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Beyond buzzwords: Using Design Thinking to truly innovate for the end-user

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

With so much emphasis being placed on technology-led disruption, it’s no surprise that many of us are experiencing buzzword fatigue. Digital transformation, big data, lean start-ups, cloud computing, etc, etc… they're all sound great, but what difference are they making to customers and end-users? Ultimately, new technologies and platforms should merely be tools to solve for existing pain points, and to make life and work easier for people. Indeed, it was with this primary mission in mind – solve for end-user pain points – that drove the Standard Bank Edge team to embrace the principles of Design Thinking to make life much easier for South Africa’s entrepreneurs. Instead of merely throwing fancy technology and digital tools at the problem, we rather chose to spend time with entrepreneurs to learn about their challenges – and particularly their challenges relating to banking and finance, and its impact on their businesses.

In essence, Design Thinking looks to harness the softer skills of logic, intuition, empathy and systemic reasoning to understand possibilities of what ‘could be’ – and also to develop desired outcomes and processes that really benefit the end-user. So instead of merely building products and services independently of the customer (and then using sales teams to create some kind of aspiration around these), we rather chose to spend time with the end user with no agenda other than to listen and to understand. In our case, we wanted to understand the pain points that entrepreneurs experienced when interacting with their bank. For them, there was a major disconnect in terms of what the bank ‘stood for’ (supporting entrepreneurs, nurturing business, etc.) and what the real experience turned out to be.

For most business owners in the throes of running a business venture, the banking experience is more prohibitive than supportive. It's difficult for them to access credit as self-employed individuals, turnaround times are incredibly long, the administrative burden is massive, and there is no reliable and easy-to-access contact person. When speaking to successful entrepreneurs about how they've managed to get the business off the ground, many cite their accountants as being invaluable to the process. Often, the accountant is the one who is able to overcome the banking and administrative burdens, and who provides key advice as well as introductions to important people within the business ecosystem. By spending time with entrepreneurs, we therefore gained a vital insight: accountants are often the key influencers in the life (and success) of an entrepreneur.

Armed with such a critical insight, gleaned through the more intuitive process of Design Thinking, we were therefore able to build a product that spoke directly to the needs of both the entrepreneur and the accountant. By delving into the pain points of both, we could quickly create solutions and outcomes that provided an ecosystem in which the three key stakeholders (entrepreneur, accountant, bank) could work in harmony and ease.

Notably, during this process we didn’t undergo an expensive build, and followed a lean approach. We worked hard to understand the end-user and to create something that directly addressed their day-to-day requirements. In doing so, we arguably created something that unites three key stakeholders in a process that is vital to South Africa’s economic survival: building a business and creating employment!

For more information on Edge Banking, contact;


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This blog was first published on the Sprout website after the launch of Standard Bank Edge in July 2018.

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