good design is timeless. That deserves to be hyped.

 

What are the biggest myths about customer experience & banking?

I am not a big fan of frictionless being seen as the ultimate goal. ‘I don’t even notice the payment in Uber!’, say rich people. Most financial products are complex, unfortunately, and they carry risks and responsibilities. All those things have to be considered and designed for in ways that make processes slick, but also compliant and, most importantly, that the customer understands. That is a real design challenge.

The iTunes user agreement is a classic example of the genre. Apple, the greatest design company on earth, can’t build a decent terms and conditions flow for just buying music and apps. What chance have banks got when you are buying a house? Do you really want that to be frictionless? How have banks changed in the time in terms of focus on customer experience and design?

I think they are starting to say the right things. Some banks are clearly backing those words up with action, Capital One with their purchase of Adaptive Path spring to mind. Actions clearly speak louder than words.

I think in general the importance of the user experience is brought home by obvious sources of insight, such as app reviews and social media commentary, as well as customer satisfaction scores around digital.

The banks know they can no longer ignore that but it still has to be balanced with the size-able regulatory changes they have to deal with.

 

How do bank IT developers work with customer experience designers? What’s the process and relationship like in your experience? What could be better?

My experience is limited to one organisation primarily. The challenge, though, is not just developers and designers. How things get built, altered and removed needs to be a far more collaborative process from beginning to end.

What about the role of external design firms? What about IT architecture? What about front line staff? And what about customers?

So many parties to get involved to ensure it works and meets the right needs. Design in large organisations can tend to be someone making some pictures/wireframes. Then someone codes a prototype, then someone codes the real thing, a load of review processes, big bang go live. Several months later, rinse and repeat. Organisational structures play a huge role in the success or failure of user experience.  You can tell a lot about an organisation from its websites, apps and services. The classic Conway’s Law shows exactly how an org is structured or what it prioritizes in the interfaces it publishes. The interface is the product.

You have multiple teams and stakeholders in multiple locations working for different areas to different targets from different budgets. Ideally, you would get as many people together in the same place for as often as is possible – even simple things like devs and designers building/sketching in code instead of making pictures or throw-away prototypes.

Get as close to reality as soon as possible. Building from wireframes and PSDs is a fallacy and it is not just about the front end. If an app logon process invokes 20 backend processes, the front end will always be slow and badly perceived. Is that the fault of the IT developers or the customer experience designers?

 

How do you think customer experience design can change the way banks offer services to customers?

As I touched on previously, really good service design should cut across organisational silos. The design has to be everything if you want to really call yourself customer-centric and still be able to look at yourself in the mirror. The capabilities digital technologies present today, widespread mobile broadband, smartphone in everyone’s hand, ever progressing web technologies delivering richer experiences, mean that service offerings should get better and better. They should be capable of allowing a customer to finish applications end to end easily there and then or staggered and finished when it suits the customer.

The interactions between customers digitally should be simpler and more lightweight.

 

Do you think bankers and Fintech companies focus too much on millennials in their quest to improve customer experience & design?

Dear God yes. Far too much design is aimed at segments of users. Is the Apple iPad designed for millennials or is it designed to be as easy to use as possible if you are 18 months or 80 years old? Just design services that are as easy to use as possible. Every age range deserves great services.

Clearly, there will be services that need to be designed for specific segments e.g. wealth products, but, if the service design is simple, clear and understandable that is a good way to satisfy any segment. Also, who cares about millennials? They don’t have any money or any concept of responsibility and they are whiny and young and they must be sick of all these stereotypes from lazy segmentation and even lazier commentators.

 

Can banks & Fintech innovate without dramatically transforming the approach customer experience?

No. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, great service design cares little about how your organisation is structured. You have to take that out of the equation and build for user need first, organisational need second (or further down the list if you can get away with it).

The reality is that this is not always possible operationally or politically. And, constraints also make for great design, but far too often, compromises are made because a service goes outside the bounds of the team making it. Far more often than that, it does not meet the organization’s needs. This cutting across organisational boundaries is where the transformation is required. You need systems that are flexible enough to talk easily to each other. Org charts and working practices that are flexible enough to allow people to collaborate. You need business models and budgets that can flex in the same way. It’s quite easy to say, but very hard to do, especially in large bureaucratic organisations as there are all kinds of power dynamics at play.

I must mention the work of the Government Digital Service in the UK as an example of real transformation.

A team of brilliant Internet people drafted in on the back of an inspiring document, by Martha Lane-Fox and Tom Loosemore, outlining the purpose and direction needed to transform IT in Government. They have built amazing things and set out inspiring design principles and service manuals that show how a real transformative approach to user experience is delivered. I have learned so much from this project and these people. Banks should too.

It is this level of change that is required to really make the most of design in banks, and any organisations. It is by no means easy, but it is by every means worth it.

 

What skills do you think that traditional vendors and banks are lacking in terms of product and customer experience design?

The big challenge is, how high up the org chart is design? Some banks have CDOs (Chief Design Officers). Is it a show title? Are they real designers? Will a designer ever be as high up the org as, say, the Head of Risk or the Head of the branch network? Another problem I see is product management as a discipline.

You will more than likely have product managers for current accounts or lending but who owns internet banking? Who owns the mobile banking app? If that is not the same person why? Who has the power to ensure it is a coherent design not just a series of patched together projects that have accreted grotesquely over time? Digital Product Management is becoming an increasingly important discipline.

And, finally, I think the ability to launch in alpha/beta or to build small, cheap and quick is really lacking.  Most banks don’t have the tools, e.g. APIs, the processes e.g. DevOps to build, release, iterate, repeat in the space of days rather than months if not years.

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This was originally posted on UX Crunch. Reposted here for posterity/vanity.