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Bank execs, customer jobs and empathetic apps

Bank execs, customer jobs and empathetic apps. Main image: ymgerman,
Written by Sudhir Kesavan

Sudhir Kesavan describes the importance of leadership and vision for infusing innovation, particularly for digital transformation.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to witness first-hand the birth of the “bank innovation hub” phenomenon. Fortunately for me, it started with a bank that is among the first to foresee the impact of digital transformation and put its own transformation into action. One could see first-hand heads of business lines sitting down in hackathons and being passionate about how various teams tried to solve problems they had been challenged with, while undertaking a profound organisation transformation they knew would last at least a couple of years. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to see other institutions try to replicate their own version of the transformation, including back-office transformation, investment arms, innovation hubs and startup incubators.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve come to realise that the challenges facing banking as a sector, and the day-to-day operations of a bank, have made some senior business executives become evaluators of concepts rather than leaders who are driving a personal vision of the future. My comment, though, is a bit unfair, because innovation can come from anywhere, and a healthy amount of time needs to be spent in understanding potentially game-changing pitches from the outside world.

My point is that the day-to-day challenge of running a business, and the obvious opportunities in using digital capabilities to optimise current operations, seems to have left executives with no strategic time for focusing on their personal digital vision.

The missing senior executive digital vision framework

It’s easy to get an instinctive feel for when the executive is personally passionate about the innovation unit, or is being the senior executive sponsor. For all intents and purposes, the executive wants the innovation centre to make a meaningful, multi-fold business impact. After all, that’s why they’re investing in it. Yet, the responsibility seems to have been outsourced to the innovation function.

I believe people and organisations execute their strategy based on what they’re passionate about or paranoid about. While the day-to-day business of running a complex business entity such as a bank can be overwhelming, passion and paranoia can overcome this.

Having interacted with multiple banks, I’ve developed a hypothesis that one of the missing elements is the lack of an innovation framework that would help the senior executives think through how they themselves can be an accelerant to the innovation process. Instead of hoping that the breakthrough will come from the innovation unit they’ve funded, they can become the accelerant, bringing into play the executive’s personal experience and, critically, instilling a sense of urgency that only a business leader can infuse. This would be a framework that enables the exec to build a vision for the future, bringing with it an understanding of how customers are disrupting business models.

The implication isn’t to get the executive to be the innovator and create the “hippo” effect (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), but rather to enable the senior executive to develop a vision of what they believe digital reinvention is going to be about for their bank. This vision can be the accelerant that instills a much-needed sense of competitive urgency into the innovation investment.

The energy a leader’s personal vision can give to a transformation initiative cannot be understated. Innovation labs need to be about building businesses alongside new business models and/or new value propositions. They shouldn’t be about proof of concepts alone. They literally should be entrepreneur territory. So the challenge really became about whether there was a framework out there that could help a senior business leader think about the changing relevance of banking. I do want to reiterate that the folks I’m referring to here are super-smart at what they do, but perhaps even they need a few tools to help them create scenarios of the future that become personal visions. Given their background and experience, with these tools, they could potentially super-charge the transformation more than any innovation unit, or even any fintech (of course, other than the one from yours truly!).

Customer jobs to be done

While I’m certain you would have come across the “customer jobs to be done” framework, and don’t need me to highlight its potential impact, what I found very useful is how it can help one “think outside the bank” (I should get around to trademarking that term one of these days). Instead of asking the question, “How can more customers consume more of my products?”, this framework can help executives ask the question, “What is the job the customer is trying to get done and where does my product/service fit in?”. Then the framework helps broaden the scope to whether the bank can help the customer achieve their entire goal? Let’s look at a couple of examples to help make this real.

Example 1: Venmo

At a personal level, I must confess that I originally didn’t get the Venmo value proposition, specifically its $800m valuation. It may have something to do with growing up with college mates and friends: if you were a sucker enough to say you had money, you simply paid for everybody. But applying the “customer jobs to be done” framework helped demystify this to some ($800m?!) extent. The fact is that customers (millions of them) used the Venmo app to help them split the bill. For a certain segment of customers, this was an important, yet tedious job that needed to be done as painlessly as possible. This is the functional bit, then there’s the social sharing of the fact that the payment was made (I bet seemed bizarre to Gen X), which fulfilled a social craving, and finally the relief and security of not owing anybody, which fulfilled an emotional need.

