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‘A real underdog mentality permeates this place’: Chase’s chief product officer, Allison Beer

  • With 56 million users, Chase is an at-scale digital bank.
  • Chief Product Officer Allison Beer joins us on the podcast to discuss UX design, payments trends, and the bank's product pipeline.
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‘A real underdog mentality permeates this place’: Chase’s chief product officer, Allison Beer

One of the things I find so interesting about JPMorgan Chase is its ethos of being an underdog in spite of having 56 million digitally active customers on its website and mobile app. The firm is actively developing and rolling out new functionality with a frequency that belies its size. 

Today’s guest on the show is Allison Beer, Chief Product Officer and Head of Customer Experience and Digital at Chase. In a discussion around the future of digital banking as we reemerge after the pandemic, we talk about three key trends: automation, personalization and real-time payments. Allison provides us a look into the firm’s product roadmap — we also look back to Chase’s Finn brand and what the takeaways were from that experience. Lastly, we discuss how Chase looks to fintech, Big Tech, and other non financial brands for inspiration around UX with a vision towards the future of banking.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

Role of the chief product officer

I’m Allison Beer, the chief product officer and head of digital at Chase. The team that I lead and partner with day in and day out are responsible for bringing industry leading products and services in digital solutions to half the households in America. That’s everything from how we engage our our customers digitally on Chase.com, on the Chase Mobile App, as well, as every kind of money movement you can imagine — whether that’s Zelle or wires or tapping to pay.

My team is comprised of a set of 1000 people who sit in the center, who manage our cross line of business products, as well as the product leadership teams in each of the lines of business that represent another 1000 or so.

Career path

I’ve been in financial services now for quite a while. I started in startups before that and have moved back and forth between digital, partnerships, credit cards — I’ve looked at financial services from a variety of different angles at this point.

It’s funny. Before I joined JPMorgan Chase, I didn’t really have a good, accurate sense of the culture. But since coming here, I would say that this is more like a startup than you would imagine. It’s a firm that is in high growth mode. And it’s really focused on winning. I feel like the thing that permeates this place, and it’s hard to see from the outside, is a real underdog mentality that doesn’t necessarily match with the performance of the firm. And so it is less dissimilar than startups than you would think.

Competition

[When we think about competition], it’s fintech, and big tech and non tech and other financial firms. This is a place that focuses on being best in class at every single thing that we do, and we take inspiration and recognize competition in all sectors.

Move to digital

We saw over the past year that customers really embraced the speed, ease, and security of using digital payments. We saw a secular trend over the past several years of customers moving more and more to digital financial services. And that was just accelerated during the pandemic. This trend shows no signs of slowing down, even in a post-vaccine world. 

We’re not going back to the old days — we still see millions of customers who use our branches, but they’re using our branches differently. And so they’re coming for advice. They’re coming for complicated financial plans. It’s a different experience, and customers are shifting more and more of their transactions to our digital channels.

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Branch experience

We think about our customer experiences across all channels. And so the real beauty of the Chase footprint is that we don’t have to choose between serving customers face to face, over the phone, or digitally. We’re really obsessed with making sure that that omnichannel experience is connected as seamless as possible, and when you come into the branch, that the team there knows everything that you’ve done online, and has access to the kinds of insights that we provide to customers online. And so the focus is much more on connecting the experiences than optimizing any one of those channels.

We want customers to be able to pick up where they left off. And so if they start something digitally, they can continue it in the branch with advice and assistance. Also things like scheduling appointments or doing Zoom calls instead of meeting face to face — just being able to just use every tool in the arsenal to make sure that our customers are well served.

Role of digital within the branch

At the end of the day, our branch teams will be using the same applications that our customers will be using. Of course, they will have different permissions and the ability to edit in a different way. Do you have self directed solutions? And do you have assisted solutions? The solution may be the same, but the branch team has different access to help customers.

[The branch staff] is so effective at providing us with feedback on things that we should be doing differently, which I greatly appreciate.

Payments

We’re the biggest provider of real time payments. As we invest $12 billion in technology across JPMorgan Chase, and as you discussed with my colleague, Rohan Amin, a large percentage of that goes specifically to Chase for payments, to make sure that our platforms are designed to handle the growing demand. We serve half the households in the US. And so we are investing all the time and making sure that things are faster, more secure, and more real time. And we consistently enhance our features and our capabilities based on feedback. And it’s exciting. People like working here because we have such scale. And so when we innovate on behalf of customers, we’re doing it at such a massive scale.

