Piotr Fijałkowski na tle biura Mobee Dicka w warszawskim WeWorku

Reliable, but not heartless bank products. [interview]

4 March 2020

Bartłomiej Sury

UX Writer
Bartłomiej Sury
Reliable, but not heartless bank products. [interview]

The aim – to be the first choice for everyday banking. What banks and fintech are doing to be the first-class service for which customers are gladly reaching every day? Piotr Fijałkowski, designer, researcher, and manager with 8 years of experience in the banking industry will give us an answer. In January he joined Mobee Dick as a Research & Development Expert.

Bartłomiej Sury: Is creating a new fintech product difficult?
Piotr Fijałkowski: It doesn’t have to be if we have investors and an appropriate budget. Let me give you an example of two products I worked on: Bancovo and FinAi – similar to each other both are markets for loans offer tailored for user needs. Only Bancovo survived, because as a subsidiary of Alior Bank it had access to a much bigger budget, as well as could count on an expensive marketing campaign.

Are finances the only factor of success?

Not only. Polish banks are not ready to give loans fully remotely and digitally. That is why we have over 48 registered loan companies, and the majority of them work online. A good example is Monedo, where I used to work. The advantage of Monedo over banks is using data science, behavioral algorithms, and generally very advanced online processes for loan giving. While banks continue to work offline which is much more cumbersome for their clients. FinAi didn’t make it, also because it was relying on a bank process contrary to Bankovo.

Can you point out the trends which worked in different countries, but didn’t in Poland?

Yes, for example, social lending, social microloans, popular, a.i., in the UK. In this model, you, as a consumer, are making money available in exchange for profits or as a loaner getting money from other users.

What about ostensible trends – the once everyone talks about, but in reality, none uses?

This kind of trend, in recent years, was omnichannel. The true omnichannel should allow you to pause the process in a random moment and continue in a different channel, whenever you want to. I am looking at offers on a smartphone on the train, I am picking the right one, continue on my laptop at home, but I don’t send it because I don’t understand something in the form. The next day morning I go to the bank branch and continue there from the moment I left off on my laptop. Without going again thought the whole process and additional under-the-counter offers. This is the true omnichannel.

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Who is currently closer to this ideal?

From my experience, it is mBank.

What about the online mortgage? Is there something to do about that?

If someone will, it will be an industry revolution.

Will banks try to do it?

There might be a player that will try to do it before banks. Since the process of giving mortgage loans functions stable from the bank procedure perspective, there is no reason to change that. But from the user perspective, it would be a big improvement.

While we talk about clients – are the companies considering a potential dissatisfaction of the customers about the changes, even if the changes are for better?

Definitely. Especially if there are a lot of customers and they are simply used to the old way. For years now, I am using this example. A couple of years ago Yahoo decided to make a drastic, if not revolutionary, redesign – they've changed the site background from grey to white [laughter]. Loads of users were dissatisfied, that is why Yahoo changed the background back to grey and started to gradually, once in a couple of weeks, light it up, until they got to white.

Would banks do the same?

Banks are trying to communicate all changes earlier, to minimize the number of surprised users. If someone uses online banking once a month, after receiving a salary, to make the same, routine set of actions, this person might be irritated with reorganized buttons. The key is the right communication. On the other side, a customer's anger is only temporary. Even if upset users threaten to change a bank, they rarely do that, as it is difficult to leave the bank when you have loans and investments.

When we talk about changes, what are the most important, main directions of the changes in banking services?

Everyone is aiming towards better transparency and improvements in Information Architecture, to improve access to the most important for you, information. A lot of those changes are utilizing a technology that uses the knowledge about a specific customer and adopts the service for this customer. Banks know a lot about us. It is for adjusting both the offer and interface.

Does it mean that my interface might be different than yours in the same bank? What kind of differences are we talking about?

Honestly, not major – the hierarchy of menu, better exposition of frequently used functions. Those not necessarily need to be automatic changes, but more propositions and notifications. Too much of personalizations could mean a need for a strong engagement level surrounding the help center for each customer. You can reach the call center, and the employee would only know the standard interface.
What it means is that the changes need to be small. Any more significant changes should be based on your personal choice and require your approval. We are talking about the logged-in interface. Personalization of the screen before logging in can be more major.

Personalization, even minor one, of an interface is a long way off, or is it happening already?

Personalized preferences for regular payments are already happening.

What are the other important directions of growth for banking products?

Investments in accessibility and inclusion – making banks easier to use for people with disabilities.

We are not talking only about the permanent disability, but also a temporary one, like the person with a broken arm, also needs accessibility.

