Stop mistaking clever features for intelligent services

 Amy Gavin photo
Amy Gavin Lead Competitor Strategist
4min read

One of the biggest challenges when building new digital financial services is creating a winning feature set. Spending categorisation, budgeting tools, carbon footprint-tracking — these features are everywhere in the financial services apps that we use every day.

But how much value do they actually provide for customers? Is the average person interested in analysing the minutiae of their weekly spend? Or tracking the carbon emissions associated with their latest online order? Is the ability to set personal budgets for specific spend categories, like groceries or entertainment, too granular to be of any use to most customers?

Providers are focusing their efforts in the wrong place. Gimmicky features are not the answer to helping customers solve their problems and achieve their goals. The real value lies in designing and delivering intelligent services, not standalone features — getting this right will separate you from the pack.

The real value lies in designing and delivering intelligent services, not standalone features

What do we mean by intelligent services?

Intelligent services focus on what really matters to the customer. They are designed to fix specific customer problems without creating new ones. They treat customers as individuals by using their data to personalise the experience. They communicate with customers in a clear and transparent way. For more on intelligent services, take a look at our Digital R.I.C.H.E.S framework.

Too often providers get caught up in designing shiny, clever features, whilst losing sight of what the customer is actually looking to achieve. To provide real value, features need to deliver more than a moment of curiosity for customers: they need to help them to solve their real, everyday problems.

Ok, time for a quick plug…Using our FS OS - 11:FS Foundry, we’ve started to explore what these services look like with something we call Foundry drops. From smart savings to business accounts, we’ve built innovative propositions, designed specifically to solve these problems, that you can use as inspiration or as a jump-off point for your own product.

Don’t fall into the trap of feature-matching

Financial services companies spend too much time obsessing over what their competitors are doing. Thinking ‘X has this feature so we must include it in our app too’ is not the right mindset. Just because a certain feature is suddenly popping up everywhere, does not necessarily mean it’s the right fit for your customers. Or anyone’s customers.

Financial services companies spend too much time obsessing over what their competitors are doing.

Just look at banking’s carbon-tracking craze. Companies big and small are falling over themselves to keep up with the pack. NatWest and Mastercard both recently introduced carbon calculators to rival start-ups like Cogo and Doconomy.

Meanwhile, BNPL giant Klarna is getting plaudits for their CO₂ emissions tracker that’s focused on helping customers to 'reduce the climate impact of their spending'. You can see carbon emissions for individual purchases, compare how your overall footprint changes month on month, and view ‘hints and tips’, including ‘choose vegetables over meat to save on calories, cost, and CO₂’.

This is fairly interesting, but lacks a ‘so what?’. It gives the customer insights but doesn’t tell them what to do with them. There’s no meaningful advice on what to do next. It’s a feature, not an intelligent service.

Who’s getting it right?

Money management app Snoop is a fintech that gets it. Having raised £15m in its most recent funding round, the app is well-placed to help customers navigate the spiralling cost-of-living crisis. Open banking tech and AI can help customers save money on bills, subscriptions and expenses across all of their linked accounts.

Snoop's value doesn’t lie in allowing users to track their budget, but in providing the means for them to actually save money by highlighting where they might be overspending and surfacing relevant deals.

This is helping customers to fix a problem. It treats them as individuals through intelligent use of their data and clearly communicates next steps, helping them understand how they are doing financially and where they can save money.

What does the future hold?

Customers don’t want a finance app filled with novelty features. They want intelligent services that solve their everyday problems.

Before you jump on the feature bandwagon, think — will this help fix a real problem for our customers? This will help you stand out in a market saturated with providers offering fun and quirky features that don’t deliver real value.

If you really want to win at designing digital financial services, do your research. Start by gaining a deep understanding of what customers want, then create intelligent services around helping them make progress with their lives.