A year of COVID-19: U.S. Bank innovation team examines two major trends at SXSW

March 25, 2021 | GET MORE : Articles

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The annual conference is a hot spot for discussing culture and its impact on business and consumers 

The past 12 months have brought a rapid acceleration of change in many areas of our lives. And now, we sit at a unique moment in history. 

That was the focus of this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) conference, an annual gathering of the leading thinkers in culture, technology and business. This year it was held entirely online – but as usual, a cohort of nearly a dozen members of our innovation team at U.S. Bank was there to soak it all in. 

If topical themes such as “Cultural Resilience in the Arts” and “Transforming the Entertainment Landscape” seem like a strange fit for a group of people who work at a bank, let us explain.

Part of our innovation team’s responsibility is to understand not only what new financial services technology can do, but also how it fits into society at large. We use these insights to create amazing experiences that are relevant to our customers, meet their unique needs and help make their financial lives better. And SXSW is a great source of these insights – a dedicated space to discuss the biggest topics not only in the world today, but also what the future could look like. 

“These themes reflect where our customers are in 2021, and the contexts in which they live their lives,” said Chris Swanson, senior vice president, innovation research and development at U.S. Bank. “That reflects how they interact with us, and what they expect from us. It’s an exciting opportunity for us to be in tune with where the future is headed, and where we can plug in and help create it.” 

As we begin looking toward a post-COVID world that is more digital than ever, our innovation team has identified two major themes that have implications for us and our customers:

1) The convergence of the virtual world with the physical world

It wasn’t long ago that every business started to realize it needed a website. Fast forward a few years, and the new need became a presence on social media. What we’re seeing now, after a year in which Zoom became a household name, is it’s becoming clear businesses need to incorporate virtual into their business plan. It’s not going to go away once virus concerns and restrictions do. Customers’ eyes have been opened to not only the convenience of doing things virtually, but all the new possibilities of pairing virtual experiences with physical ones. Restaurants have begun incorporating things like virtual vineyard tours with your wine pairing. Museums are creating augmented reality exhibits to experience art and history in brand new ways. 

At U.S. Bank we recognize that this blending of the virtual and real worlds unlocks new possibilities for our customers. It’s why we’ve rapidly expanded our Cobrowse screensharing solution, which gives a customer the ability to share their screen with a banker, allowing them to view and navigate online and mobile banking together. The feature has become a huge hit with both customers and bankers alike because they’re able to walk through together whatever they need to do digitally.

2) The concept of connectedness

It’s quite the dichotomy: The world has never been more connected, and yet never has it felt more disconnected. We’ve spent the past year social distancing, and yet we’ve probably never spent more time in our acquaintances’ private homes (once again, thank you Zoom). 

The past year has brought into renewed focus just how interconnected we all are. From supply chain, to how one economic sector affects another, to the very nature of infectious disease itself, it’s clear that nothing occurs without a ripple effect impacting so many others. We’ve also seen the effects of disconnectedness: In mental health, in segments of the population being disconnected from equal access to systems of prosperity and justice, in women being disproportionally pushed out of the workforce. 

It’s clear that if businesses want to be relevant to their customers, they must connect with them in three important ways:

  • Digital tools need to aid our customers’ connectedness – and be equitably accessible.
  • Companies must foster a sense of belonging and connectedness around their products and actively engage communities.
  • In a world that’s never been more conveniently accessed virtually, people still seek a human connection.

These are major reasons behind our strategy at U.S. Bank of pairing the best of our award-winning digital tools with the human touch of our bankers and employees. We call this our DIY/DIT approach: DIY (do-it-yourself) so customers can bank on their own terms, alongside DIT (do-it-together) for when they want help from a human. It’s also why we’ve prioritized diversity, equity and inclusion in everything we do, reaffirmed by our Access Commitment and our emphasis on accessible design in all our digital products.

The way forward

These two themes only scratch the surface of the ground covered at SXSW. Our team explored so many others, including the importance of authenticity, how to go where your customers are, and how innovation can come from anywhere (one reason we foster an innovation program at U.S. Bank that includes all 70,000 employees.) As we look back on the year of COVID-19, and now to the next year ahead, we will continue to keep our customers central to everything we do.