Skip Navigation



November 11, 2016
6:00 PM - 9:00 PM


MaRS Discovery District
You’re scrolling down a webpage when an advertisement pops up for a financial service promising high-quality investment services at affordable fees. Uncompelled, you close the ad, dismissing it as a rip-off or scam. This instinct to dismiss alternative financial services is something innovators in the financial technology sector — or FinTech — are trying to dissuade as they develop new, simpler ways for users to borrow, lend, trade and interact at all levels in the financial sector.

But in order to earn your money or your business, they must first earn your trust.

This week at DesignMeets…FinTech, hosted by Pivot Design Group at the MaRS Discovery District, six speakers representing an array of experience in FinTech provided a partial solution to the problem of building trust by focusing on design thinking and user experience.

Growing FinTech by designing trust

“Experience is becoming more and more important,” said Ian Chalmers, founder and creative director of Pivot Design Group as he opened the evening.
Chalmers underscored the role of customer engagement in the recipe for FinTech success and emphasized that design thinking and user experience is critical to building trust.
At its simplest level, Chalmers explained, design thinking means considering how users experience and interact with a product or service — and making that experience as positive and functional as possible.

Dinaro Ly, director of the FinTech cluster at MaRS, took the stage and emphasized that FinTech “was never meant to replace traditional financial services.” Rather, he explained, it’s meant to complement existing systems and to improve user experience by reducing the pain points customers traditionally confront — annoyances and barriers like long wait times and cumbersome application processes.

Design thinking really comes in to play when you think about your customers. You have to create some value and some touch points within their journey that they can not only easily ingest, but also leverage the efficiencies of your products and services.

— Dinaro Ly

However, at the start of that journey you have to establish trust, stressed Ly, which in the digital sphere needs to happen almost instantly.
That challenge, and various approaches to tackling it, were discussed by the remaining five speakers all representing FinTech start-ups in the MaRS portfolio.

Engaging customers by balancing legitimacy and simplicity

For Troy Wright, CEO and co-founder of Lendified, an online lender for small businesses, empathy and simplicity are essential considerations in design. Wright explained that his inspiration for Lendified came from his conversations with small business owners across Canada and the empathy he had for how difficult it was for them to secure loans from the big banks.

“My problem became, ‘how can we take this very challenging process and make it something easy?’” he explained. “We wanted a user experience where people feel unencumbered by the requirements [to borrow money].”

Creating ease for customers doesn’t mean the business isn’t complicated behind the scenes, said Wright. It does, however, provide a radically different experience than traditional borrowing channels for the user, while still reassuring clients that they are using a safe, trustworthy service.

Steven Uster, co-founder and CEO of FundThrough, which provides invoice advances for small business customers, shared similar sentiments.

In Canada, where you are trying to build trust with customers and users in financial services where the big banks have all the trust and all the customers, it is critical that through your design you are able to let people know this is safe, this is easy, and this is the right place for them

— Steven Uster

Uster stressed that there needs to be a careful balance between legitimacy and usability when designing a user experience in FinTech. “When you land on our website you need to know that this is comforting and legitimate and not a scam, but on the other hand we don’t want to look like a bank, so you need to cater to the online user generation.”

Both Wright and Uster emphasized that simplicity is a key way to engage customers through design, whether it’s by reducing wait times, clicks or eliminating unnecessary back and forth correspondence.

Han Ryoo, head of product at Overbond, is no stranger to using simplicity to improve customer engagement and create trust. Overbond operates in corporate bonds and capital markets and Ryoo said that it is essential to design a product that is useful and adds value but is also accessible.

“We have a very diverse user-group with varying levels of age and sophistication, so how do we design a product that works for everyone?” he said, explaining that understanding what the key players in the bond market want, is the key to building their trust.

Understanding the experience clients want

For speakers Tom Creighton, director of design at Wealthsimple, and Craig Neable, head of product at Nest Wealth, trust is absolutely crucial. Both Wealthsimple and Nest Wealth are online investment advising platforms, where success hinges on cultivating relationships where customers feel secure enough to trust the platforms with managing their wealth.

It’s no easy task, said Neable, underscoring the challenges of moving persuasively into a space where the incumbent industry is so entrenched — particularly in Canada where compliance and regulation pose major barriers to entry. The solution, he said, is to start with the customer.

“A lot of what we do is try to figure out what the right end-to-end experience from a customer perspective is and then we figure out what we need to do on the back-end to make sure the beautiful design in your head matches what the client ends up seeing,” said Neable.

Both Neable and Creighton stressed how significant design thinking is when appealing to a customer base, recognizing that design choices can expand or limit a product’s appeal.

What we’ve found is that a better approach is to design for certain attitudinal and behavioural traits in your product and combine those with emerging technology trends. These are things that transcend age or generation,” Creighton said. “This allows you to create solutions that will resonate more deeply with a much larger group of people.

Neable added that sustaining trust when managing someone’s wealth is of the utmost importance especially when considering scaling. “You have to really understand how to build a client base in a really controlled and responsible way.”

As the evening broke into a Q&A session, all of the speakers agreed that despite the relative challenges for FinTech start-ups in Canada, solutions that combine finance and technology must be engaged and responsive to the people they are designed to help in order to be successful.

“We want to reach a set of human beings who have concerns about finances or signing up for new services in general. Building that trust is key to our industry,” said Creighton, highlighting the evenings reoccurring theme. “Design thinking has helped us succeed because we’re giving people what they need.”

Pivot Design Group extends a special thanks to all speakers and audience members for participating in this week’s DesignMeets event.