6 Principles of Design Thinking for Retail Banking

Alex Cheek

Design is a critical component to making a connection with a consumer. We all use websites and applications to interact with the various service providers in our lives, immediately knowing and recognizing which ones we like and which ones we don’t. Poorly-designed products and experiences can cause us to lose confidence in a brand, leading to less word-of-mouth referrals and overall brand interaction. 

In banking, nailing a great user experience can waterfall to a host of positive outcomes. It could: build customer loyalty and long-term relationships; drive word-of-mouth; help launch new offerings more successfully; grow business and wallet share; and boost reputation. We believe that design is about human-centeredness, and crafting and delivering great experiences with the user experience at the center is how retail banks should engage consumers and help them reach their financial and life goals. 

To get consumer-centric experiences right, banks and their technology teams should think about all of the factors that contribute to the experiences: team structures, policies and procedures, business strategy, recruiting/hiring, budgeting, empowering/developing leaders, etc. Even more so than opening a bank account, for a consumer to open an investment account on-the-spot, or quickly transfer a few dollars to the little girl at the lemonade stand, banks and financial service organizations must cut through the hurdles, roadblocks, and practices that get in the way of delivering seamless experiences. 

6 Principles of Design Thinking for Retail Banking

Here are 6 ways that we believe retail bankers, consumer experience leaders, and financial service executives can be more design-minded in delivering seamless and innovative user-centered experiences. 

Make it human

Great design in financial services helps consumers to understand complicated financial plans in a way that aligns behaviors with actions, for a more intuitive experience for the consumer. When bankers fully capture users' needs and have a solid understanding of their values, it can result in business growth and brand loyalty.

Retail bankers can begin to humanize their products and services by building personas, where  prospects are grouped by their goals, pain-points, and motivators – versus the old approach of boiling people down to demographics. Savvy retail bankers and user experience leaders remember and apply the principle that ‘the user is not like you,’ which is why on-the-ground research to create evidence-based personas can drive superior consumer experience in banking. 

Good design is contextually-dependent

Great solutions are almost always contextually-dependent. If a bank figures out how to deliver a great experience, it can just replicate it over and over again. Many financial institutions serve a range of markets and consumers that span the socio-economic spectrum and will need to suss out the community around their primary branch by investigation and direct engagement to better understand the values of the people they serve. While it's safe to say that mostly all businesses and organizations center their marketing and brand efforts around a blueprint of sorts, the real success likely lies in the nuanced differences across a branch network. Context matters when it comes to delivering an experience that meets people’s needs in a genuine way.  

You’ve got the right team. Now empower them

Creating teams to focus on design and consumer experience, and empowering them to do so with confidence, can drive great outcomes. Banks can build teams as small as a single designer-researcher-advisor who reports to the top, or a full team assigned to envision the future of services and experiences. Either way, the purpose of these teams should be to gain an understanding of the values of consumers and the communities served by the financial institution, and then prototype the successful experiences in a way that is trackable and scalable. 

Zero Base Design: A lesson in letting go of dead weight

A lot of organizations get held back from true innovation or the ability to pivot because they’re hampered by years of tech and design debt. After investing time and money, there’s reluctance to throw lagging ideas out, which can cause them to be stuck iterating on the past instead of defining their future. 

Zero base design temporarily puts aside legacy solutions and starts fresh with everything: the services offered, vision and direction, techstack, user experiences, etc. Zero base teams typically shy away from looking at their challenges in a linear problem-solution sort of way but instead, they are divergent and cast a wide net to create groups of challenges with multiple solutions and probable outcomes. The traditional approach of “what is the problem we’re trying to solve” can cause limited mobility in brand growth and demand. Carving out a space where teams can be unencumbered to start fresh, especially when technology infrastructures have become dated, can have a significant impact.

Find balance

There are a host of quantitative metrics that we all know and love, from OKRs to site analytics. However, crafting client experiences in-branch or through remote interactions requires qualitative measures. On a philosophical level, great experiences strike a balance between usefulness, functionality, and desire. 

Solutions that are useful have to have purpose and relevance in people’s lives. Functionality speaks to how well solutions integrate, and how accessible and intuitive they are to people. Desirability in an experience leads us to ask: to what degree can a community of users identify with the product or experience? What differentiates this small town bank from the next one?  

Whether an in-branch experience, an app, a service, or a product, we have to find balance between each of these dimensions and not skew too far in any one direction. In design-thinking approaches, the core tenets are business viability, technical feasibility, and human-centeredness.


Share your visions through narrative and storytelling

Communicating the vision, passion and need of a product or service requires rich stories with your consumers and team members as its main characters. Consider starting by writing a narrative from a consumer’s point of view. Tell the story you imagine in an idealized state, and then back it up with all the research evidence that got you to that point. Perhaps use photography, prototypes, videos, audio, diagrams, and renderings to layer richness onto the story. These stories may help stakeholders become active participants in bringing the vision to life. 

Wrap up

SigFig Discover helps bankers with needs discovery. A consumer walks through a financial health screening on their mobile phone, can set up a meeting with a banker at their local branch, which increases the likelihood of having a productive conversation because the consumer provided considerable insight up-front via engagement with Discover in a “journey” format. After a consumer provides this upfront need-based information, bankers and advisors can use those rich narratives to show the value of a product or service to the consumer in a sophisticated and well-mapped way that may lead to true buy-in and interest. 

It is now more important than ever to integrate meaningful experiences into consumer journeys, especially within the retail and digital banking industry. 

If you are interested in learning more about why and how financial institutions can use SigFig Discover to uncover customers’ financial needs, priorities, and concerns at-scale, click here to watch the Building a Financial Health Culture at Paducah Bank with Needs Discovery Technology webinar.

See disclosures at https://sigfig.com. All content presented herein and discussed in any referenced or linked materials is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any tax or legal advice or the basis for any financial decisions. Information presented is believed to be from reliable sources, but we make no representations as to its accuracy or completeness. Opinions expressed are those of the individuals presenting them and are subject to change, and not necessarily those of Nvest, Inc. or SigFig Wealth Management, LLC. Hyperlinks are provided as a convenience. We disclaim any responsibility for information, services or products found on linked websites.

Enjoy this post? Join the SigFig team.

Explore current job opportunities with us.

Questions or comments?

We love hearing from our readers.