Other aspects are the technology that enables automation – to make banking easier, more comfortable, and pleasant. Because this is a basic goal of the majority of Polish banks – to be your first choice in everyday banking.

We talk about everyday banking – that is quite a colloquial term. Do you define it as an everyday activity connected with your account (transfers, payments, etc.), or broader – as all activities which are possible in bank application, including Value Added Services (VAS)?

Everyday banking includes the most popular operations which you do on your bank account. VAS are still not very popular, but I assume one day they will be included in our everyday banking.

What new ideas, solutions, or initiatives seem to you most interesting?

Because we talk about money, we cannot think in terms of radical technological news. It is a serious field, which everyone tries to control. Customers scrutinize risky solutions, which might change the market.
I like the way bunq – the company from the Netherlands – communicates with customers. Once in a quarter, they organize a conference in Steve Jobs's style. They invite customers, in a friendly way show the changes, listen actively, and engage the customers.

I am a big fan of Revolut. I admire the way they can see the users' needs. You can see their goal is to encourage you to bank with them every day.

What do you mean, exactly?

They refined the history of the expenses – showing in a clear way how and where you spend money. Improved comfort of charging the account – you receive the account number and can decide that this is where you want your salary to go. They have significantly refined money transfers – the account is in the UK, but it functions as if it was in a Polish bank.

Another aspect – cards. People love cards. Revolut cards are simple but you can choose from the range of looks. You can even have a metallic pink card if you wish.

People are paying attention to that?

Getin Noble Bank Group, where I used to work, at some point invested in propositions of new various cards, and the customers loved and used them. They ordered cards, which in some way depicted their personality or interests.

However, there is always a point when restrictive regulations appear.

That is good. The product becomes more mature in this way and is not about to lose its fintech qualities. Additionally – it grows together with their customers and thanks to that it can offer more products with time.

Getting back to Revolut – adding GIFs to money transfers is appreciated by users, even if it seems to be something completely irrelevant.

People are going back to the pictorial language, I find it very fitting. American Venmo went even further, allowing users to share money transfer titles. When you return money to a friend for lunch, adding a funny title can make it a fun game amongst friends. Those micro features help with the awkward situation of giving back money or, even worst, asking for your money back.

On one hand, you said customers expect bank products to be stable and serious and on the other hand, that products cannot be heartless...

Let’s get back to the basic banks' goal – to be the first choice for everyday banking. Almost every day we face the situation when we need to square with a friend for lunch :).

What can a designer do to make products less heartless?

Always put the user in the center, streamline the process, and if that can not be done, work to make it more friendly. Explain uncertainties, for example, by using the appropriate explanations when giving multiple routing numbers to help the user know which one is for what.

I am going to draw upon your years of experience, to ask what did you learn at that time, as a designer and researcher specializing in banking products. What you didn’t know at the beginning, but you know now?

Many people starting in this industry think they are the customers and that everyone behaves in the same way. I thought this way too. This projection is nonsense.

Customers are customers – we need to listen and be humble. The fact that you believe something to be true, doesn't mean the customers feel the same way. Fortunately, I started from working for a user segment which I wasn’t a part of – at Noble Bank I worked with affluent customers. This helped me.

Do you remember a situation when you were confident of your hypothesis, but later you learned that you were wrong?

I remember, when Microsoft introduced the famous tiles, we seriously took it under consideration while designing UI. We made one of the first tile interfaces in banking. I can proudly say that after us, many other players started designing in this way. We assumed it would be understandable for customers because they were used to working with Windows. It was not. That needed some serious refinements.

Does today, even a junior has enough industry knowledge to design for the banking industry?

The graphic design in itself does not solve any problems, even if the results look good.

The graphic design in itself does not solve any problems, even if the results look good. If we stop solving problems, our job will become pointless. Designers should pay attention to business needs, learn the product and its surrounding, and above all get to know the user. Then, they will design effective products. Without this knowledge, it is only making pretty pictures.

This is what you know, but does the industry know it as well?

It depends on the organization. More often, companies are creating internal departments. Those departments biggest value is being inside the organization, their team knows and understands internal processes. This is a big strength of Mobee Dick – our designers can work inside the company, which makes onboarding much faster and facilitates designing the most efficient solutions.

Do you think this model is necessary for the cooperation between a bank and an outside company to bring measurable results?

Maybe it’s not necessary, but our experience shows that it is exceptionally effective. Especially, when our designers are a part of a client team, also from the perspective of security policy. Who knows, maybe soon this approach will become an industry norm?

Curious about the value of a design team working inside the client's organization? – Contact me.

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