You can’t always get what you want: digital misconceptions and alpacas
When innovation came to my old bank – the bank I still refer to as “we” with no shame or compunction – our executive sponsor gave us a book called “How Stella Saved the Farm”. It was a book about innovation. It was a book about a farm ran by animals, under the management of Stella’s dad.
And it was also a love story, between Stella, a sheep, and Alejandro, an alpaca. There were issues, I will have you know. Not everyone took kindly to this relationship. And it didn’t last (spoiler alert) but Stella started using alpaca wool despite her heartbreak and totally saved the farm through differentiating their product output, capturing a niche in the market and staying friends with her ex.
A few other interesting and vaguely applicable notions were floated in the book and also the damned thing came with Stella and Alejandro as soft toys that my friend Alistair enjoyed kidnapping from my desk and leaving threatening post-it notes demanding ransom in their place.
I had not thought of Stella and her species-defying love affair in years until the day that @biancdee challenged me: apparently alpacas love being shaved. It’s a common misconception that alpaca wool is unethical. Like all things, it can be unethically sourced, but as a fundamental, alpacas need shaving and it’s good for them. Plus they like it. There’s a digital transformation analogy in there somewhere. She said. Find it and write it, she said. Ha.
Part of me is tempted to go down an internet rabbit hole of validating Bianca’s facts (I mean, have you seen baby alpacas? The cuteness knows no bounds). I stopped myself from following all the links (can vegans wear alpaca wool? I mean, what’s special about alpaca wool when it comes to vegans? I stopped myself. I will never know) but I did find that alpacas, like sheep, don’t shed their wool so even if it’s not fun for them, shearing is good for them. It’s not what they want. But it is what they need. And yes, Bianca, there is totally a digitisation analogy in that.
In the era of customer delighters and a massive focus on what people want, on gamification, on fun, on softness, is there room to focus on what you actually need?
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, you find, you get what you need.
And need is bigger than want.
Need is food. Water. Shelter. Want is ice cream and salted almonds (not together). When you have what you need, you rarely feel amazingly excited but focus, instead, on what you want. Needs being covered, allows you to explore your wants. But your needs not being met kills any conversation on wants. You focus on getting yourself shelter, food, water. You focus on needs because they matter more. They matter fundamentally. Wants are luxuries. Wants come on top. It is a good life that focuses on wants because needs are covered.
And I ask.
Has our digital transformation, our product design and service design, our feature design and the things we have spent time and money on been focused on the right things? And yes, I am speaking as a recovering banker here. We the bankers have tried to focus on what we think people want, or should want, and not on what they need when it comes to money, and where we may fit in.
In our relentless competition for feature parity and cool new interfaces, frictionless experience and delighters, we have focused on the highly interactive, highly amusing, highly ornamental. But have we focused on the essential? How to not get into debt. How to not destroy your credit score. How to manage your business so your bridging finance doesn’t eat your profitability. How to display data so that treasurers and traders can make smart choices, ethical choices, informed choices.
Have we focused on the needs we are here to solve for?
Stay with me on this one.
I believe there is a fundamental misconception in how digital work has been undertaken in banks.
We have started from the assumption of our continued existence. The fact of a customer’s custom is treated as a given. The expectation of “air time” is foundational. And we have used “digital” first as a channel, then as a distribution mechanism but always as an extension of the things we use to do what we do.
It’s about us.
From an interface perspective, that meant high street bank digital offerings looked like mildly interactive statements. From an offering perspective, that meant you were forever chasing the elusive rate that was either available online or offline, that month. From a product perspective, it meant little, especially as bundling worked well for banks. Less so for individuals. And the story is even more stale when it comes to commercial and institutional banking.
We, as banks, assumed “digital” was there for us to make more money. For us to use as we saw fit. For us to do more of the thing we do. Our thing.
So, have we focused on the things we are actually here to solve for?
Because if we did, we would realise that we need to interact less. Push less. Sell less. Integrate more. Educate more. Reduce friction where we increase touch-points to get the brand recognition and increase friction where the customer is making choices without realising they are making them. We would ensure the customer knew they are making choices. Because we are custodians of assets and proud of the trust folks have in us, right?
So. What does all this mean in real terms?
It means that as banks we are here to facilitate life and business. It’s not about us. We are a stepping stone, at best. In the way, at worst. But you wouldn’t know that when you look at banks’ digital riches from the inside. You would assume that interacting with your bank is a delighter, an activity in itself. A thing that must be done and therefore can be done in ways that are prettier and slicker.
Whether you are a corporate treasurer on duty, or a corporate treasurer doing your own banking on the way to a meeting, the banking services are enabling factors to an ultimate purpose that goes beyond them. I’ve said all this before.
If we sold into needs we would focus on utility, information and a duty of care. And that applies to all types of banking. Retail and SME, with a thumping moral duty, but also wholesale and beyond and yes even investment banking. Digital done right allows you to do the right thing and remain profitable because of its uncanny ability to enable design around the user, integration with the providers who cater to said user’s end to end life and business needs at a lower cost of both acquisition and servicing. And the ability to do new stuff and make new money.
Digital banking doesn’t need to be same old. And it doesn’t need to be greedy to be profitable. Doing it right means it costs you less (and yes it means you cost your clients less) but you can do more and, more to the point, you can do better. You can give people what they need and enable their lives. Put them at the heart of this.
It’s not how Stella saved the farm. But it may be how you save your bank.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!