29 July 2021

The Heart of The Matter: Customer-Centric Look at Fintech

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Why do we do what we do in this incredible world of fintech? What is the point of all our ideas? And the projects and programmes as we look to transform the old into the new digital future? Why do we bother?

Sitting at the heart of the answer is: us. Us, as human beings; we are why we do what we do. As people, we are users, employees, managers, etc. But we are also sometimes customers or prospective customers.

But, so much of what we conceive, and discuss and celebrate is about solutions and technology; bits and bytes. How often do we talk about actual customers?

In this series, The heart of the matter, I am looking to tell the customers’ story and start to bring their perspective. We will talk about people, brands and insight. We will look at what is going on and start connecting what we do with the human story.

But first, let me tell you a story. My job for the last 20 years has been to help finance companies deliver better online customer experiences. Through fate, luck and having a perspective, I have found myself working with some of the largest companies in the world. I had prided myself on ensuring that customers could find, log into and use digital banking in the fastest way possible. We also designed slick application processes. Our mantra was always “don’t make me think”.

Working in the UK and Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the US, we worked with bank technologists and marketing teams to deliver what we thought was right. We even went as far as testing output with customers. It felt like we were on a mission to get people closer to their money.

One day we were usability testing a pension form; this involved giving a user a task, i.e., completing the form, and then observing them whilst doing that. One participant said “the form is great. But why would I ever use it? Do I need a pension?” It begged the question; was what we were doing solving actual customer problems?

I eventually figured out that much of what we were doing was a fiscal play by our clients. Self-service was a mechanism for taking massive costs out of a business. So, whilst we talked about the work we were doing being user-centric, was it? How customer-focused had we been?

So, I did what I should have done, and I went and talked to people about their total experience with money and the institutions that served them.

I quickly found that whilst users felt closer to their money and more in control thanks to the new digital platforms (a big win), they felt further away from the bank itself and did not know who to turn to with their financial worries and concerns. One interesting finding is that it seemed that they would rather talk to family members about death than money!

Money worries are a massive issue; according to research carried out in 2019, over 9.5 million adults in the UK have suffered mental health issues due to financial anxiety (N26 study 2019). The UK Government estimates that money worries rob people of 46 minutes of sleep (the Money Advice Centre).

In my research, undertaken informally and conversationally – I call it Kitchen Table research, because, well, you guessed it, I found that people were overwhelmed. Their impression was that banks wanted them only to use the digital channels we had lovingly designed and developed, and not bother them through call centres or branch visits. And yet, they could not see any path through online or mobile to useful, helpful advice or support. Ouch! My life’s work so far; creating problems rather than solving them.

Take a look across the banking industry, and you see that yep, the industry has succeeded in delivering transactional experiences. The sector is monochromatic, i.e. one bank’s mobile app looks pretty much the same as any other one — colours and logos aside, of course.

And yet here we stand in 2021, and we have the opportunity to lean into customers and tip the balance and address these genuine issues. Technologies and platforms are emerging that can be focused on us and helping to solve our problems.

My job is to tell the customer stories and connect them to the world of fintech!

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