'Innovation' without ethics

Here in Australia, we've been witness to a series of shocking revelations in the finance industry through a Royal Commission into the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industries.

The interim report of the commission makes for damning reading, but the executive summary sums it up pretty neatly. When answering the question, "Why do these industries behave the way they do?" (i.e. very poorly), it states that:

"the answer seems to be greed – the pursuit of short term profit at the expense of basic standards of honesty."

The community backlash has been huge, with all major banks in Australia last week reporting shrinking profits and downgrading their financial forecasts. Ethics – or the lack of – are affecting the bottom line. 

Too often, 'innovation' in the finance industry has been the realm of financial technicians and techno-fetishists; either through intentionally obscure, higher-order financial 'products', or 'solution without a problem' experiments such as the blockchain. 

The role of human-centred design in these organisations has traditionally been to help deliver a palatable experience around these innovations – using the tools and techniques of digital and service design to remove pain points and improve the user experience. 

What the Royal Commission shows, though, is that 'innovation' in these organisations has been co-opted towards short-term profit. Despite being 'human-centred', design has been complicit in making poor advice, fee for no service products, and unaffordable loans inappropriately accessible to our communities. 

So what should design do?

We think the next wave of innovation in the finance industry must be around product and service design ethics, making sure that digital services are meeting real community needs, and transforming the industry itself to be more closely connected to its customers.

Design is good at building usable experiences, and at making the complex understandable. It now needs to start thinking of innovation within financial organisations as a systems problem, to look at the ways product and service innovations happen, and to better design that process. 

Design, broadly thought of here as systems and organisation design, can help build checks and balances throughout the innovation process to ensure that financial organisations aren't just 'human-centred', but ethical. 

— the PG team

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