Money as a Service

Redefining how money and organizations serve people

I originally published this post in the CX Outlook.

The snoozy Financial Services industry is awake, undergoing the greatest changes in decades. People’s interaction with money is evolving. The use of cash is in decline. New alternatives have appeared. Mobile financial services and payments have taken off. And new players are entering the fray as tech brands are currently driving the future. Services like Venmo, Square, Google Wallet, Nubank, Apple Pay, and Digit are defining customers’ expectations for how money should behave to fit their needs, not the banking system’s.

Inherent in many of these new solutions is an inversion of the customer’s mental model of how money behaves. Money is no longer stored in an institution and accessible only when you play by their rules. Money is out there with you in the world: fluid and at your service.

To keep up and take advantage, a financial services organization must not only focus on customer experience, but also redefine core tenets of how it engages in it.

This new mentality mixed with new technology, competitors, and a growing realization of the relationships between great experiences and profitability makes now an opportune time to reframe how financial service organizations see, deliver, and manage customer experiences. In fact, it’s a crucial time to do so as those of us responsible for the experience are expected to achieve more, do it more quickly, and do it at scale.

To keep up and take advantage, a financial services organization must not only focus on customer experience, but also redefine core tenets of how it engages in it.

Redefine Product

Financial services is, ironically, an industry in love with products. Checking, savings, mortgages, annuities, life insurance, and credit cards might all be named and managed as products. Yet from the customer’s perspective, these don’t seem or act like products at all. They are simply rules and containers that go into making up the experience they have over time with their money and the brand they’ve trusted to handle it. Now, more than ever, a desirable experience is the product customers truly buy.

Financial services organizations need to manage their experience products — those key end-to-end journeys of their customers — just as carefully as any other product portfolio: with rigor, coordination, and a competitive frame. And, customer experience professionals must be equally ready to take on the same levels of accountability as a product manager for the health and outcomes of their experience products.

The result can be financial services that not only deliver better experiences, but services that lead customers through a journey that they value and the business values. This is something that an unchanging product simply cannot do, but a well-orchestrated customer journey can. It’s not a mortgage; it’s becoming a homeowner. It’s not a credit card; it’s becoming trustworthy with your finances. As stated in Who Do You Want Your Customers to Become? by Michael Schrage, great experience design “should not just focus on the challenge of creating better customer experiences but rise to the challenge of creating better customers.”

Redefine the Front Line

There was once a day that the local branch, the teller, or the meeting with the financial advisor dominated the customer experience. This front line sat in the customer’s context. If a policy or promotion from headquarters didn’t make sense in that customers’ context, the front line could and should ignore the business needs in deference to the customer’s. Customer empathy was constantly a part of decision making about the experience.

The challenge for financial services is to build back that same empathy for the customer in a front line that’s often physically no longer at the front.

Fast-forward, and the majority of customer interactions are digital. But what’s changed about empathy is that the new front line — those making the decisions about how the experience is created and crafted — sits not in the customer’s context, but in the context of the business. Digital developers, designers, and product managers work far away from the customer. The greater empathy in the business context is obviously for the business that’s in front of them, not the far-away un-met customer. The result is processes, policies, and promotions that are coldly hard-coded and can appear tone-deaf to customers.

The challenge for financial services is to build back that same empathy for the customer in a front line that’s often physically no longer at the front. Actually, maybe that’s the easier part. The even harder achievement might be giving them the agency and authority to do the right thing for the customer as if they were sitting in the customer’s context, prioritizing the customer’s problem above the organization’s business priorities.

Redefine Data

Some of us do try to act like rational beings when we deal with money, but the truth is something that we can’t avoid: we’re emotional and irrational decision makers. To get a handle on this at Adaptive Path, we create customer experience maps that include the emotional ups and downs of a service to realize just where we are stepping into someone’s emotional journey.

Analytics and big data reveal cold insights about a faceless customer, but they can’t solve the most important question — why that customer should care about you.

Emotions are data too. Qualitative information is data too. And, in an industry so based in the numbers, it’s critical to honor, apply, and measure our successes and failures by a wide array of data to recognize the bigger picture. Tomorrow’s financial services will embrace and design for people’s emotions, their irrational decisions and behaviors, to help create better journeys and outcomes.

The job of the CX leader is to bring back the emotional context to the services we deliver. Brand, customer service, qualitative research, and the design of the choices we present to customers are all means of understanding, planning for, and delivering customer experiences that deal with our very human behaviors.

In today’s world it’s possible to know more about a customer than ever before, yet still treat them like a number. Analytics and big data reveal cold insights about a faceless customer, but they can’t solve the most important question — why that customer should care about you. Redefining data to include the emotional journeys in finances can be your means of breaking through and thereby being a service worthy of a customer’s investment of time and trust.

The biggest mistake we can make will be to think of financial services as we know it today. Big. Stodgy. Rules. Fees. Reframed, money is a service by which we facilitate the improvement of people’s lives. If we passionately study, design, and deliver services for how people can best interact and channel it to these purposes, we’ll create customer relationships that are both better for business and better for the people we serve.


Thanks for reading. Photo by Maria Eklind, Some Rights Reserved