UX talent

I like to hire from a wide variety of sectors. We’re focused on diversity in every way. We like to have folks who have financial services experience; we like to have folks who have big tech experience, small tech, fintech experience. We take designers from so many different fields. It’s great to have that kind of inspiration, dialogue, and diversity of thought, infused in the way that we develop products and services for our customers. It’s incredibly important that our team reflects the customer base that we serve. We really look to make sure that in everything we’re doing, we’re building an inclusive design perspective and making sure that the products that we develop, whether you have $5 or $50 million dollars, that those products work well for you.

Evolving digitally

I think that the trends will continue. The pandemic led to an increase in digital engagement, and that’s here to stay.I think you’re seeing segments who had historically not adopted digital solutions adopt them. Last year, half of all new digitally active customers were over the age of 50. And so customers are now using digital solutions on a daily basis. It’s more that the frequency by which customers are using digital solutions is increasing, not so much that customers are newly adopting them. Things like QuickDeposit, our mobile deposit feature, has grown to 40% of our checks deposited from 30% before the pandemic.

Product pipeline

I think you’ll see us developing more and more digital solutions to help our customers manage their financial lives and to make the most of their money. At the very essence of what we try to do, we just want to make managing finances easier and more secure for our customers every day. We very recently launched a new budget feature that helps customers go beyond just setting up a monthly budget — they can track their spending and adjust day to day. 

The really exciting thing is that all of these trends we’ve been talking about, whether it’s artificial intelligence or machine learning, are now being applied commercially at scale. And so we are able to help customers better understand their data, better use their data to make financial decisions, and to set up plans for them and calculate a flexible budget. For instance, they can track individual debit and credit cards automatically. and identify money leftover so that it can be transferred into a savings account or transferred directly into an investment account. Customers with a savings account are just so much more financially healthy than customers without it. And that’s even more true if you move into investments. So that is just a big focus for us: helping customers improve their financial lives and giving them the tools to do that. 

The other thing digital allows us to do is create new solutions to serve our customers. We launched a new digital assistant in our mobile app. Through text based conversations, customers can use this system to complete tasks, like replacing or locking a card or checking account balance, or getting help with an investment rollover. It’s really neat to see these solutions progress, and they’re getting better and better every day. 

Takeaways from Finn and introducing new brands

We debate this a lot, because it’s less about the newer brand and more do we want to be able to have a testbed app where we can move more quickly? It takes us a while to roll out new features, because we roll it out 5%, 10%, 20%, 30% at a time, just because of the size of the base. And customers have an aversion to seeing things change dramatically when it comes to how they view their money. So we are very cautious at disrupting what is a daily occurrence for customers. We want to be careful about making huge changes in the Chase mobile app. So a separate app is sometimes a nice way to test things. 

The story with Finn is that we learned a lot and frankly, took most of those features and embedded them in the Chase mobile app. It became very obvious quickly that we were already an at-scale digital bank. And having a separate app for a lot of those features didn’t make sense, because at the end of the day, we were going to want to embed them in the core app. And so supporting two apps just wasn’t the right strategy. But you’ll see us experiment with separate apps for different things over time. And then we’ll assess whether it should be a standalone solution or whether we should embed those features and functionality directly into the Chase mobile app.

Retaining primary account status

I think you’re seeing some challenger banks do interesting things very point to point. Our focus is really on the end to end experience of managing your finances. And so if we obsess about what customers need, we win every time. The places where we’ve really turned our attention have shown that we both retain customers and we grow and gain share every year by putting in market solutions that help customers manage their finances end to end. 

We hear more and more that customers want a single app for their finances that allows them to manage their credit card accounts, their home loans, their investments, and their deposits. It’s one thing to provide customers with advice. It’s another thing to allow them to transact and to take action seamlessly in that same app. And so our focus is on being complete and helping customers manage everything.

Looking for design and usability inspiration

From a UX perspective, we take inspiration largely outside of financial services. I think you’ll see in the next 12 months some amazing improvements that are coming on our UX. We have an amazing design team here at Chase and we are hiring like crazy. I’ve been impressed with the talent that we’ve been able to recruit. It’s exciting to work here. 

Designers see that we have a fresh perspective to presenting information to customers, to making really beautiful experiences. The mission of helping customers save more and improve their lives is really a draw for a lot of talent. When they see just how focused we are on that mission, it becomes an inspiring place to work. So we absolutely look to the most beautiful brands on Planet Earth and challenge ourselves: can a bank app look like that? And can the experience be that simple, that clear, and awe inspiring? I think you’ll see that we’re going to take huge strides towards that end in 2021 and 2022. 

Accessibility and inclusivity

It’s core to what we do. When you think about the breadth of our customer base, we have to be focused on inclusive designs for those who have special needs. Part of the reason why it takes us a while to roll out features is we’re testing in so many different environments, for so many different use cases. And it really is an obsession — we take a lot of pride in a lot of the external accolades we’ve had for our inclusive design. I think that’s just really at the core of what we do.

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