A passion for human-first design

August 30, 2023 Matthew Wright
Divya Krishnan, Schwab’s director of offer management and strategy, is helping move fintech forward by putting customer experience in the spotlight.

As director of offer management and strategy at Schwab, Divya Krishnan and her team are shaping the future of finance and investing. How? By conceptualizing the client experience and tools through digital pathways that empower people to make informed decisions about their money.

We spoke with Divya about the journey she’s made to get to this point in her career, the power of personalization, and how technology can be used as a catalyst for greater inclusion in finance.

What interests you most about your work in the intersection of finance and technology?

For me, it’s all about making people’s lives easier and more accessible, and I believe digital experiences can help achieve that—especially when it comes to their financial goals.

Can you explain more about that?

First, it’s all about efficiency. I’m interested in finding ways to make processes that took hours if not days to complete in the past, now occur within a matter of minutes. We’ve seen so much of our daily lives fundamentally changing because of technology and it’s been no different in the area of finance. Whether it’s how we can do banking online, or sending payments to our friends via mobile apps, or even trading stocks with a few clicks, we have all benefitted from these advances. With something like an intuitively designed app or interactive website, we can help people find financial solutions that are tailor-made for them or help them solve important problems and overcome challenges.

And second, technology has allowed these products to be more accessible to many more clients that previously did not know about them. This leads to another exciting area where technology is having a huge impact, and human-centric digital experiences can help promote financial education. That’s particularly inspiring to me. There’s a lot of differing opinions in the media and online around financial topics, which makes it even more important that we provide people with the right information at the right time within their digital journeys. When clients are informed, they’re empowered to confidently take the steps that are best for them.

How did you first get interested in fintech?

I majored in systems engineering as an undergraduate, so I’ve always been very interested in technology and how things work. I was ultimately drawn to a career in the finance industry because it was so dynamic, and so much of what we do in finance is underpinned by technology. My first job out of school was as a trader on Wall Street, and I was always fascinated how quickly trades were being placed, and information was being processed. But when I tried to apply those same techniques to my own personal trading, it was nowhere near as fast or efficient. During business school, I wanted to apply the financial learnings I had picked up on the trading floor to more consumer-facing applications and consulted for companies in various fintech verticals, including online lending, venture capital, and even cryptocurrency. My current role at Schwab brings all my experiences together as I help to create personalized investing solutions for our clients.

Divya Krishnan, director of offer management and strategy at Schwab, pictured at Sintra Palace in Portugal.

Divya Krishnan, director of offer management and strategy at Schwab, pictured at Sintra Palace in Portugal.

How has technology evolved within financial services?

According to an industry study, the financial services industry has the highest spending on technology, almost double (7.2%), as a percentage of revenue compared with other industries on average (3%). For a long time, however, this spending was on technology to make internal processes more efficient and reduce manual work that could lead to errors and increased firm risk. But around the late 2010s there was this shift in focus to the digital client experience within banking and trading. A lot of this was driven by the emerging fintech startups at the time which recognized a pain point in the client experience. How are customers getting information? How are they more informed about what they’re investing in? How can we apply the technology experiences that they are using in other areas of their lives to their financial journey?

How do you think about design in the work you’re doing?

Whenever we start to design a product, feature, or journey, our first question is: What is the client going to experience? We ideate potential client journeys and different scenarios they might encounter in interacting with the product. By putting ourselves in the client shoes, we imagine what they’re going to be thinking, feeling, and looking for every step of the way. Our aim is to make the interaction simple and intuitive that will convey the value proposition of the service or product and help them make decisions along the way.

We also use design to educate clients. Whether it’s adding intuitive buttons that provide context and clarity, or integrating more robust tools like calculators and visualizers, we can ensure they’re always informed and confident about their decisions.

What innovations have resulted from this approach?

Technology has enabled us to efficiently scale and process data in a cost-effective manner, allowing us to bring down certain costs for clients and even investment minimums. This has led to creating digital experiences for investing opportunities that were previously available only to wealthier clients who may have been charged high fees.

For example, right now we’re working on Schwab Personalized Indexing, which allows clients to customize the indexes they invest in. Due to personal preferences or other financial considerations, a client might want to exclude certain stocks from his or her portfolio. We need to build experiences that allow them to customize their portfolio based on their needs, but also inform them of the potential impacts of those choices.

The thing to keep in mind is no two investors are the same. Their personal risk tolerance, their financial goals, where they are in their life stage—the combinations can be endless. And that’s where technology makes it possible to deliver that unique experience to each client.

How does product design help less-experienced investors?

A lot of times, especially in the finance and investing space, people visit a website, and they don’t know what to do. Sometimes they don’t even know what questions they should be asking. But with technology and design, we’re able to guide them through a journey that they’re still in control of. I liken the journey to entering a hallway with different corridors and rooms to potentially take. Each turn can take you down a different journey, and hopefully the signs and directions on the walls will lead you to your right destination. Do you want to trade on your own, or would you like guidance on your investing journey? If you want guidance, do you want a light touch to help guide your individual journey, or would you like frequent interactions with an expert? These are likely not decisions that they’ve thought of, but with the right journey, we can get them in front of the right product or service.

What can you do to improve their experience?

At Schwab, we have many different kinds of tools for our clients to really figure out what it is that they want to do. Their digital journey allows them to try them all, or to try some and not others.

That’s where the product design can come into play—by providing personalized features and educational content. And the next time they come back to Schwab, whether on their computer, tablet, or smartphone, they’ll be more knowledgeable about what they’re doing—and the product will remember them, too.

What gets you excited about the future of finance and technology?

Technology has allowed so many more people to be educated about finance at a much earlier age. Whether they are reading blogs, watching online videos, or finding communities of like-minded individuals, technology is helping to bring down barriers.

Before I worked at Schwab, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a financial literacy nonprofit to teach younger kids in second and third grade about basic financial concepts. I was blown away that some of them already knew certain terms like profit and loss meant. They knew how businesses were run. They had very clear ideas of what their careers were going to look like. Many of them were already thinking about how they were going to make their dreams and visions a reality based on their individual strengths and capabilities. They had access to this knowledge through online videos, social media, and being the generation that was digital-first.

How did that experience with younger kids impact you?

If 7- and 8-year-olds are already personalizing their careers and future goals to their interests, then you can see that this trend will only continue as they get to the point of actually investing. They won’t accept any generic solutions. They’re going to want to invest in what they’re familiar with and what they believe in. These are our future clients—and we need to be ready for them.

What are some of the drivers of your team’s success?

Schwab in general has a very collaborative, cross-functional corporate culture. Every colleague comes to the table with a different perspective and view of how the client interacts with our firm. It’s important to bring all those perspectives when creating that client journey. Whether it’s looking at it through the first-time investor’s lens, a female perspective, or generational views, at the end of the day, it’s always about putting the client’s needs first, and that starts from the smallest decisions they might take. That’s why client-centric product development is so important. It fits in with Schwab’s culture, and the design decisions we make always flow from that.