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Getting Your Bank’s Digital Products From Concept to Reality with Speed and Certainty

Both within and beyond the financial services industry, unique digital offerings and innovative user experiences continue to raise the bar of customer expectations. With just a few swipes and simple fields, customers are able to order a new couch, schedule a doctor’s appointment, and complete day-to-day financial tasks. Even complex transactions that used to require a visit to the branch can be completed in minutes.

As technology advances and digital offerings evolve, consumers have more options to choose from than ever — and it’s easier than ever to switch financial institutions and spread lifetime value across multiple providers.

According to Business Insider, there was an 86% increase in the number of U.S. consumers considering switching banks between 2019 and 2020, citing the need for better digital banking services and personalized products as a motivator. Now more than ever, it is critical for banking leaders to bring innovation to life quickly in order to meet the demands of their current customers — and attract new ones — 64% of mobile banking users say that they would research a bank’s mobile capabilities before opening an account. Data from The Financial Brand indicates that 75% of millenials would switch banks for a better mobile app.

While fees and rates continue to be top factors in choosing or retaining a financial institution, the pressure to deliver innovative digital products has continued to build over the course of 2020 and into 2021.

The challenge? Getting innovations that customers love to market – quickly.


We often hear from our clients:

“We have no shortage of ideas, but we’re not sure which ideas to invest in first.”

No finanical insitution has an unlimited amount of resources to figure out which new digital product idea will delight their customers the most or generate the highest ROI. In fact, 71 percent of global bank leaders say that the time and cost required to go from concept to reality is their top challenge in innovation and digital transformation – even more so than integrating new systems and modernizing legacy technology.

As financial industry leaders invest in design thinking and customer experience initiatives, we often hear that while these efforts produce great concepts, it can be paralyzing to try to figure out which of these concepts will truly move the needle for their end user.

How can digital product and strategy leaders validate if the market truly needs what they’re building — and do so before a competitor launches first or before market demand shifts? How can you avoid piling onto what feels like an ever-growing concept backlog?

To accelerate the process from concept to reality, while minimizing the risk that comes with moving quickly, financial institutions must effectively and simultaneously balance:

  1. Authentic user needs
  2. Technical feasibility
  3. Business impact

Balancing these demands requires a process that integrates research, strategy, design, and engineering. It requires the ability to iterate quickly and bake in the voice of the user, the needs of the business, and the technical lift into every step.

A Proven Process

At WillowTree, we’ve perfected a process that helps our client partners get from concept to reality on timelines that others in their organization said were impossible, and that users truly love.

Here’s a simple, high-level outline of the stages that make up our process:

1. Conduct generative user research to gather user needs

What is it? Our teams immerse themselves in the world of the customer, conducting research on analogous or competitive digital experiences, completing both qualitative and quantitative user interviews with a fine-tuned ear to customer needs. This step also includes business alignment interviews and workshops to define criteria that determine the success of the project, and engage stakeholders from departments across the organization, including Product, IT, Marketing, and more.

Disciplines involved: research and strategy

What are the potential outputs?

  • Personas to define end users that we will recruit for interviews
  • Qualitative and quantitative journey maps, including an opportunity map that quantifies the importance and satisfaction of user needs
  • Competitive and analogous research
  • Definition of desired outcomes, measurable criteria to determine what success looks like to stakeholders
  • Insights reviews based on stakeholder and user interviews

2. Concept scoring and design based on these needs

What is it? Once teams have quantitatively identified opportunity areas by uncovering which user needs have the highest importance but the lowest satisfaction, the process of translating those needs into features begins.

Disciplines involved: design and research

What are the potential outputs?

  • Concept scorecards that quantitatively identify must-have, delight, satisfier, and low priority features
  • Low-fidelity concept storyboards

3. Prototype user testing

What is it? Beginning with low-fidelity concepts, our teams conduct surveys to evaluate the concepts with real users, quickly increasing the fidelity of the designs and we continue to refine and gather real-time user feedback. With this approach, the voice of the customer is baked into every aspect of the concept. As we’re creating and evaluating prototypes, we assess the technical lift and required architecture of the product, as well as how it will integrate with any legacy systems.

Disciplines involved: research, design, and engineering

What are the potential outputs?

  • An MVP roadmap blueprint
  • Concept scorecards that define feature priorization
  • High-fidelity concept storyboards

4. Final concept designs

What is it? Finally, the team combines results from testing the prototype, concept scorecards, and the technical assessment to define the MVP as well as estimate the scope and product roadmap for future state.

Disciplines involved: design and engineering

What are potential outputs?

  • Prototype
  • MVP definition
  • Product roadmap
  • Technical architecture approach recommendations

Are you ready to get your concepts validated, tested, and launched faster? To learn how to build these user-driven initiatives into your process – please reach out to our team. We’d love to help you.

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