'Organizations may think of this as innovation, people think of it as good service'

Invest in Ontario spoke with Avi Soudack and Jarek Stelmach about the importance of User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) Design to the financial services industry. Soudack is the Director of User Experience at Havas Digital in Toronto and Instructor of User Experience Design at George Brown College, while Stelmach is Havas Digital's Director of Strategy.

Soudack, Stelmach and their respective teams have worked with nearly half of Canada's major financial companies over the past five years, providing strategy and design services for customer-facing and internal web-based tools, mobile apps and other digital experiences.

Q: Why are UX and UI so important to the financial services sector?

"Experience design and related interface design are important opportunities for financial institutions to add value for customers and differentiate themselves in a highly competitive market where services and products are often commoditized and not strongly differentiated," says Soudack. "Innovations that serve customer needs or solve people's problems are most likely to be adopted. If they only serve business needs (e.g. reduce operational costs) without providing a related user benefit, new technologies will languish."

Soudack points to the recent increase in appetite for simplification and control over the products and services they consume. "People are now expecting the organizations to design end-to-end experiences that are transparent, easy and respectful," he says. "Organizations may think of this as innovation, people think of it as good service."

Q: How well are major banks moving from product-centred thinking to a user-centred approach?

"Major banks are definitely moving in this direction but the inherent difficulty is that beyond redesigning the experience, which they have large teams working on, there is also need to change the underlying process and business flows," explains Stelmach. "Without altering this, there is a limited amount of change that strategic design can inject. This is where fintech firms can stand out - not so much because of their revolutionary products, but because they can build within the process from the ground up to support the desired experience."

Q: How is machine learning (AI & data) used to inform UX/UI decisions?

Much like other technologies, AI provides a set of tools that can be deployed in the process of solving a problem. Stelmach explains. "For example, solutions around ingesting a profile of an individual can take a lot of guessing or hard work out of the experience, as we can use AI to infer their personality via social feeds or dialogue. As a specific example in the financial space, we can use this to accurately match prospects to advisors or support staff based on personality alignment versus postal code."

Stelmach goes on to mention the rise in use of conversational interfaces to displace the importance of navigation. "Chat-bots, for example, can displace apps and websites as entry points into experiences with companies and brands and can leverage other existing platforms to do so (for example Facebook) where they don't have to build the traditional infrastructure and battle for home screen dominance," he says.

Q: How involved are UX and UI experts in the design of the average financial services mobile applications, and how has the level of engagement changed over the last five years?

"Experience design increasingly drives the process," states Soudack. "The financial industry looks to experience design experts to define what mobile applications should be delivering and how. The experience design discipline places users at the forefront of designs. However, the same problems as mentioned above exist: there are considerable limitations based on existing systems and infrastructure along with existing business processes," he explains. "Increasingly, they are taking a 'holistic service design perspective' on their products and services. This expands the view beyond the digital interface and visualizes the customer's interaction end-to-end. Think for example of Uber, where the app is only one part of an eco-system that includes innovation in networking, mapping and payments."

Soudack and Stelmach also point out that Toronto's large and vibrant experience design community is well-equipped to service the financial industry, with a large pool of agencies and independent consultants providing strategy, design, prototyping and research services.

December 2, 2016

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