The Futures of Finance: Insights from FXD 2021 

Mad*Pow’s 5th annual Financial Experience Design (FXD) conference kicked off on day one with a Futures Thinking Workshop. By tapping into Futures Thinking, (plural because there is not one single future), a design strategy that prompts practitioners to reveal what could happen in the future due to decisions, actions, and issues occurring in the present, we can begin to unravel possible future horizons. This design process is used as a means to illuminate unexpected implications of present-day issues to empower individuals and organizations to actively design desirable futures. The emphasis isn’t on what will happen, but on what could happen, given various observed drivers. 

Financial Wellbeing is a state of being where individuals can successfully manage their current and ongoing financial obligations, have the capacity to absorb an unexpected expense, and feel optimistic and in control of their financial status. We live within an incredibly complex financial system - Finance is an inescapable force in today’s society. It’s everywhere – both as a force for good and a force for not-so-good. Adding to that, environmental, organizational, social, individual, and demographic factors can also greatly influence financial well-being.

In this Futures Thinking workshop, we challenged FXD attendees to examine financial wellbeing by digging deep into: 

Weight of History 

By examining the past, we realize that our financial present has been shaped by the biases and missteps of our own systems and structures. Attendees pointed out major historical disadvantages in the way financial service organizations have served their select clientele. In many cases, firms focused their efforts on wealthy customers - opting to serve those who were already enjoying financial success rather than assisting newcomers. For many, these decisions have reinforced an ingrained distrust in incumbent financial organizations. Moreover, the lack of basic financial education in public school systems makes it even harder for struggling citizens to improve their financial situations. 

Push of the Present

We might imagine that some of these historical factors have ironed themselves out in the present, and we’ve reached a consensus on a path forward - but in fact, we’re more divided than ever. Political and ideological rifts trickle down from a societal level to the finance industry. These friction points can be felt in everything from climate change to AI, and within the very real current trend toward cryptocurrency and the digitization of finance. In our present, social media and the internet simultaneously offer both fascinating connecting capabilities and terrifying misinformation and bias. 

Pull of the Future

Across the board, we see trends towards human-centered priorities in our futures. Even the most antiquated financial institutions realize that “profit over people” just doesn’t fly anymore, and are trending towards a Triple Bottom Line (people, planet, profit). Our leaders agreed that socially-minded decisions will be “cool” in the future - and not just “cool” - imperative to business success. People will want more in their life than just making money - they will want freedom for leisure and adventure, demand remote work options, and value equity and accountability for themselves as well as the businesses they patron.

***The outcomes and observations from this particular workshop and these leaders will vary significantly from other workshops with other leaders. It is important to keep in mind that our preferable futures might not all be the same. 

On day two of FXD 2021, we heard from 12 keynote presentations and welcomed a global audience of over 150 industry leaders and progressive thinkers at the intersection of financial services, design, innovation, and technology. In a system mired by frustrations, complexities, regulations, and shifting priorities, we have no shortage of obstacles to overcome. 

“There is a critical demand for companies to have a best-in-class customer experience that solves real problems for real people. The challenge is, there’s a vast shortage of executives who can craft a shared vision, unify the complete end-to-end experience, and have the trust of the people to execute this effectively and at scale.” - Andrew LaMonica, VP, Global Design Executive.

Over the course of day two we discovered three recurring types of solutions to these obstacles from our speakers:

Leaning into Empathy

Great financial service design is more than just an end goal - it includes a holistic, empathic approach to solving problems and creating change to empower economic dignity. The small changes companies make to treat people with economic dignity have a direct, positive impact on the customer relationship. As we break down the walls of systemic bias within the financial sector, we must intentionally design pathways for inclusion and belonging that drive financial wellbeing. 

When we look at financial wellbeing holistically, from a designer’s perspective, we also have to consider the root causes – those social determinants - not just the symptoms we see in the form of retirement savings or credit scores. And when we think of empathy-embedded financial design, the “what” (services offered, fees waived or not, digital currency, advertising mechanisms, etc.) should become shadowed by the “why.” This idea of “why” in design certainly isn’t new, but it’s never been under the intense spotlight it is now, and customers have never pushed back on the “why” in the same way they are now, especially in finance.

Social Determinants of Finance
Social Determinants of Finance

Changing Organizational Culture

As more and more companies compete for customers and continue to improve their “whats” and “whys” leaders are needed who can deliver an end-to-end customer experience, galvanize teams, and deliver value. At the same time, our practice as designers is evolving with new tools, techniques, and approaches, surfacing at a pace that can be hard to keep up with. 

As leaders of and advocates for human-centered approaches, there’s no shortage of challenges we encounter – especially in the financial services sector. And as practitioners of design (whether it’s design, design research, strategy, etc.), we have the inherent duty to advance human-centered approaches within the companies we work with and for, including within the very organizational structure of the business. 

Of course, changing culture and behaviors within organizations is a complex challenge. Change in one area can significantly impact another area, and it typically doesn’t follow a cause-and-effect, linear process… because organizations are complex adaptive systems. To improve the way we do things and our own effectiveness as shepherds for human-centered design approaches, we must consider organizational culture, understand behavior and leverage points, and approach change as a continuous experiment, not a “set it and forget it.” We must reframe how we think about change as a process.

Connectivity Through Service Design

Change is often slow to come, especially when time and or resources are in short supply, and leaders are all too familiar with the challenge of delivering at pace and scale. Ensuring that your brand, design, and implementation is uniform among all your product offerings is a very challenging task, particularly when complex organizations are prone to siloed activities that lose sight of the end-user. Silos operate with the assumption that their outputs only affect their customers and their team - but the reality is that they affect the entire organization. 

Service Design, the implementation of design systems and thoughtful UX solutions, offers methodologies to define problems and create solutions that serve employees and clients alike through planning and organizing resources. Service Design helps design and deliver these solutions with intention, to ensure they are meaningful and valuable. It offers teams the tools and resources they need to arrive at actionable solutions. 

Often, we tend to focus our energy and attention on the front stage experience - how clients and customers engage with the brand - and largely ignore the backstage operations - processes, protocols, communication tools, and resources for internal teams. In reality, you need both front stage and backstage to work together as an ecosystem to support the business’s goals. 

“We need to solve the upstream problem, versus trying to put bandaids on all the downstream impacts. And then collectively we can start to brainstorm the right solution.” - Mike Aragon, UX and Service Design Manager for Transformation Solutions at Charles Schwab

The annual Financial Experience Design conference, powered by Mad*Pow, focuses on improving financial experiences through strategic design. Founded five years ago, the conference attracts more than 150 leaders at the intersection of financial services, experience, and innovation. To see all the presentations from our 5th annual Financial Experience Design Conference visit our YouTube Channel.