Sustainability, Design Thinking and Customer Experience in Banking: Challenging

By Paolo Barbesino, PhD

Sustainability, Design Thinking and Customer Experience in Banking: Challenging

When I joined a bank in Dubai in 2018, I actually thought to get a Smart for my commute. Many colleagues frowned in disappointment, suggesting instead I bought a car that reflected my (little) status in the bank’s leadership. They were right: my peers had Porsches, Mercedes, or full-size desert friendly SUVs like Mitsubishi’s Pajero. A Smart would not fit. Hence, I ended up with a Volvo to confuse the voyeuristic Dubai crowd not used to such a piece of mobile ambiguity.

During this period, I was invited to an enterprise design thinking workshop held in a fancy digital lab. In the late 2010s, design thinking represented the ‘new wave’ in banking attempts to bridge the experience gap with their customers – after agile, and its fiasco. And, in hindsight you may argue that this shiny new wave left very little trace of either in an industry that does not excel in design, let alone thinking.

The workshop focussed on building a better commute experience for bank employees as they reported a high level of distress driving to office gave them every workday. What they didn’t reflect upon is whether their wild way of driving, so common in Dubai was causing any discomfort to other commuters, let alone bank customers.

The solutions identified by the bankers attending across different departments consisted in turning the commuting experience into something similar to flying business class where drivers chilled out in luxurious lounges before they started their workday. Herbal teas served by stewardesses wearing uniforms, and exotic fragrances were part of the picture.

Not quite a sustainable experience (SX) given the negative externalities that came with the concept. For instance the cost of the scheme potentially having a burden on the fees customers pay.

Among the attendees, none reflected on the real job-to-be-done (to start working every day), nor brought up car pooling or corporate buses so common for low rank staff like contact center agents or back-office employees. Buses were also common for school kids in the country, and most employees had kids, but the dots didn’t connect.

The real question though was: why do we need commute to start working in the first place? But the question appeared somehow weird to many in the room. You can’t do business without looking your colleagues in the eyes, they argued.

Then Covid came and served as an acid test for a new way of working that does not mandatorily require teams being physically co-located to work successfully.

But this is an old banker bias – not being capable of distinguishing intimacy from proximity as you very often find out whenever you try to live more, and bank less. That is why imagining a SX in banking is so challenging.