Bridging the brand-experience gap — Fintech Design Summit 2018

On Friday (20th April), I gave a talk at the Fintech Design Summit 2018 in London. As the video of the talk won’t be released publicly, I thought it would be useful to share the slides with notes.

You can also find this on Slideshare here.

Hello, introductions, etc.

These days I work on strategy and design programmes, but my background is in research. During my time at Foolproof, I’ve spoken to about 1–2k people in face-to-face interviews. About half of those interviews have been for financial services clients, from big banks to early-stage startups. So my perspective on fintech is from the customer’s point of view. I’m really interested in what people think, what they do and why.

When I talk to people in the industry about fintech, I often hear a lot of scepticism. People say things like:

  • Isn’t fintech just for early adopters?
  • What’s stopping big banks outmuscling startups?

These are good questions. I guess we don’t really know the answers yet, but there are some things that we learn from talking to so many people and design so many things in this industry that can give us some clues about how this might play out.

Today I’m going to talk about three things…

So first of all, that uncomfortable truth: people don’t switch their bank accounts.

Fintech is much more than just current accounts, but they’re a good barometer of progress. There’s a well known fact: people stay with their bank on average longer than their husband or wife. So if you can get people to switch their bank accounts, you can get them to do anything!

You see this kind of thing in the news from time to time…

…and when you look into the data, it tells a clear story.

Data sources:

The only conclusion that we can come to when looking at this data is that big banks have not been successful in persuading people to switch.

Not for a lack of trying. They’ve thrown millions of pounds at this, but haven’t made a significant impact. No wonder people are sceptical about startups, with a few dozen people, coming along and changing that.

But just because people don’t switch doesn’t mean they won’t switch. The reason why I think this is because as designers we know that…

The best place to see this in action is somewhere familiar to all of us…

Imagine you’re going to Ikea to observe people and how they behave.

If you go upstairs, people are wandering around, not very focused. You won’t find many people making decisive decisions about what they want to buy. They don’t move around very quickly. It doesn’t look like anyone is going to buy anything.

When you go downstairs and watch people, no-one is browsing. Everyone is very focused on the item they’re looking for and they’re always in a hurry.

Of course, we understand why this is the case and how Ikea works. But it just goes to show how different people’s behaviour can be, depending on the environment.

How do consumers perceive the environment for financial services? We hear the same thing all the time in research: “Banks are all the same”

They’re very apathetic towards banks — they don’t care and they don’t want to have any kind of meaningful relationship with them. They deal with them because they have to, but that’s about it. It’s not because people are ignorant and don’t realise the differences, it’s because they’re right. They are broadly all the same.

Why do they appear to be the same? Bad press doesn’t help, but really because…

They all promise one thing, deliver another. If you look at any almost bank in the UK, the advertising tells people one thing, but the experience doesn’t match.

I’ve picked as few examples of what banks say about themselves in advertising and what their app experience is like (because increasingly the app is the main point of contact people have with their bank).

Santander: the advertising is about prospering together and having celebrity endorsements, but the app looks like any other bank.

Barclays say: Let’s go forward. They talk about digital and life skills. But how does this manifest itself in the experience?

Metro Bank — join the revolution. A fresh start to banking. Banking, but better. But if you use their app, how well does that come across?

All of the established UK banks do this: they say that they’re here for every step of the journey, or always giving you extra, bringing local backing back for Britain, or here for your ambition — but the actual experience rarely has any evidence of that whatsoever.

As a side note, sometimes even the messaging is the same. What’s with the children dressed up as superheroes?

Anyway, what we call this, when brands say one thing and do another thing is the brand experience gap.

There’s an important link between what users expect (based on what you promise them) and what actually happens (in the experience you deliver).

We use this analogy of a burger at work a lot. Imagine we’re selling burgers.

If you tell people they’re going to get this, but they actually get this…

…then what they actually think about you is this.

So when people say that all banks are the same, they really mean this…

This is what the financial services industry looks like to customers. The experience is basically the same, regardless of who you are with.

So when a startup comes along and has a close match between what they say and what they do, it looks like this:

Monzo is one example I could have picked, but I think there’s clear evidence that when companies get this right, it can have a big effect. People are so excited about Monzo, almost to an unreasonable and irrational level. It’s because it’s such a stark contrast to what people have been given for the last 10 years.

