An Interview with Jin Kang, VP, Experience Design at OCBC Bank, by Stessa Cohen
Published at – The User Experience Publication for FinTech

A few years ago, I read a tweet of Jin Kang‘s that changed my life. My working life, that is.

She tweeted about bank sites and apps needing to be beautiful. Until just a few years ago, we didn’t hear too much talk about banks building beautiful websites or mobile apps.

Sure, bankers have been concerned about offering the most functionality and transactions to their customers, but mostly they were stuck with the user interface delivered by the online or mobile banking vendor.

With that single word, Jin took customer experience to a whole new level: beauty. Sure, go ahead and laugh, but you know it’s true: bank apps and websites are getting more beautiful all the time. We all talk, tweet, blog about customer experience all the time. Because of that tweet, I have incorporated this word “beautiful” into my thinking and discussions about digital banking. It still startles many bankers.

You have an interesting background for a design practitioner in banking. How did you go from product design to banking? Did you develop an interest in finance or banking?

When I was in the design school in South Korea, I explored broad fields of design; such as graphic, web, product, illustration, typography, even car design! Back then I didn’t know how all the different design disciplines are connected. Earning Art and Engineering degree has provided me a strong foundation to tackle complex customer experience challenges in the business later in my life.

The opportunity to work in banking sector came somewhat by coincidence. In 2007, I attended World Usability Day in Zurich and there I met the Head of Client Experience in Credit Suisse. His presentation opened my eyes to see ‘usability’ as a business discipline in improving customer experience not only on web channels but all touch points. A few months later I joined Credit Suisse Private Bank, and I developed a massive interest in the role of design. And I grew to love the financial services industry because nothing can be more rewarding than improve financial lives’ of people through my design.

What does UX and/or customer experience mean to you? How would you define it?

Anything that stands between customer and business; and customers’ rational and emotional judgment how good the interaction was. It is the definition of Customer Experience I use because it is compressive and practical to apply.

Do you think there’s too much hype about UX and customer experience in the banking or Fintech areas?

I’m probably biased in answering this question, but I think it’s a good thing that UX has become an important topic in the banking/Fintech. Because the notion of UX is about focusing on the users, working backward from what people need.

This way of thinking was much needed in the financial services industry where products and services are often created from an experts’ point of view. Many years ago people used to ask me ‘why do you work in a bank as a designer?’. But now it became a big trend that banks build an in-house design capability. The banking industry certainly has changed and began to embrace the need for design to build a successful business.

What are biggest mistakes you see banks making in terms of UX and working with designers?

Not involving designers at the strategic level. It is a big mistake, because by not involving them in the beginning at the high level, banks lose a valuable opportunity in framing the problem from a customer’s point of view.

Designers are trained to have empathy for customers, to gather behavioural insights, and to visualize possible solutions quickly. The result of involving designers is vastly different from working only with strategists based on an analysis and numbers.

Do you think traditional banks can innovate and really improve or transform their customer experiences? Or is it a lost cause?

I am a firm believer that traditional banks can innovate. They do have challenges to overcome, such as legacy systems, technology and the organizational culture.

However, traditional banks have an advantage over startups such as resources, access to the existing customers and their brand assets. In other words, traditional banks have a better platform to innovate. Eventually such challenges can drive the innovation process, as ’constraints’ fuel creativity.

How do you think customer experience design can change the way banks offer services to customers? Conversely, can banks truly transform the way they do business with customers without incorporating modern UX design into their business?

To innovate in a large institution, using design process is critical to success. There are three ways that CX design can change the way banks do business with customers.

  • Using design research to get a richer customer insight. A design process starts with understanding customers. While quantitative market research such as survey can provide valuable insight, design research (such as interview, ethnography, observation) can shed a deeper insight such as their behavioural traits, context and motivation.
  • Prototype to test and learn. A prototype refers to the rudimentary working model of a product or information system, usually built for demonstration purposes or as part of the development process. By using prototypes, ideas can be tested before investing resources in development.
  • Create shared vision among stakeholders. In an organization, having a shared vision is key in driving an initiative forward. When ideas are communicated through a word or an excel document, it is very hard to assure that involved stakeholders envisions the same thing. Prototypes can be used not only for testing with customers but also for making the organizational decisionmaking process visual and sharable. Because visuals leave no room for misunderstanding.

A lot of bankers focus on customer experience for Gen Y/millennials. How do you see customer experience design impacting customer acquisition, especially beyond Gen Y? Do older consumers and business customers care about design and experience in banking? How about different types of customers for example, consumers, vs. high net worth vs small business vs larger corporate in your experience, how do UX requirements change?

When something is well designed, it becomes invisible. It feels so obvious and natural, as Apple’s Jonathan Ive said.

This is the state that we need to aim we design a customer experience in banking. It is not about whether or not customers care about design such as look and feel. Regardless of which segment of customers are concerned, the experience must be thoughtfully designed based on their context and information needs.

The ultimate goal of the experience design is to make it relevant and easier for customers. Everyone needs the good design, particularly when it comes to making a financial decision.

Which industries or specific brands do you think banks can or should learn from about customer experience and design innovation?

The fashion industry always inspires me. The way the brands create emotional connections with the consumers and their ability to tell a story are skills that banks can learn from.

Why does creating an emotional connection matter? It’s because emotionally satisfied customers are 100% more likely to spend according to a Gallup research on retail banking.

What three pieces of advice related to UX and customer experience would you give people working on digital transformation in their banks?

  1. Put customers first, not channels. We often hear ‘mobile first design’. I suggest replacing ‘mobile’ with ‘customers.’ By focusing on the needs of customers, organizations are better equipped in designing superior digital banking experience.

  2. Simplicity is imperative in digital transformation. Often banks are trying to achieve many things at one go. But can we state articulate the most important problem we need to solve? Getting clarity on what to focus based on the customer insight is the key to channeling our resources in meaningful transformation.

  3. Think beyond digital touch points. Design the systems. Every channel is a valuable opportunity in building a relationship with customers. We need to have a big picture of how the digital channels cohabit in then systems (such as people, communications, or other channels that banks own) and thoughtfully design the entire system. Nothing is too small in designing a customer experience.