Agile research methods to create future banking services at Itaú Digital Labs

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Agile research methods to create future banking services at Itaú Digital Labs


Itaú Unibanco is Brazil’s largest private bank with over 90 years of history and 57 million clients. Present in 19 countries, it has more than 5,000 branches, approximately 90,000 employees, R$ 2,1 trillion (US$ 636 billion) in fundraising and R$ 135 billion (US$ 41 billion) net worth.

Over the last few years, Itaú has also become the largest digital bank in Brazil, and to make sure it stays that way, huge efforts are being made to improve mobile channels and internet banking. These efforts are in line with recently collected data which show that the future has arrived as Itaú now has more online transactions than offline.

Daily life is now unimaginable without smart devices which have challenged the bank services industry to transform and adapt to a new reality: making all financial transactions and complex product portfolios available in mobile applications, with simple, user-friendly and agile interfaces. Due to this, our company stays ahead in developing and releasing new functionalities (CX). A great example of this is that we were the first Brazilian bank to introduce Apple Pay in Brazil.

From an industry standpoint, the market competition scenario has been changing. In the last years, while the economic crisis was increasing in Brazil, a potential new market was growing alongside of it: the Fintech market. These startups focused on the financial world began to conquer the field all over Brazil and grew from 244 to 322 in just 9 months. Taking this into account, we had to develop a new action plan based on methodologies that could put us on the same page as these new businesses: Agile Research Methods.

What we changed
A couple of years ago, every single digital channel project was made similar to an industrial production process: each area was responsible for its role individually, which used to take much longer until the final delivery of a project.  The agile concept focuses on gathering employees from different areas creating a multidisciplinary team, enabling deliveries much faster. Nowadays, we can develop more and more functionalities in a short period of time.

Inside this new context, how is it possible for a team to be simultaneously researching, designing, building, and testing all of these new functionalities? The answer to this question is a huge challenge: we need to establish a connection with customers through an ongoing channel of communication that can provide insights much faster and also be innovative, coming up with new design methods. With that in mind, we created the Digital LAB – an online community platform of clients and non-clients willing to contribute feedback to the bank with new ideas, and market insights focused on digital solutions. It’s a platform based on DIY research.

How does it work
Digital LAB allows us to make several surveys every week. Each of them goes through moderation, analysis and results presentation, always approaching different themes. What can we do in the community? In order to create more effective and actionable research, we can choose one of three modules (an exploratory, co-creative or testing module) according to the demand:

  1. The “Explore” module is used for deep understanding, mind map and behavioral surveys in general;
  2. “Make” module is a specific module for co-creation methodologies such as personas and customers journey, so we can basically co-create anything;
  3. The last one, “Check” is a validation module, used for usability, concept tests, a/b tests or even disaster checking.

It’s interesting that we can combine more than one module according to our internal client needs. For example: we can combine our “explore” and “make” (modules), “make” (and) “check” (modules).  We can also combine the three different modules, and can go from the understanding step to the final validation, when it connects itself to the design thinking methodology. In addition, providing results has become faster than ever, we can deliver a research result in up to 5 days – which used to take 25 days in a regular research project, on average.

Who are we talking with?
We have four communities inside the Digital LAB:
The first one is exclusive to clients who are personal account holders, from the basic services’ level until the premium category. The second community is for business owners (small and medium sized businesses) who have corporate accounts. The third one is dedicated to customers who don’t have personal accounts, but they do have one of our main products: a credit card. The last one is specific for studying new potential targets which includes: Z generation, low income consumers, senior consumers etc.

Placing the customers at the center of the initiative was really important, so we could make a connection and have an ongoing channel of communication with them. Therefore we could better understand their needs, pain points and keep the conversation ongoing in this always-changing scenario. Not only the solution needed to be long-term, but also to convey attributes such as agility, innovation and the in-depth analysis of complex topics that need sophisticated market research techniques.

eCGlobal helps us to build and manage the insights communities with highly-engaged groups of participants that interact in a customised online platform supporting all sorts of fast-paced ongoing studies, quickly answering different business questions the market research department comes across.

Over 1,000 participants immerse in online laboratories, with 80 to 120 members each, in which they interact with newly designed Itaú solutions that need to be tested and validated by clients. In a social media-style conversation with highly targeted groups of consumers, respondents tend to feel at ease to voice their ideas. This gives grounds for the relationship between respondents and the bank to grow strong as they work hands-on and together on the development or creation of a product.

Beyond that, the hybrid aspect of the research approach sometimes takes them out of the online environment into face-to-face interviews or in-person concept evaluations. This way, they can meet both, peers from the communities, as well as the moderators and someone from the bank’s marketing team, making the digital aspects of the studies more human.

The project is visionary and has been designed to inspire everyone around it, building a collective sense of belonging and collaboration through a theme that can sometimes be so abstract as a bank service. The initiative is pioneering and will continue to help Itaú to evolve and shape the development of its new digital products in the years to come!

About Itaú Unibanco
In 2017, Itaú Unibanco was ranked the most valuable Brazilian brand in the Interbrand ranking, with a USD 8,46 billion value, a status maintained since 2010.
The highly innovative character of the bank comes mainly from the fact that technology is an essential feature in the brand’s DNA. Throughout its history, it has always developed services and products in a visionary way: in the 1980s it launched the first electronic cash register in Brazil; in the 2000s it pioneered banking digitalisation; in recent years it has become a reference in mobile tools for its clients and in 2015 it inaugurated the world’s most modern data center in the banking sector, with an investment of about $ 1 billion dollars.

Article previously published in Research World