“But what does this mean?”
It’s a common question, no matter your role in a bank, because we’ve all heard something similar before:
- What does this charge mean?
- What does this acronym mean?
- What are these numbers showing?
Truth is, that in many cases, the numbers don’t “show” anything, at least to our human brains. Numbers are merely an abstraction of reality. Something or someone will have to help us along our journey to make them real, and to understand.
Today, consumers, businesses and companies, like Regions, produce and deliver incomprehensibly large amounts of data. A 2021 survey by New Vantage Partners showed that almost all companies – 99% – have invested in data and related technologies for their businesses.
But in the same survey, less than a third of business leaders believe that their companies make decisions based on data. And that ratio has, somewhat distressingly, gotten worse in recent years.
Where is the promise of this data-driven age – to make better, more informed decisions faster to everyone’s benefit? I believe, for many businesses and consumers, data systems are delivering what we need.
But we should rethink how we expose data to analysts and how we communicate analytical findings, with a focus on better supporting the human brain and its extraordinary perceptual and cognitive capabilities.
Before you ask, “What do you mean?” let me suggest we change the question to something more appropriate as we consider data and consumers: “What do I need to know?”
Let’s consider this from two perspectives. First, from that usage of data by organizations like Regions. In my particular area of expertise, that of Data Visualization, we often face a dilemma: to show all the relevant data versus showing what we anticipate the user being able to effectively process.
If you’ve ever been in a meeting where slide after slide after slide was being presented, each with more and more data but nothing that completely hits on what you needed, you’ve experienced it, too.
The working memory of the human brain can only retain about 5-11 chunks of information at a time, and the human attention span is limited to about 8-10 minutes – and has been getting smaller with increased technology and associated distractions.
From a communication perspective, you should, therefore, aim at presenting your key insights and findings on the first 5-6 content slides of your presentation (a rule of thumb is to allow for about 2 minutes per slide), each of which containing no more than 5-11 data points. Wouldn’t that be nice?
For sure, because this eliminates most tables of numbers for communication purposes. This is the science.
The art of moving to understanding involves connecting raw data elements into meaningful information and translating that information into something more easily consumable to users.
There is a reason that our colloquial shout-out, “I see!” expresses an achievement of understanding; and there is a reason that “seeing is believing:”
Cognitively, humans don’t just understand a visual cue more efficiently and quickly than an abstract alphanumerical one, but, by adding a sense of control, it also builds confidence with the viewer, and trust with the presenter in the process.
Earlier I asked the question “What do I need to know?” for a specific reason. When we think about customers and serving our customers and communities well, Regions puts this in terms of understanding and meeting needs.
We are increasingly using data for consumers to do exactly that: to better understand what customers need to know, to better understand what we need to do to serve them more effectively.
We’ve put many innovative and creative uses of data into place to help bankers make better recommendations, to help understand when there are financial stresses to businesses, to better understand exactly what customers think and want from Regions, and much more.
In areas like simpler explanations of transactions, charges or understanding spending patterns, we are also making great strides.
With our newly upgraded My GreenInsights, for instance, we’re putting more visual information in customers’ hands than ever, showing them intuitive merchant logos and easy-to-understand icons for different types of transactions. We’re giving them access information presented in consumable and intuitive ways that helps them manage their finances and reach their financial goals.
We have really only scratched the digitized – and digital – surface. Being more sensitive to how much individuals can be expected to understand and presenting insights in meaningful, intuitive and clear ways appears to be something that is not just a challenge in the conference room. It’s coming quickly to mobile phones and digital statements as well as to in-person interactions – with customers, our community partners and shareholders.
The bottom line is that data in and of itself represents merely raw and abstract samples – whether it’s all the transaction data of some group of customers or the record of a coffee purchase on a Wednesday. It’s turning those abstractions into something useful and practical that brings life and meaning to them – in our mind and to our customers.
You might call what customers get from that effort, “understanding.” But perhaps we should instead call it the level of service that they deserve.