The Future of Finance Is Human-Centered.
by Scott K. Schmidt, Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Money Reserve
It’s time for the finance sector to embrace human-centered design. Here’s what you need to know.
Those of us in finance are often detail-oriented and enjoy the process of dotting all our i’s and crossing all our t’s. Yet not everyone we work with is geared the same way. Expense management and tracking are boring for many of the employees who are required to do the job. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By incorporating human-centered design into your financial tracking tools and services, you can ensure that you and your team will be able to embrace the future of finance. Here’s what you need to know about incorporating human-centric design into finance.
What Is Human-Centered Design?
Human-centered design has been around in the technology space for a very long time. Companies like Apple and Google have been pioneers in the space because their employees have innovated around the ways in which we use and interact with our devices and the ways we surf the web and use computers. Their products offer surprise and delight in many ways, which speaks to our human nature and thus affects our behavior with the products and content they create and support.
There are a few core tenets of human-centered design. At the core of human-centric design is the idea of putting the human being you are creating a good or product for at the center of the process. Humans’ needs, desires, behaviors, and wants should trump most of the other parameters of the project.
To that end, the first step in creating a human-centric design is to begin by thinking about the humans who will be using the product or service. How will they use it? What do they want from it? What do you want them to do with it? A key aspect of human-centric design is ensuring that you and your business have a deep empathy and understanding of the people using your product or service. Without this kind of connection, it’s likely that you will not meet your customers’ (or employees’) needs and that the product or service will not be widely adopted or will fall by the wayside.
There are three key phases of human-centered design: the inspiration phase, the ideation phase, and the implementation phase. During the inspiration phase, you and your team will learn everything you can about your customers — everything from how they want to interact with your product or service to what they might want that product or service to do for them. It’s important during this phase to deeply connect with and understand your audience and your users, understand their pain points and their desires, and meet them where they are.
In the ideation phase, you take all the information you gathered during the inspiration phase and narrow down how you and your company can solve those issues for your users. What are the challenges and opportunities that might be available now that you have all the information you need about your user base? How can you create a product or service that meets your users’ needs and desires and offers seamless integration into their work processes or lives? These are all important questions to answer during the ideation phase. You’ll also create prototypes and test offerings during this phase. Get these in front of your user base so that you can take the feedback they offer and improve the products or services.
Once you’ve gathered all the information and brainstormed the best products and services to meet your customers’ needs, it’s time to move into the implementation phase. In this phase, you’ll put your prototypes into production and hopefully get them into the hands of your target customers, who will then use them in the ways you want!
Why Does Human-Centered Design Matter in Finance?
It may not necessarily be obvious, but human-centered design can be implemented in finance as well. After all, finance is a complex and often misunderstood portion of life and business. The more intuitive and accessible finance leaders make their products and services, the more likely employees and customers are to use them in the right way — and in turn adhere to some of the more complex rules that govern things like expense reporting or travel policies. The ultimate goal of integrating human-centered design into finance is to get more employees to be compliant with some of the rules and regulations businesses need to adhere to in order to stay on the right side of compliance and law.
Human-centered design can also help make finance more inclusive. Importantly, one size does not necessarily fit all when it comes to finances. Different employees may use different tools to keep track of their financials. It’s crucial, especially if you’re trying to manage a company’s finances in a comprehensive way, to recognize that what works for an IT employee probably won’t work for a manufacturing employee. You may have to tailor your expense management system using human-centered design to get everyone to track their spending in a way that is useful and compliant both for your employees and your company. This kind of adaptation can truly improve both financial and legal compliance and help you keep better track of your company’s spending. It can also help employees get reimbursed in the most timely manner and ease any financial burden that going out of pocket might cause for them.
How Can Finance Executives Embrace and Incorporate Human-Centered Design?
Now that you have a solid understanding of the basis for human-centered design and how it relates to the financial aspect of business, it’s time to think about how best to incorporate human-centered design into your company.
The best way to start is by following the steps of human-centered design outlined above. When you begin, it’s really important to listen to the pain points that your customers or employees bring to your attention during the inspiration phase. In years past, it was common for executives to whole-heartedly believe that they were the best arbiters of the right solution for their employees, but that approach will only breed resentment and even less compliance with your company’s financial rules and regulations.
Instead, it’s best to listen openly to the challenges your employees have in complying with your financial processes and think comprehensively about how best to solve the problems for all those involved. You’ll find great value in tackling the challenge of implementing human-centered design into your financial processes by approaching it as a collective from all sides. Top-down management doesn’t work when it comes to incorporating human-centric design programs.
How Will Incorporating Human-Centric Design Improve a Company’s Finances?
Everyone knows how difficult and frustrating expense tracking can be. It’s a necessary evil, however, and at the heart of managing a company’s finances is keeping close track of cash flow. This can be exceedingly challenging whether you manage a large company or a small one. That’s why you have to rely on your employees to stick with the processes you put into place to keep track of expenses. If you incorporate human-centric design into your processes, you increase the likelihood that the people who you need to track their expenses and help manage business expenses will do so. Make the process easy and make it meet their needs, and you’re sure to be golden.
As an example, having problems with expense tracking was a top complaint at Microsoft. Yet by automating and making the process more human-centric, the company was able to boost employee morale and improve the employee experience. Improving financial processes can be that easy if you and your top team approach it through human-centered design.
The Bottom Line: Finance and Human-Centered Design
While it may not necessarily seem obvious, incorporating human-centered design into the financial tools we regularly use in business can be a boon for everyone involved. Most importantly, it puts the human beings who use the products at the center of the process so that it can be more easily incorporated into their work life in a seamless way. It makes good business sense to make things easier and more enjoyable for your employees. It also makes very good financial sense. By centering the human beings in the process, you can better ensure that they will follow the guidelines, rules, and processes you need to incorporate in order to make your finances run smoothly. It just makes good sense! The future of finance is clearly human-centered, and by considering how to improve your processes and products to further center the employees and customers who use your products every day, you can ensure that your business will be on solid ground.