The Future of Currency: Financial Experience Products

Shanon Marks
Jul 13, 2015 · 8 min read

How would you like to pay?
Product development in today’s reality looks beyond function and towards imagination. How do we create a new kind of digital teller that has access to vast and unlimited financial expertise, available anytime and for every customer? How do we provide increasingly effortless access to private information while ensuring near-absolute security? How do we make banking feel human while integrating advanced automation? These are the questions that the market leaders must answer with inventive and effective experiences.

The future we were promised is here — and it’s better than flying cars. Thinking machines are driving an entirely new kind of economy, combined with machine vision, the future is poised to drive an entirely new kind of car. We learned from agro-tech how to take inventory-tracking capabilities from cattle-management and logistics into sophisticated wearables that have given innovators the ability to connect more deeply and intimately than ever before. The convergence of rapidly emerging technology is shaping a needs-driven reality where people and machines interface through natural conversations and connectivity make anywhere, anytime table-stakes.

Keep the change
There is an entirely new benchmark for transactional simplicity and customer service. The Credit Card is an incredibly simple piece of reliable technology that has a nearly perfect track record. Incremental innovation has ensured a highly secure and dynamic payment system, but disruptors are changing the pace of change. American Express innovated the brand and material experience, introducing high-quality materials and colors that make the token more attractive, leveraging the power of their brand to stand apart from competitors. The race to digital payments will be won and lost in terms of transactional simplicity. Banks must focus on digital products with the ease and reliability of the credit card, ignoring that will lead to trendy solutions that don’t address the core of the customer perspective.

Investing in the future
The winners of the next generation will create experience-products that attract Millennials and Digital Natives through pure-digital, sophisticated mobile touch points while focusing on simplification. Venmo, Square and Bitcoin aren’t winning on parlor tricks and interfaces — they are leveraging massively powerful platforms and democratizing the concept of currency. Your customer of the future is never going to set foot into your bank, they won’t understand the concept of a check and the idea of speaking with a representative, interacting with a teller will be as foreign as a telephone booth.

Financial Services has led the charge in experiential technology for the past 20 years and understands the costly application of technology without purpose. To demonstrate what this means in terms of customer experience we’ve been playing around with the idea of “the curve of terrible experience.” It’s our own playful take on the digital industry’s past, present, and future:

The Curve Of Terrible Experience

What’s next?
Clearly, we’ve seen a lot of industry growth in technology and maturity over the last 15 years — growth that drove new ways to engage with digital content but had no real consideration for the user. But everything changed with the rise of experiential design and experience design practices; suddenly, customer experience became top of mind for decision makers.

Here’s what it takes to get there:

  • It’s not about what you can invent, it’s about what you can work with. Practical Innovation examines resources and technology to build upon your existing capabilities mitigating the risk of product development.
  • Integrate into platforms like Amazon’s Echo and make checking my balance as easy as “Alexa, what’s my balance? Transfer $3000 from account 8091 to 6854 please.
  • Build product development teams that leverage creative technology and design firms to quickly prototype and test potential products while mitigating risk
  • Create digital tools that show, not tell and help people make decisions not ask more questions.

AI is a tangible customer engagement tool

  • Leverage emerging platforms like IBM’s Bluemix to create cognitive applications that provide insight, not just access
  • Integrate intelligence to augment customer support and create a new kind of digital banking expert
  • Help customers make better decisions and mitigate complexity for every decision
  • Make every interaction feel surprisingly human while acting efficiently digital.

As we use imaginative ways to continually improve the customer experience, we need to consider these points.

Make the intangible tangible. Successful digital experiences are authentic. As the real and digital world begin to look more and more alike, consumers will cling to consistency and authenticity in branding. The further a brand extends on either side of the boundary, the stronger it is. That means we need an authentic style, tone, voice, and experience — regardless of when, where, and how consumers interact with our brands.

Tap into the technology toolbox. Connect physical interactions to digital profiles to better understand customers. Using sensors, beacons, analytics, and locations, we can gain an important understanding of the hyper-local context of each transaction and create valuable context. Taking advantage of customer information in ways that simplify any experience and bring value to every interaction. ATMs that wish customers happy birthday are parlor tricks and not worth the money and time invested. Think about how else that same data point, plus rewards, plus needs could result in a transaction that’s authentic to the brand and valuable for the customer. Similarly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming the sentinel, preventing brands from co-opting customers into data-entry workers. Every time a customer navigates the complexities of a system, works to find an account summary, or authorizes a transfer — they become an unpaid worker. This is a reality being realized by consumers worldwide, and it is affecting brand sentiment. AI is becoming a natural language interface that translates needs, wants and desires into complex commands that machines can understand and humans need not be bothered with.

