People and Money at SXSW

Oh no. I did it again. I brought up money in mixed company. I thought we were getting real! A minute ago the conversation was politics. Then someone brought up religion. But man, I had to go ahead and bring up money.

What was I thinking! Money is so personal, polarizing. It rules our decisions, experiences, and our opportunities. It’s the root of greed, envy, the human struggle. It gives power. It also puts food on our tables. Money helps us build families and honor friends. We receive money as a symbol of our value.

And yet, I feel my face get hot, the room goes silent, someone coughs…all because I dared to broach the topic.

Capital One knows money is a lot more than just the numbers that show up on statements. Money is complicated, messy, emotional, and multi-faceted.

That’s why we started People and Money, which I get the privilege of hosting at SXSW on Saturday, March 9 at 8:00 AM (I know it’s early, but there are free breakfast tacos — have I mentioned I love Texas?).

Quick conversations about taboo topics

At SXSW, we’re bringing People and Money to you. You’ll see a bit of how Capital One talks about money internally.

We’ll have three talks from Capital One employees Paul Zolandz (Director of Experience Design), Kim Allman (Senior Director, Community Development Banking), and Scotty Leach (Cafe Ambassador).

Paul Zolandz presenting at People + Money 2018

We’ve found that these lightning talk events remind us that the scary, weird, wild, and empowering experiences with money are ones we all share.

This is an opportunity to check out the Capital One House without a conference badge, while finding a safe space to discuss the experience of being a money-using human.

My (obvious) pride here

I’ve definitely had my moments of pretending money wasn’t a thing…“That’s not my debt. Why would I need a retirement plan? Bills?!”

I started my career in non-profit documentaries. When I got tired of not-profiting, I moved on to advertising. And now I work at a bank. I hear in my head that I’ve sold out. I get weird around my indie film friends, and yet, they reassure me that I haven’t changed.

Working at a bank means I’m within an institution where the business is money. Money can motivate corporations to do a lot of different things, like make impacts in environmental sustainability, support our local communities, teach financial literacy to families, and partner with organizations that could change the norms of societal and situational injustices. And every person I work with has a desire to do something to make the world a better place (join the team!).

Sketch notes from a past People + Money

Working on the Design team and seeing the ways Capital One brings human-centered practices throughout the organization is a treat. People and Money is just one of these initiatives.

The research share-out that went company-wide

The event kicked off in late 2014 when the Design team at Capital One quickly doubled in size and began stretching across the nation. In an effort to get new designers up to speed, our leaders thought, let’s do a research share out!

But they didn’t want to simply sit in a room and report research metrics. They thought storytelling might bring deeper insights and leave lasting impressions. They were right.

Listening to these stories, an obvious theme emerged that money isn’t simple — it’s a lot more than just banking and credit. People’s relationships with money are multifaceted and complex. As a result, the team was able to approach work differently, knowing the outcomes of their labor are about human values and experiences.

This desire to understand people’s relationships with money spread across the organization. Under the guidance of Steph Hay (VP of Integrated Experiences) and Sydney Ledger (Design Brand Storytelling & Engagement), People and Money became an annual live storytelling event, featuring associates from all across the company — from business analysts to call center employees and cafe ambassadors. Everyone who attended was able to see the line of impact they can have while working here.

Post-its from a workshop about the emotional experiences of money.

People and Money wasn’t just helpful for highlighting the ways we were becoming a people-centered organization. It also gave associates an opportunity to talk about the human experience of working with our products — even if it meant challenging the status quo of the entire financial industry.

Ally Cahill gave a talk at one of these events, and her call to action influenced the creation of a new service. She had been working on research for our Card line of business, and spoke with a lot of people who couldn’t make payments. The reality is that many people are unable to pay a bill at some point or another in their lives, for many different reasons. She shared a few vignettes, including a personal story about her own family. Her request? We should help people build a plan to work with us instead of just charging them more and more fees. It’s eventually good for our bottom line and shows we care.

Soon after, we started testing programs for working with our customers to get back on track when they fall behind.

Check it out for yourself

People and Money has inspired so much within our office walls. Sure, the product and service insights have been great, but the biggest value has been that individuals have the opportunity to see themselves in each other’s stories. We can find comfort, release, inspiration, and camaraderie around this taboo topic.

By sharing this with the world at SXSW, we hope to give people a safe space to talk about money experiences. It gives us an opportunity to teach and be taught in a constructive environment.

Please join us at SXSW for this free event and stories about People and Money at Antone’s 305 E 5th Street on March 9 at 8:00 AM.


Dorothy Levin is a Communications Manager for Design Operations at Capital One. She loves mixing her passion for finding human stories with the Design team’s passion for human experiences. She’s excited to host People and Money at SXSW. She’s equally excited to eat all the tacos.

Join her team as a Visual Designer, or check out available jobs in Design at Capital One.