Imagine meetings packed with prepaid card industry experts — from program managers, bank issuers, distributors, processors, and networks to civil rights organizations, nonprofits, and consumer advocates. 

You might think these would be cacophonous gatherings. Now, imagine they are working toward a common goal: to set a high bar for quality in the prepaid industry, with consumers at the core of that mission.

Over the course of the 12 months, I had the privilege of organizing such a group – the Center for Financial Services Innovation's Advisory Council on Prepaid. Last month we published our culminating work, the Compass Guide to Prepaid. As I reflect on my experience participating in this series of successful conversations about high-quality products, I learned five important lessons that I believe can be applied beyond the prepaid industry to engage in genuine and productive cross-sector dialogue during product development.

  • Aspire to be the best: Consumer advocates, regulators, and others you may consult are encouraged when companies take a "we want to design the best product" approach rather than a "we want to meet a minimum threshold" approach.  A conversation about how to avoid violating the laws against Unfair, Deceptive, or Abusive Acts and Practices is very different from one about how to design a genuinely fair, transparent, and market-leading product. 
  • Come with an unfinished product: No one – whether it's a bank partner or a regulator – believes you want real input if you show up with a finished product and a marketing pitch, hoping for a seal of approval.  Be honest about your constraints, but be open to changes and to thinking differently. 
  • Explore critical feedback: Listen.  Ask questions. Put down your dukes. If you are too quick to defend your product, you might not get to the meat of an issue. Even if you think you disagree, probe to understand what exactly about your product pricing or structure is causing concern. You may discover a simple tweak that improves the true and perceived quality of your product.
  • Look beyond the headlines: You wouldn't want people to believe all the headlines about your company or your products.  Financial products can be complicated, and reporters don't always get it right.  In the same way, consumer advocates and other experts have thoughtful, well-researched, and nuanced points of view.  So, look beyond the headlines to educate yourself on an organization's philosophy before engaging.
  • Have authentic touch points: Set up conversations to truly facilitate sharing of advice.  If you are sending your lawyers to talk to their lawyers, it's already a negotiation, rather than a conversation.  Have product owners take part in the dialogue.  Focusing on the customer need and experience, not just the product features and functions, helps foster this type of conversation.

Engaging interdisciplinary experts in the development of new products can lead to higher-quality products and better outcomes for consumers and companies.  Our new reality mandates that we work cooperatively across professions.  Customers deserve it, and bottom lines demand it. 
Romy Parzick is the manager for innovation and research at the Center for Financial Services Innovation in Chicago.