Capital One 'Galvanized' By Wallet Development

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Capital One had to loosen up controls to allow development of a new mobile app, Wallet, but the 20-year-old firm benefited in the long run.

Capital One, as a 20-year-old financial institution, had to set aside many established practices to come up with a more enticing mobile application, one distinctly centered on customer experience.

On May 2, Skip Potter, managing VP of engineering, Capital One Financial, told attendees at the InformationWeek Elite 100 Conference that the firm's Wallet app had become a game-changing move and "a galvanizing experience" for the company.

An important part of the new thinking was allowing recommended changes to filter up through the ranks instead of being "ordered from the top down," he told the gathering at the Four Seasons Hotel in Las Vegas. One example was the pushback from engineering as features were added and enhanced in a pressurized effort to get the new application ready for launch in late 2014.

"Engineering said, 'We're dying here trying to make all the changes,'" Potter recalled. Implementing a well-thought-out API reduced the impact of frequent changes by giving engineering a constant front end that remained stable, despite code changes underneath it.

[Want to read more about Capital One's transformation? Read Capital One: Think Like a Designer, Work Like a Startup.]

"You have to trust the folks on the ground to bring you to the right spot," he advised. A constant conversation between designers, product managers, and developers allowed many new ideas to float up and get sorted out. Then the agreed on final approach was brought back into the organization's regular development disciplines and project management.

The end result was "a more human-centered product development" process and a customer experience with the mobile app that proved a win for Capital One in the marketplace. It digitized many elements of a customer's transactions and centralized them on the phone.

It pulled together transaction details, such as the name and location of the business and the transaction amount, so users could more readily identify whether the transaction was actually one of theirs or not. If requested, it displayed the location on a Google Map.

It combined bank transactions with instant message notification of purchases. It allowed a phone snapshot of a receipt to be combined with the transaction details. It even displayed rewards customers were earning through their card use.  The Wallet app became one of the payment options under Apple Pay for the iPhone as it came out last October. There were several large financial institutions at Apple's announcement, but "we stood out," said Potter.

The success of Wallet helped Capital One usher in the digital age to its millions of credit card customers. "It was galvanizing to business leaders, to the engineers, and also the product designers," Potter said. It illustrated to them how they could unleash talent within the organization without losing control of their basic business processes.

"You have to let a lot of things bloom, then prune it back," he advised, but successfully navigating the process proved transformative. When Wallet was launched, Capital One rebranded its diverse IT staff as one group, "Technology."

"It changed the way we thought about designing and engineering a product… We're not just an IT shop. Our whole company is now more of a product organization," he said.

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