At Strands we value design when creating our innovative solutions. Anna Oriola, Juanma González and Guillem Espias know that intuitive, user-centric design is crucial in everything that we do. And it has paid off.
In this interview, they share their thoughts on design culture, the top essentials in their workspace, and the rituals that always get them into focus mode.
Here’s a look inside Design at Strands:
1. What does design culture look like for you?
Anna: I see design culture as a philosophy that can be innate or acquired, but that shapes your way of life. The balance between beauty and usefulness of things. Design culture implies an intentional purpose – no creation is beautiful, sleek or useful by chance.
Juanma: Design culture, in my opinion, is a comprehensive discipline that should be integrated in every single company. Design is often defined as the process of making “things look pretty”, but it’s way more than that. When the design is not respected, it takes a back seat in engineering and sale decisions, which causes bad results.
Guillem: For me, design culture is the understanding of design itself; what it does and what not. For instance, there is a direct association between designers and artists, while the rational thinking behind design (or good design) is closer to science than it is to art. What’s the point of designing a nice and trendy chair if it’s so uncomfortable that we cannot sit on it? In this case, ergonomics are essential, otherwise we are just creating a piece of art to be exhibited in a museum. Understanding that design is not making things pretty but useful (and meaningful) is what design culture is all about.
2. What are the top 3 essentials in your workspace?
Anna: Give me a clear table, a pencil, and a bunch of white sheets and my mind is ready to design! Every time I see a scenario like this I have to sit down to create, no matter where I am. I guess it’s like the climber who enters an adventure sports store and feels the urge to climb a mountain.
Juanma: A Sketch notebook, pencils, and colors. I just can’t start the proposal of a new website without first starting to draw on a paper. I believe it’s the simplest way to turn an idea into reality.
Guillem: They are pretty standard, but I use them most of the time. I use Sketch as the main design toolkit (with Craft, a powerful plugin suite from InVision), IconJar (a drag-and-drop tool for icon repository) and inVision for prototyping (both for desktop and iOS). If I could add a fourth “essential” in the future I would go for my Apple Pencil (and iPad Pro). I wish I could have them all in one; the fewer processes the better!
3. What is your ritual to get in the zone when you’re working on a project?
Anna: I sit down, clear my mind, and get into a state where I to put myself in the user’s shoes. My favorite thing is to start brainstorming right away. Often times I also create storyboards to clarify my ideas; they are like comic strips that reproduce the user’s journey, from the moment the need arises until he/she manages to satisfy it. I found this tactic very inspiring!
Juanma: I think it’s a must to maintain a constant dialogue to have a good amount of ideas about what is needed or expected.
Guillem: First of all, before I start designing I make sure that everything around is tidy and clean. It might sound like a kind of obsession, but this really works as a design principle to me. I find much easier to start drawing on a blank page than start doing when surrounded by chaos.
It is all about data these days. It’s relevant for everyone, not just the financial sector. What is your opinion about the position of banks in current data sharing landscape?
Absolutely. In the coming years, banking will be fundamentally different from the way we have always known it. The new currency of the digital economy will be data.
As a result of UK Open Banking and PSD2, consumers will gain a new level of control over how their data is used, and by whom. This, in essence means that banks will no longer have full ownership of financial data, as they always have, something that may look like it could pose a serious threat to current banking business models, but far from it; it also creates many opportunities for banks to leverage the data they have.
Technology has democratised many industries. What do you think about the new technologies and innovations disrupting the banking sector?
When Bill Gates stated 30 years ago that “banking is necessary, but banks are not” he might have been ahead of his time. Banks still exist, of course, but technology is making the bank – and the branch – as it once was an outdated idea. Huge competition is boosting innovation and transparency, which in turn is providing consumers with greater freedom of choice. True democratisation of finance is happening right now.
In the coming years, the impact of APIs and data will be huge. Using internal data properly and complementing it with external data is crucial in order to enhance service offerings, improve customer engagement, and increase revenue from new, less-conventional channels.
How could banks fully take advantage of these opportunities? What type of data do you think they are most likely to benefit from?
Basically, there are two important steps banks need to take to get the most out of data:
- Firstly, they should focus on improving the overall customer experience by using both financial and non-financial data. (Data-driven banking)
It is all about data these days. It’s relevant for everyone, not just the financial sector
- Secondly, they should generate new revenue streams using new channels. (Bank as a service)
There are different data channels that will help banks to differentiate themselves in a competitive market and create new revenue streams:
The first is financial data. By the help of account aggregation technology, banks are able to provide a consolidated view to customers to allow them manage their entire financial life using digital channels. This feature enables banks to position themselves as their users’ primary financial institution, and give them less reason to leave their platforms and go elsewhere.
