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Author's profile photo Alejandro Pifarre

Does Design Thinking work in Banking?

It’s a common question actually; can Design Thinking be customized by the industry? After all, each industry has unique challenges.  An answer cannot be provided today, but what I can share is that an industry flavor of Design Thinking worked well to bring value to customers when we applied it to Banking.


Testing the Concept

We started back in the first half of last year where we provided internal training around the basics of Design Thinking to the new hires and partners from Financial Services Industry organization, around hundred people in Newton Square and Walldorf offices, using the standard approach but with a challenge of a banking concept. The prototypes were very interesting and promising of becoming real solutions, which gave as the first light that we could go deeply in some industry specifics.

Sometime later the SAP Services Design Thinking Center of Excellence at SAP Services got the request to facilitate two internal workshops for the Financial Services Industry, one for the Operations Global Team and the other for defining a common architecture for their Solution offerings. Even if we used again our standard Design Thinking approach, it helped us to understand the working style of the team and their way of articulating customer´s needs.

But the real test came when we faced the market. We were asked to run 3 workshops with major banks in Middle East on 3 strategic topics: Social CRM, Cloud and Enterprise Architecture…what a challenge! But the most effective, beautifully simple solutions come when you are in an urgent need. And we did just that, ran 3 successful sessions leavening happy customers and very attractive business opportunities.

How was success reached? Not by describing product features

We were able to combine the deep industry knowledge of our Banking Experts with the strong customer focus of our Design Thinking coaching style. We started with a genuine customer needs, and only after the scope was clear, our industry expert had the chance to engage them, but not to demo a product or explain features, but by showing real world examples with other customers, sharing use cases and the possibilities of the technology as an enabler. In one case they identified ways that that bank customers can be reached though social media for reinforcing fidelity of current customers and make them more appealing for the younger generation. Other was a complex case how to modernize the bank custom code without putting at risk day to day critical operations.

Preparing them to dream…

We could not look for a better proof point than having excellent feedback from the customer and our colleagues; so we have decided to kick off a formal program in 2014. We have prepared together, Services innovation, Business Transformation Services and Financial Services Industry Business Development, customer engagement models “powered by Design Thinking” specially fitted for the Financial Sector. And our ambition does not stop there; since we see this as the first step of create a complete portfolio of industry Design Thinking based solutions. If you are in or know a Bank that wants to try this method, please let me know.  They will enjoy a “first mover” advantage in their market.

Alejandro Pifarré belongs to the Services Innovation & Design Thinking Center of Excellence Team at SAP Global Services. He is a Design Thinking Coach and Trainer focusing in Strategic Industries and Emerging Markets. He has bachelor studies in Marketing, and a MBA degree. Alejandro works for SAP since 2004 in regional and global roles; and he had before management positions at IBM and Ernst & Young. He has been also an International Business Professor at the “Universidad de Chile”. Alejandro can be reached at

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      Author's profile photo Sylvia Santelli
      Sylvia Santelli

      The cross roads of Banking and Design Thinking. Very exciting. Looking forward to hearing more about these efforts this year!