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Why Financial Innovation Fails Without Design

Financial services companies should look to design for human-centered solutions that will transform their business.

Changing user behaviors, new technology, and emerging business models are rattling the financial services industry. A recent Goldman Sachs research report suggests that traditional financial services risk losing $4.7 trillion in revenue to new tech savvy companies. While banks are responding with big IT investments, a technology budget alone is not enough to transform a business. For financial services to secure a competitive advantage they must focus on people.

As frog continues to work with clients and partners to transform financial services, we see legacy and emerging players paving the way to the future. We sat down with a few experts—both clients and friends of the firm—to discuss how the industry is evolving, who is driving the change, and how companies are making it happen. What we found is that innovation in this industry requires engaging with customers, evolving offerings in response to customer needs, and establishing a culture of collaboration within the organization.


Financial management was once an individualized experience. People sat in a chairs across from trusted providers who gave personal attention. As the shift to ATMs, online banking and investment services, and automated advisory tools took place, the distance between provider and customer grew and the role of specific platforms—like the bank branch—also changed. Customers today have more financial management options than ever, but in certain cases those options fail to meet their individual needs and aspirations.

People do not seek out financial services simply to watch a number on a screen grow; they save, invest, and manage their money in the pursuit of their highest ambitions. They save for their children. They invest to realize personal and professional dreams. They manage money to increase security, freedom, and quality of life. Financial services companies can re-engage their customers by re-designing outdated or ineffective customer experiences across both physical and digital touchpoints with these needs and aspirations in mind.

“In the early 2000’s, financial services companies began servicing clients online and this got everyone to focus on the foundational elements of user-centered design. Many companies have done this really well,” said Devon McConnell, Head of Digital and Direct Advising at Wells Fargo Advisors. “Now there is a shift to meeting clients’ emotional needs. Investing is such an emotional decision. We want technology to be an extension of our advisor’s relationship with their clients, helping to build trust so they can invest with confidence.”

For decades, frog has worked with clients in the financial services industry to meet customer needs. Through market research and user interviews, we uncover existing customer behaviors and biases in order to envision and build a future that advances the human experience. By creating archetypes to define different types of customers, we are able to examine emotional needs like trust and confidence through the lens of real people with tangible goals. This human centered approach focuses first on the personal needs and ambitions of the customer before it moves in the direction of specific solutions.

“Human-centered design is central to any omnichannel development. A focus on three levels of the customer journey is essential to generating step change growth,” said Steve Monaghan, Regional Director, Head of Edge at AIA. “It is well established to buy with emotion, justify with logic, and take action when it is easy. In human-centered design terms we call it an ESE framework; Experience creates emotion; Simplicity guides logical decision making; Effort minimization is critical to closing the sale.”

Improving the customer experience guards against customer churn and uncovers new revenue streams. In order to capitalize on these opportunities and ensure competitive differentiation, financial services companies should also think beyond existing customer experiences to enable growth.


It is imperative that financial services companies leverage technology in response to disruptive forces in the marketplace. Mobility takes on new meaning when financial information is accessed and managed through wearable devices. Privacy and security are driving consumers toward both credit monitoring and crypto-currencies. And machine intelligence offers new possibilities for the industry at the same time it threatens to favor efficient experiences over human experiences.

“Right now we’re looking at how to best serve the next generation of investors with digital experiences and products that will help on ramp them to investing from checking and savings, leveraging the planning and guidance we’re known for at Wells Fargo Advisors,” said McConnell.

The API is another way progressive financial institutions are responding to the need for new functionality. By providing an API to developers of third party applications, the business positions itself as a friendly player in the larger technology ecosystem. This relationship establishes banks as technology integrators instead of technology providers, and turns fintech start-ups into partners instead of competitors.

“At BNY Mellon we are working on re-architecting legacy systems to connect our proprietary offerings with other products via API,” said Bill Barrett, Global Head of Corporate Digital Marketing at BNY Mellon. “This allows us to adapt quickly and be responsive to customer needs. It’s taking a page out of the consumer world by putting different technologies together to create new products efficiently and without needing to start from scratch every time.”

A focus on new partnerships and outside innovations can be lucrative but—as with most innovative ideas—it will often require financial services organizations to bring new ways of thinking into the organization.


Innovation outside the organization cannot be sustained without innovative thinking inside the organization. Strong leadership and a culture of collaboration are required to ensure great ideas consistently turn into lasting solutions.

Just as design offers solutions to the challenges of engaging users and enabling new business opportunities, it can also support companies as they evolve the business into a nimble and creative organization. Through workshops and hands-on experiences, frog regularly coaches clients on the capabilities and processes that nurture idea generation and creative problem solving.

frogCamp workshops have helped us train people with core skills on how to look together at a problem and solve it,” said Barrett. “That is a great start, but people have to embrace this type of problem solving and their managers have to invest in it. In order to experience radical change, the C-suite must understand that a culture of collaboration is important, that it will take time, and that it is worth the investment.”

As legacy players in financial services respond to changing needs throughout the industry, the culture of innovation within their organizations must change as well. While the requirements of global regulations and the sensitivity of personal financial data present complex challenges, financial services companies will learn to respond quickly and create the conditions for innovation within the organization. In this way they will remain competitive and avoid losing trillions in revenue to new entrants into the industry.

“Financial services are undergoing the same fundamental shift other industries have experienced over the past few decades, “ said Steve Monaghan. “The old school thinking, ‘you can have it in any color as long as it is black,’ has been superseded by customer centricity. Essentially, humanity has prevailed over productivity. HCD is now the starting point for any serious transformation.”

Financial innovation fails when companies lose sight of customer and employee needs. To sustain a competitive advantage, financial services organizations should engage their customers with human-centric approaches. With customer needs in mind, they can enable new opportunities and evolve their business until it responds quickly to changing customer needs. Design-led transformation supports these efforts and ensures that the human experience stays at the center of every solution.

To learn more about frog’s work in financial services, click here to get in touch.



frog is a global design and strategy firm. We transform businesses at scale by creating systems of brand, product and service that deliver a distinctly better experience. We strive to touch hearts and move markets. Our passion is to transform ideas into realities. We partner with clients to anticipate the future, evolve organizations and advance the human experience.

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