Some of the bigger banks have introduced features like freezing your card, but I don’t think it’s about features. People aren’t excited about fintechs because of the features, they’re excited about them because they represent a change.

This is what makes me hopeful about fintech’s ability to change the industry.

So how can you design products in this environment and connect with the mass market, going beyond early adopters?

Testing your latest work with people is great and it stops you making terrible design decisions.

But this is table stakes these days. Everyone tests their work. It always surprises people when I tell them just how systematic user research is in big banks. They take it very seriously.

But research isn’t just about avoiding mistakes.

When you use research to truly understand people’s lives and how they use money, it gives you so much inspiration as a designer and it becomes much easier to find unmet needs that competitors haven’t addressed.

I could spend an entire talk about methods, but basically go out into the world. Send your designers and researchers together.

Collect what you’ve learned. Use all the post-its. Empathise with people.

Use research to inspire you, not just check your assumptions.

One of the things you learn from this kind of research is that it’s an emotional decision to buy or switch, not a rational one.

You know how people’s behaviour changes based on their environment? Well that applies to us too.

If your job is to look at data, and make evidence-based decisions, and see people as numbers, and hit targets, etc. — you start thinking about everything in that way. Remember, normal people are not like this! It’s hard to switch your brain out of that mode.

Think about how people buy cars. There is no rational reason to have a car that can drive much faster than the speed limit, but people spend tens of thousands of pounds on something that massively overserves their needs.

Perhaps they can tell you all of the rational reasons why they bought this particular model, but we know from research that this is really an emotional decision. Almost everything we buy is an emotional decision.

One framework that helps us understand how people make emotional decisions is call the ‘Four forces’ model. This is related to Jobs to be Done theory and can be applied to almost any switching or purchase journey.

A quick example: imagine we have an investments platform. Left side is people save money in cash, right hand side is investing in a stocks and shares ISA.

There are lots of other books and talks on designing for emotional engagement, but this is one that I’ve found really useful but isn’t very well known.

One thing that model helps show is that you need to create a clear contrast between someone’s current situation and your brand promise.

Basecamp is a great example of this. Their marketing is very focused on the pain that people have at work and how using Basecamp is in contrast to this. Everything about their marketing and the way it’s written is about customer needs.

Having a clear contrast between today and tomorrow is why I think this original Monzo positioning worked so well. “Finally, a bank as smart as your phone.”

For early adopters, this was so well targeted at their frustrations with banking apps. It’s so easy to understand the brand promise instantly.

So once you have a proposition, we recommend that you create a vision for the future experience and work backwards from that.

This is why all of those banking apps are the same and don’t reflect the branding. Everyone needs to understand how to translate the brand, vision and strategy into the experience. If you don’t know how to translate it, it’s easy to ignore it and design your experience like everyone else’s.

What you need to do is bring the proposition to life so that everyone in the organisation gets it. The best way to do that is to imagine the future for customers and work backwards from that.

One of the best examples of this is something that Airbnb did. It’s in a podcast that I’ve linked to here.

They invited a guy to San Francisco on holiday. They sent a photographer to follow him around and what they saw was an awful holiday. He went to Alcatraz by himself, went to a bar on his own, ate on his own. It wasn’t great.

They then invited him back to San Francisco, but this time they designed the perfect experience. They had a driver pick him up at the airport. He had the perfect Airbnb. He went to dinner parties, they got him the best seats at restaurants. They took him on a midnight mystery bike tour with 60 other people. And it really moved him. He said it was the best trip he’d ever been on.

That became a blueprint for what they wanted to do. They knew they could do it for one person, now they had to work out how to do it for 100 million. Since then, they’ve introduced Airbnb Experiences, which is a way to do some of this stuff at scale.

I’m not suggesting that every company does something exactly like this. All you might need to do is sketch the ideal experience for your customer. But hopefully you can see the power of having a simple way to express where the company is heading.

This slide contains videos which you can’t see here on Medium.

The details matter so much. Here’s one example from Bulb, the energy startup.

During the switching process there’s a time when nothing is happening and they send you an email saying that everything is fine. You can take a meter reading using the camera on your phone. When you change the number of bedrooms in your property, the icon next to it changes.

This is the kind of stuff that big banks find too trivial to do, but it makes a big difference when it’s done across the whole journey.

So that’s the brand experience gap, and five ways to break out of the early adopter bubble into the mass market.

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