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Filene Report Explores Design Thinking
MADISON, Wis. (4/15/13)--A new report from the Filene Research Institute describes how a group of young credit union professionals used design thinking to spark innovation and introduce a new type of credit union account.

The "TruAccount," currently in development, would allow up to five friends to add equally to a joint savings account through automatic payroll distributions. When the account reaches a minimum threshold--say of $500--someone in the circle may use the funds to take out a secured loan.

The Filene report describes design thinking as the process by which designers, researchers, and practitioners come together to find practical and creative solutions to problems of human understanding. The process puts people at the center of the design and development process.

In June 2012, Julie Norvaisas, a design researcher and strategist, led a design-thinking workshop that kicked off a week organized by the Cooperative Trust, the Filene Research Institute's young professionals network.The group of 15 young credit union professionals from across the country gathered to "Crash the Credit Union National Association's America's Credit Union Conference" with the purpose of learning about and applying design thinking to address problem of serving un- and underbanked consumers.

At the end of the week, the Crashers developed a product concept called "the TruAccount."

The Filene report notes that design thinking can be applied to any business, but it is particularly critical for credit unions to understand members more deeply for a few key reasons:

  • The knowledge gap: The distance between how credit unions think about financial services and how most consumers understand and experience the financial realm is likely vast.
  • The emotional gap: While it all seems quite rational to credit union manager, managing finances can be emotionally charged and confusing for most people. As a result, many consumers do a poor job managing their finances.
  • The credit union mission: Credit unions are different from other financial institutions--a difference manifested by standing with the consumer rather than against them. In that light, adopting a design thinking mind-set is an emerging capability credit unions that need to develop to remain competitive and relevant.
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