With the use of digital money management tools on the rise, Nurun, with the guidance of anthropologists in the Nurun Lab, undertook an extensive ethnographic study on the relationship that exists between people and money in 2012-13.
Why such a study?
Nurun has always believed that digital can help brands solve their customers’ problems and respond to both articulated and unarticulated needs. To kick-start our creativity, we developed a study using a human-centered methodology, of which ethnography was the centrepiece.
The Nurun Lab team, based in Montreal, worked on this study with the Madrid and Paris offices in an effort to generate not only local, but also multicultural insights into the kinds of relationships that people have with money. Our first objective was to establish the criteria that would be used to select participants for the study. The goal: to identify those who would be most likely to provide provocative and stimulating ideas.
To support this first objective we built a core segmentation, which included the relevant criteria outlined in the following diagram:
While we were planning the ethnographic portion of the study, we also compiled a benchmark of remarkable innovations in the financial field. The intent of this parallel effort was to gain a better understanding of how the market is responding to the problems faced by consumers today, or at least to the problems that they perceive consumers are facing. One of the most surprising elements of this research was the range and vitality of small players at the forefront of innovation in this field. One might have thought that the barriers to entry in this field were too high for start-up enterprises, resulting in the domination of big players. We were pleased, for the field and for the potential of Nurun to break into this area, that this was not the case.
Returning to the ethnography, the Montreal, Madrid, and Paris teams each searched for people who represented as many of the criteria outlined in the core segmentation as possible, balancing between extreme and “normal” values. Each informant then received a diary in which they were asked to track their spending and saving, wants and needs. This diary became the foundation for the next step of the fieldwork.
Our next step was to conduct in-depth, ethnographic interviews, which in turn allowed the Lab to build detailed profiles of each participant organized around their relationship with money. These portraits highlighted the wide range of our informants: from an internationally recognized architect in Madrid and a single mother running from a bad credit history in Montreal to a young dentist starting her own practice in Paris and an elderly woman in Madrid, these were just a few.
The three teams of ethnographers met for a workshop to share their findings and discuss the portraits of the informants. This collaboration led the team as a whole to articulate a set of shared insights. The insights uncovered a tension between the initial role that money plays to facilitate social relationships and foster freedom, and the growing sense that people are losing control over the money in their lives.
Back in Montreal the Lab team revisited these insights and organized them into three groups:
To lay the foundation for the workshop, the Lab analyzed how these three groups of insights fit together. We developed a cultural and behavioural model that visually articulates how people’s emotions towards money connect with their social and relational views on money. In essence, this model tells the story of how people across three countries are dealing with and managing their money.
Our team of experts, including an anthropologist, a strategic planner, a banking expert, an IT specialist, a user experience expert and the Lab team, convened for a two-day brainstorming session. The first day was devoted to generating “magic;” brainstormers were encouraged to think outside the box as they developed solutions for the ethnographic informants they had come to know through each of the portraits. The goal was to generate solutions that would seemingly magically address the needs of the informants. The result was a set of provocative ideas around how to provide consumers, not only with financial management tools, but more importantly with the tools that would enable them to manage their money from an emotional perspective as well.
On the second day the team voted for their three favourite insight areas from day one. Lab facilitators then introduced a series of constraints into the brainstorming process, looking to see how the insights from the first day would be affected if put through the prism of the following three ideas:
Day two of our highly organized brainstorming session also yielded a wide range of ideas. From the somewhat far fetched yet provocatively stimulating ideas of day one, we moved to a more concrete set of ideas. While still trying to help consumers control their emotional relationship with money, we focused more on how power can be transferred from the banks back to the consumers.
To bring the project to a close, we voted to start sketching one idea generated by the workshop. The clear winner for all the participants was the notion of a “Smarter Wallet.” This idea most clearly connected the positive emotions associated with the social realm of money – its ability to help us learn and to actualize who we are in our societies, communities and families – while correcting the more negative emotions associated with how financial institutions make people feel anxious, isolated and out of control.
Our process was one of the greatest successes of the workshop. It enabled us to bring our far-reaching ideas together with more practical notions, resulting in a series of sketches that truly addressed the participants’ needs. We didn’t lose the innovation and creativity inspired by the ethnography and the workshop, rather we successfully channeled it into a workable and marketable idea.
Some might say that the sketches for our app share elements of Mint, or even Google Wallet, but we believe that it takes an important step further. The Smarter Wallet gives consumers the ability to not only manage their money, but to become aware of and manage their emotions towards money as well. It also brings back the notion that our banking habits are social, allowing the wallet to be shared by family, friends and communities. In the process, our sketched app became a tool that educates and binds people together. After all, it is our money that allows us to come together with the important people in our lives to make an often impersonal world much more meaningful.