Design “blindspot” hampering innovation, says ex-Citi head of design

By David Beach | 3 January 2019

Financial services are struggling with a customer blind spot that’s hampering innovation, says Stephen Gates, head of design transformation at InVision, the company powering the digital user experiences of airbnb, Uber and Netflix.

“Innovation has become very happenstance and bogged down, because there's not a real connection back to what your consumer wants,” says Gates, who was previously the global design lead at Citi, the first position of its kind in the bank’s 206 year history.

The design function within financial services has increased in importance as firms’ begin to showcase digital offerings with several high profile hirings; most notably, Dan Makoski’s move from walmart’s design team to chief design officer at Lloyds Banking Group in July 2018.

“The crux of the challenge in the heavily regulated financial services is that it has an entrenched way of thinking In many cases, firms throw a bunch of money at design and simply make it look pretty,” says Gates, a sentiment echoed by DBS CIO Neal Cross, commenting on Barclays’ mobile banking endeavour.

Gates believes that a complete overhaul is required that draws heavily on the design thinking methodology which he rolled out across the entire Citi network, during his time at the bank.

“The definition of design thinking is to make product designers more empathetic to their customers, instead of just thinking that they know their customers and that any product they build is what the customer will want - it leads to a blindspot.

“Most companies will just change behaviour - they’ll use new buzzwords, show off a pretty screenshot but the underlying problems and thinking really remain entrenched. The power of having a design team on the inside, especially at an institution like a bank, is that you have the ability to not just change the way it behaves, but to change the way it thinks, which is the way to more substantial change.”

Gates believes that banks need to focus less on considering regulation as the main driver of innovation, and more on the needs of the customer. To do that, financial services should look to the new disruptors - airbnb, Netflix and Uber - for inspiration.

“The good thing about those emerging companies is that they’re constantly testing and evolving until they find the best experience; customers are at the heart of what they do.

“Some of the best companies we work with start with a hypothesis and seek to validate it by reaching out to consumers to make sure they’re on the right tracks instead of letting internal politics dictate ideation,” says Gates, stressing the importance of understanding business and engagement metrics as well as the crucial exercise of constantly validating them.

“That’s where the struggle is in financial services,” he says. “Moving away from a relational product - checking your balance, paying someone - to a relationship product - an app that a customer might use as they would a social network.”

Become a bobsguide member to access the following

1. Unrestricted access to bobsguide
2. Send a proposal request
3. Insights delivered daily to your inbox
4. Career development