The second is non-financial data. Banks should consider how to use third-party services for their offerings as well. This way, banking customers can access 3rd party applications through their banks, resulting in better retention, acquisition and new revenue streams.
There are many different kind of APIs on the market : retailers, social media, invoicing and accounting services, crowdsourcing platforms etc.
What is the starting point in effectively using data?
Having access to a customers’ entire financial profile and understanding what they really want is fundamental in offering smarter services and solutions.
To make this happen, data aggregation – having all customer data on your bank’s channels and nowhere else – is the key to knowing the customer better, targeting them correctly, in a relevant manner and getting results, more quickly.
The secret is in having a clear strategy and objectives firmly in sight. The tools are there to make data an ally for banks rather than an impediment; this is the first time banks have had all the tools and so many opportunities at their disposal. The future is data, but it is also banking, in a new and improved guise.
Having a workforce that is fluent in the ways of the world isn’t a luxury. It’s a competitive necessity.
That’s why last year, STRANDS opened a new office in Kuala Lumpur, the financial and economic centre of Malaysia — marking an important milestone for the FinTech company in Asia.
One notable leader in this endeavor was Carlos Javier Mena, Customer Tech Lead of STRANDS. He traveled to this fast-growing city to accomplish a mission: to build a strong team of software engineers and business developers.
He says that the project he was assigned was one that he had never done before. But working outside of his comfort zone forced him to tap into his wide range of skills and also “unleashed hidden talents.”
In this interview, we checked in with him to know more about his experience abroad. Here is what he had to say!
1. Spending three months working in Kuala Lumpur showed that you’re a take-charge type of person. How did you prepare for the assignment?
I knew that going abroad would give me the upper-hand in taking note of the finer components in my work. So I was very excited about it!
Before leaving Barcelona, I had a clear picture of the goals that I needed to achieve:
- To recruit a team of engineers, specifically front-end, back-end and full stack developers.
- To train sales professionals by transferring my knowledge of STRANDS’ value proposition, and the functional and technical features of the PFM and BFM products.
The biggest preparation started a month prior to my departure, when I began to video-interview potential candidates for the positions needed. I hadn’t conducted a lot face-to-face interviews before (let alone remote interviews!) so that was my very first challenge and learning opportunity of the assignment.
2. Once you were deployed in KL, what strategies and tactics did you tackle first?
First off, I had to embrace a role I didn’t expect to: the work of an office manager.
As the office was completely new, I had to manage a lot of office-related duties: organizing its layout, ordering stationery and equipment, arranging repairs, providing administrative support… You get the idea.
But once the office was up and running, my responsibilities narrowed down to employee training – which I enjoyed the most!
I prepared a hands-on workshop where the developers could learn more about the company, product attributes, database, API, deployments, software customization, and overall, how products are integrated with our customers’ solutions through our Professional Services department.
By performing in-person learning sessions, the new employees were able to get a fuller understanding of the information during training, and have a reference to turn to if issues arise in the future.
I’m really proud of the way this turned out.
3. And what about the Sales Team? How did you start making STRANDS known in Asia?
As I’m not a sales guy, what made sense for me was providing them with an overview of the company’s mission, as well as a deep understanding of the main software products we offer to banks: PFM and BFM.
Other than that, I enabled them to really showcase their talents rather than having them go with my own prescribed notions.
Last year, STRANDS began making its mark on the Asian market, particularly Singapore, and during the summer of 2017, we completed pilot tests with Singapore’s OCBC Bank during their Accelerator Program. Together with the Pre-Sales team in Barcelona, we collaborated with OCBC Bank to help their SME customers better manage their business and cash flow.
That event gave me the opportunity to talk with real SME clients of OCBC, and learn first-hand from their feedback: how they used the widgets, features they appreciate most, etc.
4. What learning points would you highlight from this mission?
The biggest thing I received while working overseas was self-training in cultural diversity, a huge necessity in today’s tech space.
In this sense, my communication skills improved tremendously. I had no choice but learning to articulate my thoughts in a comprehensive way – which also involved deepen my knowledge of the technical aspects of the products.
But most of all, these three months abroad helped make me stronger in managing a team. That included developing leadership and problem-solving skills, working more collaboratively, and in the process, strengthening company loyalty.
5. KL is home to a variety of cultures, and its work life and lifestyle are very different from the Spanish way. Any cultural-shock anecdotes?
