The d-school takes you from problem solving to design thinking


Customer is king in customer-centric design thinking, Dr Rael Futerman told the Finance Indaba.

A common challenge companies face is how to cut costs in a brutal business environment. “Financial professionals hear this, and there’s a rush and panic to solve the problem,” said Dr Rael Futerman, the d-school’s programme manager, at the Finance Indaba 2018 in Sandton on 3 October. 

We’ve been socialised, especially in business, to resolve challenges as efficiently and quickly as possible. Few businesses will consider a design-centred, customer-centric approach to shave expenses, but this might just be the innovative method needed, said Rael. 

Bank of America used design thinking to get people to open new bank accounts. Their “Keep the Change” campaign solved two problems: increased revenue for Bank of America, and increased savings for customers. 

Rael noted: 

“Bank of America took the friction out of the equation. The company didn’t run a campaign urging people to open savings accounts – that would have made customer’s lives more difficult – but combined the ability to save while shopping. This is design thinking.”

Because Bank of America realised the end user (the customer) was its most critical stakeholder, the bank attracted 200 000 more clients.  “They really understood the need. And it just happens so seamlessly,” added Rael. 

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d-school assisted Standard Bank with its “Feenix” campaign – a South African example of design-centred thinking that aimed to solve a critical social problem (university students’ inability to pay for fees) and an investor’s problem (how best to help students sustainably pay for fees). The crowdfunding platform, linking the stakeholders, earned the Bank 5% in administrative fees. Feenix was innovative because it provided students and donors a more focused system. 

Design thinking is an iterative process in which we seek to understand users, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify novel ways to solve them.

Many accountants and finance professionals shy away from innovation, believing it’s not their forte. 

“But those controlling the money need to have the most vision for the company. They need to speak many languages,” said Rael. 

Many CFOs have asked Rael what the point of design thinking is. 

He responds: 

“I tell them that we need to generate new information. It’s not a fad. We’re in the era of the knowledge economy and it’s no use being a knowledge holder. We need to be knowledge generators.” 

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