Recently I had a conversation with a CEO of a European private bank. One of the interesting questions he posed was how should companies ‘innovate’ in this fast-changing market as opposed to simplify the existing products and services. How do we prioritize and allocate our resources in adopting new technology and designing a new product or services?  Is simplification at odds with innovation?

One of the most important lessons I learned from my simplicity journey is this:

A meaningful innovation happens as the result of simplification. When we focus on simplicity for the benefit of customers, it brings organizations to focus on the right thing – solving customers’ problems.

‘Innovation as the result of simplification’ is not only my observation. Mark McCormick, SVP at Well Fargo, one of the largest financial institutions in the U.S. shared his view that “Innovation is hollow unless it’s service to simplicity.’ in his Designful Leader’s interview.  World’s leading simplicity consultants such as Alan Siegel and Irene Etzkorn articulate the relation between simplicity and innovation perfectly in their remarkable book, ‘Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity ‘.

“The most powerful forms of innovation don’t manifest themselves in new bells and whistles. They take the form of better customer experiences. And one of the best ways to improve any experience is to simplify it – to remove complications, unnecessary layers, hassles and distraction while focusing in on the Essence of what people want and need in the particular situation.”

– Alan Siegel, Irene Etzkon

OneWealth, the award-winning digital wealth management service OCBC launched in 2016, is a great example of how the intent of simplicity can result in innovation.


Initially the scope of the project was to build a digital platform to offer investment products. However from many rounds of interviews with consumers to understand how they think and feel about investments, the team learned that building a digital platform wouldn’t help them much. Making a investment decision is a complex process and happens in multiple steps such as: getting information, consideration, and validation before making a buying decision. And their decision doesn’t not end at buying. Monitoring, knowing how to manage, knowing when to sell is as much as (if not, more important) than buying.

With this deeper understanding, we reframed the problem; from ‘building a digital platform’ to ‘How might we build confidence in making investment decisons’.

This meant removing complexity and providing value in each step of the way; we came up with the unique investment service that connects contents, people, and process. To help clients achieve and manage their investment goals in a simple and personalised way while on the move, customers are served useful and easy-to-understand content, as well as customised alerts and targeted information, to make investing simpler. By integrating elements that help people make a confident investment decision, the tool became far more powerful than being an investment platform that sells products online.

The result of simplification was remarkable.

Soon after the launch, this digital tool has been generating approximately 60% of sales of the total fund transaction, and the sales volume has been growing strongly. Close to 70% of who uses this tool have bought the investment for the first time and they go on to purchase multiple funds after the first purchase. This shows investors gain confidence.

If we had focused on ‘how to innovate our digital platform,’ the result might have been very different.

Innovation happens when we get closer to the heartbeat of users.

Don’t be distracted by the realm of innovation. Don’t find sources of innovation in competitors or technology. Simplification is one of the most effective ways to approach innovation.

Keep calm and simplify.

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