The Digital Transformation of Retail Banking

Text: Michelle Marais

Beginning in the 80s, The Digital Revolution has undoubtedly had an impact on all industries, but it’s only in the last decade that we’ve seen a transformation in retail banking. Consumers’ requirements have changed drastically and anytime, anywhere banking has become more than a nice-to-have, it’s become essential. Today, retail banks are looking to innovative User Experience (UX) solutions to meet the expectations of their tech-savvy consumers.

Back from a recent trip to Kenya, we caught up with Quirk’s Head of UX Scott Gray, to discuss how the African financial landscape differs from that of the rest of the world, how data can be used to personalise banking experiences and which UX trends we should look out for this year.


In the last decade, the biggest trend in the retail banking industry has been the shift from physical to digital. However, the local financial services sector still has a large physical footprint. Do you think banks will lose customers due to their hesitancy to go digital?

I don’t think losing customers is a concern just yet as there isn’t much in the way of alternatives for customers. Generally speaking, I think retail banks are waking up to the importance of a more “robust” digital presence. All the major banks have mobile apps that do a fairly good job of providing customers with the ability to perform many of the basic activities. I think there are still a number of regulatory requirements that require a customer to be physically present, especially when it comes to proof of identity and signing something.

The way I like to look at the digital advances in banking is through a plumbing analogy. I view the customer touchpoints (branch, app, website, call centre etc.) as taps and basins. The underlying technology that enables these end points are the pipes and plumbing concealed behind the walls. One bank may have far sexier user interfaces than the others, but these are just fittings that can be upgraded. The underlying plumbing of most banks is very much the same as they’ve always been. This is where true transformative opportunity lies, but ripping out the pipes and “changing them up” would be an enormous cost, effort and risk.

How can data be used to personalise experiences for consumers?

This is a pretty big question, but in a nutshell, data is the fuel that enables the personalisation engine. In the early days, a bank manager would know all his customers by name, but as things have scaled up and relationships between bank and customer have become increasingly digital, the ability to recreate that personalised service can only be provided by data. The trick, however, is not how much data banks have (a lot!), but rather what they do with it that will differentiate one bank from the next. I think most banks are only starting to work out what this might mean.

You recently went to Kenya with the aim of familiarising yourself with ICEA Lion, an insurance company. How does Africa’s financial landscape differ from that of Asia or the Americas and what do its consumers require in terms of UX?

In many ways, the African financial landscape is right up there in terms of innovative products and services designed to service the needs of the vast array of customers. The African economy isn’t a mobile-first one, but rather a mobile-only. Herein lies the largest challenge – access to the internet or the lack thereof. The ability for customers to access their money through a digital interface is massively impacted by the lack of access to internet and smartphones.

That said, more mature platforms such as SMS have enabled a number of incredibly innovative services that distribute financial related information to those that need it such as rural farmers being connected with produce prices. Enabling them to form cooperatives that give them better purchasing and selling power.

How will you use these insights to ensure a positive user experience for their consumers?

  1. Simplicity is key. For a data-poor, attention scarce, and highly aspirational market the ability to sell something digitally relies on being able to communicate the benefits of a product in just a few lines of text.
  2. Design for mobile-first then think desktop. The mobile first design approach is an exercise in content and feature prioritisation, not only building for mobile users.
  3. Find ways to enable and educate. The insurance market is still in its early stages which means businesses such as ICEA LION must find ways to contextualise their products within the lives of the customers they seek, continually showing how and why their products and services will benefit them.

What are the biggest UX trends for 2016?

  1. Keep it lean. Start small, measure, re-evaluate, build, measure, learn, build measure, learn (you get the picture). Building iteratively using approaches such as “Lean” enables businesses to test and validate concepts throughout the product’s lifecycle. This approach is more likely to end up delivering something customers actually want.
  2. Android is it. The fact that smartphones are getting cheaper is undisputed. The influx of cheap (and cheaper) Asian handsets into the African continent means the Android platform will become a massively important ecosystem for developers and businesses. Understanding the operating system’s paradigm and where Google plans to take it is very important.
  3. Optimise for search. Linked to point 2, Android is built around discovery, bringing what a user might be looking for to the user’s attention as soon as possible before she may even know there’s a need. Businesses that optimise themselves for discovery on Google’s platforms will naturally be more likely to have a higher chance of being discovered.