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Banking Updated: 21 Oct 2019

Designers in the banking industry: how the job has evolved

BBVA has been a pioneer in its commitment to talented young designers with the launch of its training and recruitment program. One of the architects of the program, Elena Herbosa, the Head of Talent Acquisition for Design at BBVA, explains the bank’s experience building one of the industry’s top design teams and how she sees the future of the profession in the banking sector.


When Elena Herbosa first started working at the bank in 2011, the design team barely had 30 people. Eight years later, there are over 250 designers working for BBVA and more than 4,500 employees in the organization have been trained in this discipline. “We almost had to start from scratch because the sector was not  yet considering this need. Now everything has changed. Design now plays an essential role in the organization, on many levels,” explains Herbosa.

Nowadays, if you do a search on LinkedIn, more than 3,000 people have the role of Chief Design Officer - a title that did not exist until very recently, and is starting to compare to other positions of increasing significance in recent years like Chief Technology Officer or Chief Marketing Officer. “It’s a sign of just how much this market is on the rise - a profession with large demand in general,” explains Rob Brown, Global Head of Marketing, Design and Responsible Business at BBVA. According to Onward Search Digital’s marketing and creativity salary guide, user experience designer was the position with the second highest demand in 2019 - only digital product designers topped them.

The reason for this exponential interest in the profession is partially explained by the changes taking place around the world in the way people search for, find and consume products and services. “Now only the best designs stand out in the crowd given consumers’ rapidly rising expectations, driven by companies like Amazon; instant access to global information and opinions; and the vanishing lines between hardware, software and services. Companies need stronger design capacities than ever before,” the consulting firm McKinsey explains in a report that analyzes the value of design for business.

With the emergence of digital technologies, the profession has also grown in significance and presence in large corporations, and its demand has risen similar to website developers in the first decade of this century, says Herbosa. This new logic applies to all industries, including banking: “In recent years, as the sector has transferred part of its business to the digital world, it has also had to modernize when it comes to acquiring these skills,” she explains. After working in areas related to digital transformation, the head of talent started to specialize in recruiting designers. Since then, she has witnessed the constant rise of this discipline at BBVA, which has now become one of the pillars of the bank’s digital transformation. Last year, BBVA launched a global platform which allows designers from around the world to collaborate to create digital products and service, in close coordination with the technology and business areas. “The ability to understand the business is possibly one of the most necessary characteristics for these designers if they want to join the banking world,” adds.

This exponential interest in the profession is explained by the changes taking place in the way people search for, find and consume products and services

How has this profile evolved?

Although several years ago companies wanted people with specialized backgrounds in areas like user experience, research or service design, the current context has changed. “The barriers among disciplines are breaking down and now the trend is to look for versatile, flexible designers who can work in different fields and adapt to the needs of a changing environment,” says the expert.

People with a more varied background, with a “holistic” perspective of design currently have the highest demand in the sector, the expert maintains. The same goes for those with both an extensive knowledge of the discipline and strong “implementation capacities”. “The ability to make the projects a reality, carry them out within a given time frame and adapt them to the needs of the environment is just as important as their knowledge of design,” Brown adds.

Brown continued that what this means in practice is that designers at BBVA are not just expected to design something amazing looking, but to understand the value their design has to deliver in terms of areas like customer acquisition or increasing digital sales funnels. It’s about fully integrating their role into the wider strategic needs of the business. He added: “Equally valuable is their capacity to improve the performance of the products and services that we offer to our customers –a responsibility that sat solely with the product managers or owners in the past.”. Ultimately, Brown highlights the need for designers to truly “understand” the business and “be involved” in its improvement as much as they create amazing experiences for customers.

The future: young talent

Over the years, BBVA has put together a strong team of expert designers in different areas that are highly important to the bank. Their accomplishments have been recognized on multiple occasions by the sector. The consulting firm Forrester selected BBVA’s app as the best in the world the past three years. Their work designing the online onboarding process for corporate clients has also been recognized, as has the digital design of a pioneering payment system using facial recognition technology.

This year, BBVA has taken a step forward in its commitment to young talent. It was the first bank in Spain to launch a program designed for recent graduates so that they become part of the bank. The Future Designers Program is an initiative that started in April this year to train and recruit young designers. As a result of this program there are now six designers working and learning at BBVA. “The goal is to incorporate new visions and points of view, and to give them the opportunity to receive training and grow with us in order to become industry leaders.”

Advice for a young designer

When it comes to advice for a young designer who wants to work in this sector, Herbosa explains that there is no specific profile in terms of academic training. “The educational background of these designers is highly varied. Every day there are more ways to acquire knowledge in this field whether it’s through degrees in design, fine arts or in graduate programs,” she adds. The expert also underscores the role of self-training and students’ participation in the design community “where they acquire a great deal of experience and can demonstrate their abilities and initiative,” she adds.

Turning to the banking industry specifically, Herbosa emphasizes that it offers great opportunities for design professionals. “Without a doubt, banking is a field in a full fledged transformation where many challenges still need to be overcome. This means that the designer role has a real and tangible impact,” she concludes.