I’m honored to be part of FemTech Leaders, a great initiative where I got to know amazing FinTech power women and how they make meaningful change in the financial services industry. This is an interview article Published on FemTecnleaders.com Dec 2015.
I am a design strategist and practitioner. I have been with OCBC Bank as Vice President / Group Customer Experience since 2010. My role is to lead and execute the bank’s top priority customer experience initiatives for the retail banking, premier banking, and wealth management businesses. However, establishing the user-centred design process for our projects and cultivating design thinking across the organization through the training of product managers.
How would you describe the FinTech environment in Singapore compared to London, NYC, or Silicon Valley?
Singapore is a compact city and a very smart nation. What I have observed in the five years since moving to Singapore is that the government has a clear innovation agenda, and that the execution of this is incredibly fast and effective. According to the policy statement made by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in June 2015, Singapore is determined to build a ‘Smart Financial Centre’. MAS will seek to implement this vision together with industry players, with two broad thrusts: a regulatory approach conducive to innovation, while also fostering safety and security; and development initiatives, and the allocation of $225 million, to create a vibrant ecosystem for innovation and the adoption of new technologies.
In the Singapore context, I think the government’s top-down approach supports and accelerates the innovation process for banks, and for FinTech companies whose new services are now supplementing, and in some cases replacing those that have traditionally been provided by banks.
Given my current role in one of Singapore’s leading banks, it is certainly an interesting time for the established financial services institutions. I observe different views on FinTech companies among our internal groups. Some people see FinTech companies as threats, and some as inspirations or opportunities. My view is that FinTech is a broad trend currently facing the industry, and not a term limited to referring to start-up companies. I see FinTech as a driving force for the financial services industry to (finally) rethink ‘what banking should be and can be for our customers’, which may not have been the true focus in the past years. In fact, we are in the infancy of a period of tremendous change in the financial services industry.
I also see momentum picking up in building in-house design and innovation capabilities. For example, five years ago OCBC Bank established Group Customer Experience directly under the CEO to foster customer-centric design and research practices. Now our group is seen as a force behind customer-centric innovation, both internally and externally. Other major banks are also part of this trend. From conversations I have had with senior banking leaders in Singapore, I feel there is a genuine intent to create a new banking experience for consumers.
You consistently are an advocate for cultivating ‘Simplicity’and ‘Design’ in your talks and writing when it comes to design. Can you elaborate on these concepts?
I’m a firm believer in the power of ‘design’ in financial services to create more value for customers and the business. The design is not only about how things look or feel. It is also about the process of how things are created. The quality of the process has a direct impact on the quality of the outcome.
That’s why design should not be left exclusively to specialists, but organizations need to learn and embed the right design process in order to create a superior customer experience.
‘Simplicity’ is one of the values that banking industry must aspire to. In the world where consumers have choices to make between many very similar financial products, simplicity matters because it forces the companies to focus on the key differentiators and to be more transparent, therefore making the consumers’ decisions easier. While making it simple seems merely a hygiene factor in offering banking services and products, there is still a lot of simplification work to do in the industry. In fact, it can be rewarding. In our bank we have seen some cases where simplicity has driven revenue growth and reduced operational costs.
Also, simplicity is an imperative in making technology work in the digital era. By focusing on what’s important for customers, companies can better determine how to eliminate complex layers of technology and to use technology in a meaningful way.
You’ve led design projects for the Bank focused specifically on Gen Y. What are some of the key differentiators for this market, in particular the female segment?
We launched FRANK by OCBC (www.frankbyocbc.com) in 2012, an award winning banking concept that was designed for the Singaporean Gen Y. My role was to set the overall customer experience design strategy and craft the value proposition. In order to deeply understand the unmet needs of young Singaporeans, we undertook ethnographical research that is qualitative and observation-based methods. Also ‘design’ was our most important vehicle both in creating the concept before the launch of the brand, and in its continuing evolution. The design process involved prototyping and co-creating with Gen Y consumers and our stakeholders. As a result, FRANK’s key differentiators were crafted based on the three brand values of, stylish, simple and meaningful. Let me give a few examples how these values were translated.
Stylish retail shopping experience: Banking appears to Gen Ys to be trivial and dull. We learned that Singaporean Gen Ys are extremely image-conscious, constantly wanting to express their personal identities. That’s where we got the inspiration to create beautiful card designs (currently there are over 130 different kinds) that they enjoy choosing between, just like when they go retail shopping. We currently have five stores (we don’t call them ‘branches’) in the heart of shopping districts and on campuses. Our stores look like fashionable retail shops, where Gen Ys feel comfortable walking in.
Designing and building physical stores was a deliberate decision while our mobile platform remains critical for the brand’s success. It is now three and half years since FRANK was born, and the market share of Gen Y segment has grown from 10% to over 60% without a substantial investment in advertising.
Simple banking experience: We put extraordinary efforts in simplifying our communications, products, and touch points at all online and offline channels such as forms, brochures and mobile banking. For examples, opening an account is a matter of a few minutes without having to fill out a form at all. Product information is simply explained using plain English and infographic. Mobile banking users can check their balances by tapping their thumb on their iPhone, and transfer money via SMS, or Facebook. While ‘Simplicity’ is one of the overarching design principles for all OCBC initiatives, for FRANK we added an extra layer of effort simplifying and adjusting our tonality to connect with Gen Ys.
