Bank of the West Adopts Design-First Mentality

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Editor's Note: This article is part of a series of profiles of Bank Technology News' 2015 Digital Bankers of the Year.

Jamie Armistead brings a design-first mentality to his leadership of the digital channels as executive vice president at Bank of the West. And it's this attitude that has helped the bank become an industry leader in the digital and mobile spaces.

"You have to have that design thinking go into what you do, otherwise you're just building technical capability. If people struggle using it, it's not going to serve your customers," Armistead says.

When Armistead came to the San Francisco bank, a subsidiary of BNP Paribas, nearly three years ago, the company was working with a skeletal digital channels organization. While the current digital team at Bank of the West may not rival what he left behind as head of user experience at Bank of America, it has grown and now even features its own in-house design team.

Since 2013, Armistead and his colleagues have overhauled four of the bank's major digital platforms, including its mobile app, website, online account opening service and online banking services for personal and small business customers.

Throughout these upgrades, Armistead took pride in giving his team time to fine-tune their work while still bringing net new digital capabilities to market every quarter. For instance, Bank of the West recently released an update to its mobile app that improved the user experience, yet the company has already begun testing to further hone it for the 4.0 version of the platform.

"That's a little different than other banks might approach their products," Armistead says. "People may get caught up chasing the next feature or functionality, but might lose sight of refining and honing. And we are willing to dedicate ourselves to that."

That said, Bank of the West also cares about launching new features. In 2013, the bank launched Quick Balance, a tool that offered consumers the ability to check account balances with a single swipe (without having to log in to the app). And last year, Bank of the West introduced Scan to Pay, a new app that lets consumers pay bills by just snapping a photo of them with their smartphone cameras. The bank has partnered with Fiserv to become one of three banks to pilot the new program the vendor's NOW payments network.

The creation of these apps stemmed from Armistead's recognition of the importance of mobile devices in people's everyday lives.

"The customer expectations are evolving right along with the adoption and proliferation of smartphones in our everyday lives," he says. "Checking your balance is the most basic of banking functions and we saw an opportunity to be innovative in a space that's relatively mundane. And one of the complaints about paying bills through digital is that people don't feel it's worth the hassle of keying all that info in. [Scan to Pay] makes digitizing virtually all of your payment activity an easy reality."

Armistead and his team are working on further platform overhauls for Bank of the West's business banking and investing services. They're also in the process of converting the bank's back-end credit card servicing platform. As part of that conversion they will enhance some of their servicing capabilities, for instance by providing transactions at the card level for multi-card accounts.

As for what's next on the horizon of disruptive technologies, it's not necessarily Apple Watch - the bank doesn't quite have the budget for that just yet. No, Armistead has his sights set on personal finance.

"There's a lot of opportunity on the personal financial management front, to capture spending in the moment and where you stand on a budget," he says, thinking of spending charts and account overviews. "But it has to be done in a way that's very easy for customers to consume," he quickly adds.

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