For example, Amazon’s Echo instantly becomes an integrated part of people’s lives. A cloud-based AI driven by artificial intelligence and natural language, Alexa personifies the Amazon brand and is surprisingly human. Financial services should be asking the same question — “how do we leverage the practicality of AI and invisible interfaces to enhance how humans experience our products and services?”

Embrace the new normal. We don’t need to open our computer, type an address, search for a product, and suffer through a lengthy checkout process. We just say, “Alexa, buy some apples.” When we go to the supermarket, we don’t fill out forms or use interfaces to find apples, so why should we do that in a digital marketplace? Shifting into this posture isn’t a choice; it’s a necessity. At its core, Alexa simplifies the experience of shopping down to simple voice commands. The opportunity is even greater for Financial Services as there’s no clear winner in the simplification category. Redesigned interfaces and streamlined logins are table stakes. Redefining how transactions occur and feel is the opportunity.

Bring technology to the table as designers, not engineers. By empowering technology to contribute to the solution we can explore aspects of security, navigating personal information and take advantage of the ideas that are generated from close contact to the systems that drive the machine. Bridging the space between business strategy, technology, and creative gives your firm the same posture and tools that today’s startups use to move fast and iterate quickly.

Be imaginative. Anyone who tells me the digital age takes away from creativity and imagination clearly doesn’t understand the empowering nature of technology. New interfaces allow us to personify the consumer experience in increasingly customized ways — we need to use our imagination to capitalize on this.

Three years ago, we started a company to change the way surfboards are designed and built. Surfboards, after all, are like suits — they must be tailored to our bodies. We had to create a connection across the digital and physical boundaries, and we did it with a combination of personal profile data, sensor-based telematics, and a digital customer experience that focused on the emotional qualities of a surf lifestyle. The key to success was simplifying a confusing market with too many product choices with too few discernable differences. Our platform takes what it knows about the environment and your expertise and helps you choose products that will bring you more joy.

Financial products are complex, abstract and confusing — helping customers understand the effect of their decisions is critical. Acorns approached financial services in the same way we approached surfboard design. They created a highly gestural mobile investing app that shows you what you need, not expects you to uncover what might be right for you. In essence they mitigate anxiety of the unknown and remove risk from the process. That’s a big difference in how you approach product selection. Acorns created a rich visual environment that encourages the user to slide and play until they achieve the desired outcome. It tackles complex financial products in a way that connects cause and effect. It doesn’t educate by telling, it demonstrates long-term impact and encourages exploration. Essentially it answers the question everyone is asking: “what if?” It doesn’t have a bias, it instantly earns trust and it is a consistently branded experience. Hold experiences like Echo and Acorns to your current state to experience the same measure that your customers use.

Lose the Big Brother mentality. Predictive experiences are powerful mechanisms for creating surprising moments that leave real impressions. Yet there’s still a lingering sense that predictive experiences somehow invade individual privacy and diminish the customer experience. That’s not true. Privacy is a balance and when there’s a benefit of sharing information, people are happy to do so. Our world is moving toward intelligent experiences that will make interfaces invisible and interactions as simple as saying “yes” or “buy.”

As digital and physical worlds meld together, we must create customer interactions that encourage communication across boundaries. The more invisible the experience becomes, the more disbelief is suspended. It’s not about marketing, descriptions, or details — it’s about absolute immersion. It’s what technology is enabling, and it’s what customers demand.

Experiment: Nothing replaces experimentation. It’s the loudly beating heart of possibility and it’s the greatest motivator you can give your teams. Explore technology, explore experiential and explore new channels. Talk directly to your audience through Periscope, open up your monthly meetings to your customers, blend office space into the retail banking space and have officers working in the middle of it all. Why should operations be out of view? Unless you’re Disney, the magic isn’t what drives them through the door. Take risks that are measurable, reasonable and worthwhile.

The future of financial services is simple, intelligent and invisible. Combining new and existing technology like Artificial Intelligence, sensors and mobile provides banks with the ability to create new convenience-based revenue opportunities that enhance the Innovation Quotient of the product and keep customers engaged. Technology is becoming friendlier and invites leaders from across the organization to collaborate, extending beyond the office of the CTO — which benefits the brand and the product offering. The key questions continue to be driven by customer needs:

  • How do we design predictive data-driven products based on data, not reactive tactics?
  • How do we communicate the value, not describe the benefits of our products?
  • How do we create a collaborative design driven democracy within our firm around design thinking and innovation practices?

Leadership must be aligned on the answers to these questions and drive the practices and product innovation required to keep banks competitive and offerings relevant. Design firms, creative technologists and in-house talent can guide and nurture these activities, enhancing the value of the firm and everything it produces. The rise of rapid prototyping tools and the maturation of digital product development give organizations the ability to develop experience products that define state of the art, ensuring a competitive position in an ever-advancing field.

Artificially Intelligent

Looking at tomorrow

Shanon Marks

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Artificially Intelligent

Looking at tomorrow