Example 2: Simple Shared

To reinforce the power of thinking about “customer jobs to be done”, let’s also look at a new capability that was recently launched in beta by Simple, ‘Simple Shared’. It’s a capability that specifically targets partners of all hues and reasons for joint saving, spending and sharing. I instinctively loved this one probably because I did once have a roommate for a brief period, and faced enough challenges to never have one again. But let’s briefly take it through the framework.



Simple Shared provides two cards for the same account, to partners, and at the app level provides intuitive capabilities to fund, track, monitor and basically do everything that a partnership with a joint account would need. If you study Simple Shared from a typical banker’s perspective, the reaction would be that joint accounts have been there for decades, and in any case the bank is simplifying payment transfers. But my submission is, we need to realise that customers hire apps to do jobs. The underlying capabilities that a bank has, will in the very near future become micro-services, and apps such as Simple Shared will become tools that help a segment of customers do a job.

Senior executives reach their positions not just because they know banking, but because they know their customers. If the senior executive is able to combine this knowledge with an empathy for the job the customer is trying to accomplish, they can become the accelerant that every innovation initiative needs to be impactful in the marketplace.

One can envision that, if implemented well, this will lead to the bank providing empathetic services to customers that don’t just serve a function but also deliver emotionally engaging experiences.

Incidentally, this line of thinking turns customer segmentation on its head. When we started thinking about our approach from a customer job perspective, we realised that we’re defining customer segment by “job families”. This doesn’t take away viability and feasibility considerations, but rather enables prioritisation of possibilities much faster.

JTBD and its relevance to customer journey framework

A lot is said about the importance of customer journeys, but a lot more can be done. Part of me wishes that it gets as much focus and attention as blockchain! This is because I believe there is significant customer-centric value to be extracted from the customer journey line of thinking. In more ways than one, the JTBD framework helps initiate a broader conversation around designing value propositions around customer journeys, and possibilities for banks to orchestrate the same.

If one focuses on the job the customer wants to do, and then on the value chain that helps accomplish that job, the customer journey manifests itself. It’s then possible to understand whether the bank can feasibly and viably orchestrate that value chain.

Bank app stores are coming, and the successful ones will be those with apps that represent customer jobs “to be done”. It won’t be surprising if it’s the likes of challenger banks, USAA, Capital One or DBS that bring it out. By reimagining and architecting their current capabilities as “real-time micro-information exchange services” (my latest attempt at explaining APIs), they can power an array of apps that represent the jobs the customer wants to do.

Tying up the value chain and provisioning it to the customer is a significant competitive advantage, especially when coupled with already existing product portfolios, credit models and customer intelligence. Innovation teams shouldn’t pre-judge the viability or feasibility (and should definitely not let others do so as well). Sustainable innovation is more about the business model than about the proposition itself. The answer to feasibility and viability will need to be taken based on the ability to innovate the business model. With the coming voice revolution, this wouldn’t even be the subject of debate, because customers would tell Alexa to do a job for them end-to-end.

Every job where the customer needs to put together the value chain will become reimagined. This is what’s going to push the bank to the back-end unless the bank thinks of a way to help the customers get the job done.

PS … JTBD framework has been around for over two decades, but it’s only in the last few years that I found it courtesy Strategyzer’s Value Proposition Design methodology, and Prof Clay Christensen’s espousal of the same. Please check out Strategyn.

READ NEXT: Innovation is an act of leadership

– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Main image: ymgerman,

About the author

Sudhir Kesavan

Sudhir Kesavan heads the fintech team of vLendRight, a customer journey platform that enables banks to gain market share in auto finance. For the last 19 years, Sudhir has worked as a technology provider with banks and FIs in the US and Europe. He and his core team have worked in digital transformation for several years, focusing on innovation in banking using a methodology they call 'digital imagineering'.

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