You bet it’s different from Spain!
Although KL offers a range of modern conveniences, and its local population is generally friendly and welcoming, here are some facts I encountered:
- Taxis and car-sharing options like Uber or Grab were so cheap in comparison to Spain, which was very convenient because it was so hot you could hardly see pedestrians on the streets.
- The “No-kissing” signs on metro stations. I can’t imagine these signs being displayed in Spain to avoid “Indecent Behaviour”.
- The Kiblat arrow on my hotel room ceiling. It helps Muslim guests easily orient themselves for prayer toward Mecca.
- It’s quite common for people in KL to eat smelly durian fruit and drink hot beverages all the time. They say it’s because hot drinks cool you faster than cold ones. I don’t know if that’s a myth or reality, but the fact is I was the only one having a cold Coke!
- The widely-known song Despacito was banned on state radio and TV due to “obscene lyrics”. Malaysia’s most professed religion is Islam, and it’s not uncommon to censor songs “out of sensitivity to local culture”.
6. Lastly, what’s next for Carlos Javier Mena?
I’d love to get involved in Product Management positions with a focus on technical skills.
What I like most about this role is that sits at the intersection of business and technology, combining strategy, marketing, and other skills with the end goal of delivering one-of-a-kind products.
And as a software engineer myself, I advocate for a deep technical background and a core understanding of the product to balance the other pillars.
I believe it’s a matter of bridging the gap between “where you are” and “where you want to be”. So I’m looking forward to making more happen!
Hello, my name is Raúl and I’m an iOS/Android Software Developer at Strands. My professional career has been focused on banking products and solutions, security and identity management for the mobile environment.
I’ve been working at Strands for half a year already. During this time, I’ve been an active member of the MoneyStrands mobile team, leading the development of the app for the Android platform, adding new functionalities and looking to improve the user experience wherever possible. I’ve been also helping customers to integrate the Strands Personal Financial Management (PFM) product with their own apps.
Personal Finance Background
I have always been totally oblivious to my financial situation and a little too naive with money, I suppose. When I was little, I was taught that there was no easy way of managing your money, that the hardworking ant would always be more rewarded than the lazy grasshopper. A lot of people from my generation started to be afraid of being in debt to anybody once the economic crisis hit.
You’ve probably heard that losing is a learning experience, that failure teaches you to work harder and can be a powerful motivator, but I have no doubt that most people can’t afford to put their life savings in jeopardy and risk their family’s future, just to put it down to ‘a lesson learned’.
I have always been an over-thinker when it came to my financial future, asking myself “What if something bad happens to me and I cannot afford to keep paying my debts?”, “What if I lose everything?”, “What if all the hard work and suffering now accounts for nothing down the line?”. Living with these sorts of constant worries has taught me that life is more about the experiences and discovering new places and people; the now rather than the fear of the unknown and an uncertain future. Experiences are the only things I can truly own, the only thing that can’t be lost or taken away from me. I have adopted a “live for now” approach to life, and enjoy each individual experience for what it is.
Just when you think you have all the answers
I’m a very curious person, so when I embark on a new project, I want to take it apart and understand it fully, and what its purpose is. The same applied to MoneyStrands. Once I discovered it, it introduced me a whole new world of experience.
“It is often very difficult when you create a product, to understand intuitively what a first-time user experiences, and what each user’s learning curve may look like, so I try to always follow a user-centered design. Thinking like your target users helps you to discover all the possible user scenarios and question elements that you otherwise wouldn’t think of.”
As a first-time user in the case of MoneyStrands, I tested the app out on myself before going any further, attempting to see what value it added to my personal finances. After analysing my expenses and cash flow, the app helped me to find see patterns in my spending, create budgets and saving goals and has taught me to control my expenses. I am more able to detect issues now than before and have discovered that my sleepless nights worrying about money and the future were because I didn’t know how to manage my money properly.
Ignorance is not bliss
Managing personal finances is about a change of behaviour and mentality. I was thinking that not worrying about the future would make the elephant in the room disappear. There are concepts that we are not open to learn because of a fear of the unknown or because of the way we were taught to do things in the past. I would definitely recommend giving it a try as I did – you will see the benefits for yourself.
That’s my personal story. From a MoneyStrands team perspective, we will keep working to improve the user experience, and make this transition being on top of your money as smooth as possible!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Raúl Jareño Díaz
Ingeniero de Software para Móviles en Strands
I’ve been at Strands for 5 months, but it’s already proven to be an incredible experience, with lots to learn and a team that felt like family within no time. So, when Miriam asked me to do a short interview about what my experience has been like so far, I jumped at the opportunity. I hope you enjoy the read, as much as I enjoyed taking part!
