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5 Design Tips Every Bank Should Use to Outsmart the Competition

April 22, 2016|0 min read
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If you were to ask professional designers for a list of industries that are setting trends in design, chances are that none of them would include the banking industry. That’s in part because bankers haven’t felt pressure to set design trends. They’ve been satisfied with building traditional bank branches and releasing functional (if not always user-friendly) apps and websites. In the past, this was okay since all of their competitors did the same thing.

Increasingly, however, consumer expectations are changing. Consumers now turn to fintech companies like Square, Mint, and Prosper to perform a range of activities that were previously only available through a financial institution. As a result, banks and credit unions suddenly need to think about design more than ever before. To ignore design in the digital age is to be made irrelevant with consumers — especially with younger consumers who demand an experience on par with Google or Apple.

Here are five ways to amplify your design chops.

1. Remember Who Actually Interacts With Your Design

If they’re not careful, banks and credit unions often revert to a process called “design via committee.” That is, they set up a situation where designers churn out a bunch of drafts, send them along to the executive team (who often has no background in design), and go with whatever the boss happens to like the best. When organizations work this way, designers can’t help but cater all their designs from the outset to best please their boss. The result is stagnation and groupthink.

What’s so devastating about designing via committee is that the only person who matters — the end user — gets left out of the equation completely. What good is design if an executive at a financial institution likes it but account holders don’t?

In order to create truly effective design, it’s crucial to get direct feedback from account holders. Create a survey that asks how you’re doing when it comes to your user experience, from the branch to ATMs to your mobile app.

You can also start a series of usability tests where you watch users directly interact with your digital products (online banking, website, apps, etc.). The process is fairly simple. Here are the steps:

  1. Offer a gift card valued around $100 to account holders who participate in a usability test. There’s no need to publicize the test too widely, as you’ll see significant diminishing returns if you go above 3-5 participants.

  2. Create a series of tasks for participants to complete while using your product or website.

  3. Invite each participant (one at a time) to complete your tasks while speaking their thoughts out loud in the process. Record their comments so you can reference them later if you need to.

  4. Observe each participant carefully, but don’t help them figure out any task. The point of the test is to see whether they get hung up at any step.

  5. Thank each participant, give them their gift card, and then gather your notes and look for trends. If you see that several participants were confused about a certain task, you know you have improvements to make.

By making usability tests a regular habit, you will be certain that you keep the voice of the end user in mind throughout the design process. It’s a simple and cost-effective way to be sure you’re building things that make your account holders happy.

2. Look Outside of the Banking Industry for Inspiration

Designers should feel empowered to mix and match the very best design ideas straight from other successful industries — including hospitality and technology companies. Do you notice something that has worked exceptionally well for Apple (including store design and digital processes)? What about Google? Netflix? Almost all good ideas from other industries can be incorporated at some level within banking. If you experience a profoundly good user experience or design firsthand, incorporate it at your institution.

Lani Hayward, EVP of Creative Strategies at Umpqua Bank, openly acknowledges that her team gathers the best ideas from other industries to the benefit of Umpqua. They’ve redesigned branches with Apple in mind, complete with minimalist design, digital in-store screens, and bright colors. The result is something that catches the eyes of consumers and makes Umpqua stand out. Hayward understands that all innovation is a matter of mixing various ideas in new ways.

3. Hire Outside of the Banking Industry

Capital One has taken note of the importance of design in the digital age, hiring Dan Makoski, a former designer at Google, as their VP of Design. Dubbed by Fast Company as “one of Google’s wildest designers,” Makoski is a sign that the bank is serious about changing the perception that the financial industry cannot innovate when it comes to design.

Scott Zimmer, the head of design at Capital One who hired Makoski, said that his team is focused on creating completely original ways for people to interact with their money. 'We’ve explored all kinds of stuff,” he says. “We’ve talked about some things that are just completely ridiculous, and some things are just pretty aggressive, and some things are sane.” With thinking like this, it’s possible that banks will start teaching other industries how things are done when it comes to innovative design.

4. Consider a Rebrand

In some cases, you may require a total rebrand. Perhaps your logo looks like it’s from the 80s, or perhaps you’re limiting yourself with a name that can’t grow beyond your locality. Washington Community Federal Credit Union recently set a powerful example on this front with their rebrand to Chrome Federal Credit Union. They knew they wanted to distinguish themselves from other financial institutions that have ‘Washington’ in their name, and they knew they didn’t want to limit themselves to what they had accomplished in the past.

“Our people were always big on helping our neighbors save, borrow and live better,” their new site says. “But we knew we could do more.” Their new focus is on providing a simple and solid digital experience, as you can see in the images before and after the rebrand.

The cluttered, product-centered experience has been replaced by a simple, user-centered experience. Chrome Federal Credit Union is laying the foundation so it can function beyond the confines of their locality, enabling their brand to survive as they continue to expand into new markets.

One more example: In 2008 Fiserv was burdened by the sheer weight of the 140 companies they’d acquired over the decades they’d been in business. They were looking to streamline, simplify, and unify the various brands and logos that were under the Fiserv name. As a result, they took each of the fractured identities and wrapped them all up under the Fiserv master brand.

You might notice a few trends here. The old logos tend to be blue and stale, while the new logos tend to be colorful and a bit brash compared to the rest of the industry.

5. Brand Is More than Just a Logo and Some Colors

For a brand to be truly successful, it’s not enough to just to update a logo and hope for the best. In fact, you might update your brand without doing anything to the logo. For instance, both Citi and Barclays shifted perceptions of their brand by sponsoring a bike sharing program in select cities. By putting their logo on a program that young people might use and enjoy, they reframe their brand as youthful and hip.

Frost Bank continually thinks about their brand beyond the level of a logo, even going so far as to encapsulate their core principles in a beautifully simple booklet:

By codifying their beliefs in a way that is totally human and simple, Frost Bank establishes their brand identity better than an overhaul to their logo ever could. Can you do the same? Does your brand have heart, or is it unnecessarily corporate? Does your brand look and feel like every other brand you compete with? If so, you’ll have a hard time getting ahead in the digital age.

Learn More

To get more tips on bank marketing, including these tips on design, download The Ultimate Guide to Bank Marketing. It's a free, 39-page overview of what financial institutions can do to step up their marketing game and outsmart the competition.

You can download it here.

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