Banking services that grow with them: Internally we constantly ask ourselves ‘why FRANK exists.’ This really helps us to think about financial solutions to meet the needs of the dynamic Gen Y segment. Actually, Gen Y is very broad in terms of segmentation, covering consumers from the ages of 16 to 29. These years span what is probably the most dynamic time of one’s life – studying, graduating, getting a job and starting a family (the median age for marriage in Singapore is between 28 and 30). As students become young adults, their financial needs become exponentially more complex. We started with basic deposit and cards products, but now we are focusing on crafting the value proposition that would empower Gen Ys right through this period of important milestones. Currently, we provide more comprehensive services such as entry level investment and insurance products as well as digital financial management tools, inspirational seminars, and financial literacy programs covering a broad spectrum of content marketing activities. FRANK will continue to evolve as those in our target segment go through the dynamic years of young adulthood.
Related to your last question, We have not particularly designed FRANK specifically to attract female consumers. However we do have slightly more female customers, perhaps owing to our card designs that are often posted by our customers on Instagram.
You’ve founded DesignfulCompany.com. What do you normally focus on and why? What advantages does this platform provide you?
DesignfulCompany is my personal publication site written for leaders in financial services, focusing on customer experience design, simplicity, and beauty.
I have spent 15 years as a design practitioner in the financial services and pharmaceutical industries, and I have come to believe that design can be cultivated as an organisational capability to help develop a more successful business.
On Designful.Co I aim to demonstrate ’the value of design’ in a corporate environment through stories and bite-size frameworks. Thanks to great industry support from Next Bank, EFMA and The Financial Brand, my humble views posted on Designful.co have been shared among leaders in financial services globally.
Quite a big has been written lately concerning the gender diversity issue in tech and in banking. Do you believe we are seeing improvement in this area? Is this a non-issue or one that isn’t addressed enough?
‘Gender diversity’ is an important topic in banking as it is directly related to the success of organisations and individuals. Organisationally, gender diversity matters, as this enables the industry to tap into a broader pool of talent.
Also individually, this topic is closely related to a family and to creating a work-life balance for female professionals. It is alarming to hear statements such as: “The number of CEOs named John is higher than the number of female CEOs overall.” as mentioned by a panelist during the 2015 Innovate Finance Global Summit.
According to an eFinancialCareers global survey conducted in 2014, Singapore and Hong Kong have been shown to be in the lead in gender diversity. Totals of 81% and 77% of female respondents in Singapore and Hong Kong respectively said that gender discrimination did not exist in their current employment – significantly higher percentages than in the US (54%) and UK (63%).2 I am happy to testify to this from my working experience in Singapore – from an organization culture point of view, Singapore is a great place to work as a female professional in banking. The banking industry values acquiring talent and offers more family-friendly benefits than other industries.
I think though, achieving gender diversity goes beyond the industry-level question. It requires broader support in terms of the social infrastructure, policies and culture of the whole country. Personally, in pursuit of my career in financial services as a working mom, I have been very blessed with the company policies and the social culture of the countries I have lived in. Switzerland is an example, where working part-time / working at home is commonly practised while still allowing a substantially important role in organisations. This support system does not only allow female professionals to pursue their careers while being moms, but also fosters the creativity and efficiency that organisations need.
What recommendations would you provide your 20-year-old self as young women beginning a career in financial services and design?
Women possess innate empathy and the ability to connect the dots. These qualities are essential in building a successful career in financial services and design.
Be proud of being a woman (with the risk of sounding like a feminist), and make use of these special qualities and abilities in your work place.
What do you see as the 3 leading future trends for FinTech?
- Proactively build the FinTech ecosystem. With the emergence of FinTech companies as the regulatory environment becomes more favourable for innovation, the financial services industry ecosystem will become more fragmented over the next few years. The ecosystem consists of a range of players: the financial services institutions, startup companies, accelerators, VCs, investors, regulators, thought leaders, educators, technology solutions providers, other industry players and consumers.The first step for the incumbent financial services companies is to recognise the ecosystem and to set up a framework to assess how our current business models can fit better into the ecosystem, and to assess what capabilities we need to develop to create more value for our customers.
- User experience design will continue to be a key differentiator. The scope of the user experience is greater than merely how easy or pleasant it is to use the touch points, such as mobile applications. The critical part of the user experience is about how meaningfully we solve customers’ problems, and about better meeting their financial management needs through superior and elegant solutions. A thoughtful, well-crafted user experience will create the stickiness in the services we provide, and will therefore drive success in the business.
- We need to redefine ‘relationship’. Use of technology, insight and design can make banking more human. ‘Relationship’ has been a key factor differentiating a bank, especially in the wealth management business. The concept of ‘Robo advisors’ is a hot topic at the moment in the FinTech and wealth management space. We hear some bankers saying ‘relationship’ cannot be replaced by technology. First of all, I don’t personally agree with the use of the term ’Robo advisor’ as it suggests the notion of ‘human-less’, but I do believe we need to redefine elements that a build stronger relationship with a customer. Traditionally a banking relationship has been built around knowledge (relevant and valuable advise banks offer) and the close interaction they have with their bankers. Technology cannot do this all alone.
However integrating customer data, organisational insight and design can definitely provide the important elements for building a relationship. While nothing can beat the richness of the face-to-face relationship, ’digital proximity’ is increasingly becoming as effective as physical proximity owing to the accessibility of the information and convenience.
Digital technology will continue to break the access barriers between information and users. Behavioural data-driven insight will change the way products are designed, as we can craft customised value proposition based on organisational knowledge, who the customers are and what they really need. Design will further make the banking experience visual, smart and beautiful.
Published on FemTecnleaders.com Dec 2015