A banking experience for the younger generation

Client: The Co-operative Bank/Smile Bank
Focus: Design research
Project Duration: Three weeks

I. The original challenge

Smile Bank, a subsidiary of the The Co‑operative Bank, is UK's first full-service internet bank.  After the financial crisis of 2008, Smile's operation was downsized. The Co-operative Bank presented this brief to help them relaunch and embrace their original cutting-edge aspirations. Specifically, Smile is looking to understand the following:

1. How can we better connect with younger generations?
2. How might Smile offer a better day to day bank experience?

Smile emphasized their target customers are the younger, under 30, demographic. Understanding their attitudes towards banking and finances was important to garner insights. We utilized several different research methods to create empathy and to understand their core needs and attitudes.

II. Understanding the user

To understand the banking customer journey, we identified four user groups for exploration: university students, young professionals, young parents, and field experts. We aimed to understand the brief in terms of:

  1. What does the younger generation need?

  2. When do people need a bank account?

First, we conducted secondary research to understand the current banking context. Based on our findings, we designed a questionnaire for the interviews focusing on the following four areas:

  1. User’s first contact with a bank

  2. User’s views on online banking

  3. Influences on financial decision-making

  4. User’s ethical considerations in banking


User research: 

  • 72 survey respondents

  • 15 in-depth interviews

  • 4 immersive experiences

  • 1 focus group

  • 1 expert interview

  • 1 analogous research

III. Synthesizing our findings

To arrive at insights, we downloaded each interview and shared key observations with the team by grouping data/information in the following categories: observations, insights, direct quotes, and ideas.

Insight #1

A majority of our interviewees received their first bank accounts as children, often set up by their parents. Many kept the accounts into adulthood.



We realized that parents are the key factor of this feed-forward loop. If we adequately address the needs and expectations of the parents’ banking experience, we can potentially create a steady customer pipeline.

So what do the parents need?

The comments listed below are what we heard consistently from parents.

However, the needs of the parents are complementary to those of young, single adults. This leads to us believe there is solution that can consider the needs of both parties.

Insight #2

In comparing and contrasting the key observations, we noticed that they could be categorized as convenience or confidence.



We define convenience similar to those services provided by financial-technologies, e.g. Monzo. We define confidence as interviewees’ trust in the legacy of traditional banks and comfort with large sums of monies in such establishments.

IV. Redefining the original challenge

With respect to our findings, our suggestions should provide convenience while inspiring confidence. Reconciling these two attributes partly leads us to define our “how might we?” question. The second part of developing our “how might we” proposition is understanding the bank customer cycle where parents are the key driver of the feed-forward loop.

Integrating these two understandings, we arrive at our how might we question:


How might we develop a convenient banking experience that parents of young families can have confidence in?

V. Opportunity areas

We identified five areas for Smile's consideration:

1. Navigating life’s firsts

Life is full of many “firsts”: first job, first car, first house, first child.  Smile can help you navigate through your life’s “firsts” with ease.

The transition from being a recent university graduate to a young professional and brings with it many firsts: first job, first car, first house, and first child. How can we help those making this transition navigate through their life’s “firsts” with ease?


A comprehensive package of tools and services that help customers budget and plan for future milestones. Examples include mortgage payment simulator, university fund forecaster, and stock investing teacher.

2. Family Vault

Parenthood is hectic enough; saving for the future is now one less thing to manage. Smile centralizes your family’s finances saving you time to spend it where it really matters.

Gifted checks for newborns went un-cashed since parents are busy and the process to open a new bank account was arduous. With the understanding that parenthood is hectic, how might we help young parents manage their finances?


We suggest centralizing the family’s finances through a “vault and piggy bank” system. In this approach, parents will be able to set up savings accounts for their child, i.e. piggy banks, which would be housed within their main account, i.e. vault.

3. Brand Confidence

Convenience is important, but how can make sure customers trust a digital-only solution? Smile can leverage The Co-operative Bank relation to raise customer confidence.



As our research suggests, people are less confident using the services of fintechs compared to using traditional banks.


We recommend that Smile draws on their relationship with the more established Co-operative Bank in their logo.

4. People Presence

People want to know they can talk to a person when things go wrong. Smile can leverage digital tools to create a more personal digital banking experience.


We noticed that people want to talk to a real person when things go wrong. Customers prefer dealing with a banker in person for specific tasks.


Knowing that this is not in line with the digital-only vision of Smile. However, when we looked at a bank in the Netherlands facing a similar problem, they were able to manage customer expectations by implementing a "Facetime" solution where customers could video conference with bank representative when needed.

5. Ethics in action

To build confidence in Smile, we make our ethics actionable. Smile partners with family-oriented charities with customers choosing where to donate.


Our research suggests people are attracted to ethical businesses but found the concept of an ethical business hard to grasp. Participants mentioned valuing companies that put ethics in action.


We recommend Smile gives people control of the ethical actions of the bank. An example of this could be to donate a portion of their profits earned to a charity of the customers’ choice.

VI. Client feedback

"Great representation of the age demographic interviewed. 

1. The parent → child cycle is reality and the research into this was very good. You 
guys also nailed it by presenting intelligent and sensitive solutions for this shared 
problem. Deeply rooted in empathy. 
The convenience and confidence venn sums up the brand/product positioning. 

2. Definitely going to consider ways in which we can help our customers plan their 
future milestones via offering a centralised family finance management tools to not only save our customers time but encourage them to celebrate their milestones and ‘life first's.' 

3. Budgeting tool and family vault idea is perfect for the demographic identified 

4. Leveraging the Co-operative Bank tie-in is a fab idea which demonstrates trust in the brand, but a difficult thing to do without leaning on it too much. However, the fact that 
you mockedit up was great, next thing for us will be to research this further and make 
sure its a good strategy to go ahead with!

5. Using the existing logo as ‘ups and down’ life journey was a great and such a 
creative concept to communicate the brand values you surfaced."