Last month, Control Group had the honor of hosting the Verge NYC Conference. Verge NYC is a design conference founded with the goal of sparking discussion and critical thought around embracing uncertainty to “push the limits of where design can take us”. Unlike most conferences that center around high-profile speakers, Verge puts the main focus on its participants. This year, the conference had individual “conversations” or workshops led by a facilitator from one of the various design firms, and consisted of a field expert, a student from the Transdisciplinary Design program at Parsons and various conference attendees.
We hosted the workshop “21st Century Banking: Uncertainty in Financial Services”. And we were honored to be joined by not just one, but three field experts from all aspects of the financial services industry; from behavioral economics (Ideas 42), to low-income solutions (Grameen Foundation, D2D Fund). Our focus was to design financial services for low-income consumers.
At Control Group, we believe in the power of prototyping, and that power extends to not just into products but experiences as well. In order to better steep ourselves in the challenges and experience of low-income Americans, we gave Verge participants the experience of SNAP recipients, at least for an hour.
When the conference commenced at 1pm, we handed out $2 to each participant explaining that was their lunch money for the day. Leaving their wallets behind, they had to use their allowance to fend for themselves in the Financial District. Interestingly, every single person pooled their money to make a meal. We reunited back in the office with our hard earned (but paltry) lunches. For a brief moment, we were able to immerse in the SNAP experience and understand at least a fraction of the challenge SNAP recipients face when eating on just $4.15 per day. We simultaneously realized that our daily habits and considerations were far from the people we often design for, low-income consumers.
The tremendous value brought by having three experts involved in our conversation might not be what you would initially expect. Yes, three experts equal three times as much knowledge in the room. However, their value proved much more nuanced. Each expert brought expertise from different geographic regions both domestically and internationally. We learned about how challenges had more overlap across regions than we anticipated (it turns out that the willingness for poor folks to take financial risk is no easier in Kentucky than it is in Kampala).
In real time, we were able to apply a framework by D2D originally developed for low-income Americans called the “financial stability pathway,” and adapt it into a scenario with low-income Kenyan farmers. Instead of seeing huge difference across geographic populations, differences were more evident when looking at the available financial product offerings in different countries.
We ended the conference with three distinct maps that charted a potential pathway to financial stability for three different Kenyan farmer personas. We were lucky enough to use the amazing ethnographic research of the Grameen Foundation to deeply understand the lives, aspirations, expenditures and cash flows of Kenyan farmers. We considered the unique tools and networks available to our personas, and combined financial products from across the globe to create a customized end result.
Workshops are at their most successful when a diversity of opinions, backgrounds and reference points all stew in the same space. This is something we intrinsically know at Control Group; we are a collection of interdisciplinary polymaths with designers, developers, sales and marketers all mixing. It is something we strive to do with our clients and partners and something we were so grateful to do with Verge NYC.