Gabriel Moreno, Strands’ Golden Boy
After completing his first two years at Newcastle University, Gabriel Moreno jumped at the opportunity to work at one of STRANDS’ headquarters in Barcelona as part of their marketing team.
With a penchant for the world of business and innovation, Gabriel quickly learned the ropes and felt like he had learned more in a week than in six months of studying at university – and in particular in relation to FinTech.
We recently checked in with him to learn more about his experience. Here’s what he had to say:
1. Why did you decide to do a non-compulsory internship during your university course?
I chose to take a year out and do an internship after my 2nd year of university because I felt that I needed to do something to make myself stand out.
Every year thousands of people graduate with a degree in Marketing, making securing a job after uni so much harder – I needed something that would help differentiate me from the rest. Unlike the majority of my peers, if I have a year’s experience in such a highly-regarded company’s office (not to mention in a different country, Spain) I’m in a better position to enhance my future job prospects. Or at least that’s the plan!
2. What specifically attracted you to do an internship with STRANDS?
I thought STRANDS was an extremely attractive place to work with after learning about their core values. Their 4 core values are “People, Simplicity, Design and Innovation” which was music to my ears. They are values which I too believe are key to a successful organisation.
The company also works with 100 million customers around the world and has 5 international offices – so for anyone interested in business and marketing, this is the smart place to come and work!
3. What’s the best part of your internship?
The best part of my internship so far, is the responsibility I have been given, and being made to feel like I’m a valued member of the team.
I am responsible for marketing our content to thousands of our followers each day, and the teamwork is evident in our brainstorming sessions and regular meetings where I am kept informed about going-ons in the organization.
4. What’s the most challenging part?
I have really appreciated the way STRANDS has let me adapt to working life and slowly given me more responsibility, making it easy to settle in. However, after 2 years of a very “relaxed” university timetable, getting used to a regular 9-6 timetable has been tough to say the least. The only answer is to try to get to bed earlier, which is a struggle when living in a top city like Barcelona with so much to do in your free time!
5. What advice would you give to someone considering applying for your an internship with STRANDS?
I would say go for it!
I have already learnt more about networking, marketing and FinTech in the last 2 months than I had previously thought possible. I have great colleagues from whom I am learning everyday. STRANDS is a flexible, innovative company that really values its employees, so it’s a pleasure to come to work!
Find out more about careers roles at STRANDS careers website.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sales Development Representative at Strands
Sandra Real is a Data Engineer Team Lead at STRANDS. Her career has revolved around the analytics industry and the development and use of data technologies for more than fourteen years, and she is a firm believer that there’s nothing more dynamite than data.
With a focus on Oracle Databases, Sandra’s expertise in data architecture, administration, and implementation has grown significantly as DBA at Hewlett Packard, NexTReT and TIPSA. She’s a programmer and all-round dataholic.
But that’s not all. Sandra is refreshingly honest, mother to a three-year-old son, and a total tour de force. Here’s her story:
1. How did you become interested in Data Analytics and Technology?
I started by pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing many years ago, but it didn’t take me long to realize that nursing wasn’t for me. I loved spending time in the hospital and learning about the patients’ conditions, but I found dealing with the day-to-day realities of a career in medicine a bit much to cope with.
I jumped into another field of science I was passionate about: data. I became a DBA in the education and financial spaces, and began to perform a wide range of related activities related to designing, implementing and maintaining database systems.
Then, there was one thing I couldn’t wait to get my hands on: data analysis. I’m still amazed at the kind of information available for businesses to use in decision-making, and technologies provide companies with the means to truly analyze and interpret vast amounts of data to make informed decisions.
That’s why I am currently studying a Master in Data Science, to combine sound business understanding, data handling, programming, and data visualization skills to drive better results.
2. Can you pinpoint one moment or person that was instrumental in your decision to pick this career path?
It was actually my neighbor.
I was about 20 years old when I became obsessed with experimenting with my new computer. I installed some things, uninstalled others, and basically used it so much that it was constantly in need of repair.
As luck would have it, my neighbor was really good with computers. I was always knocking on his door, asking for help. Until one day I decided I wouldn’t ask him anymore. I wanted to know how those things worked for myself, so I did a little bit of digging and learned to fix the computer on my own.
That experience actually enhanced my interest in all things technology – which I’m very grateful for.
3. How did you come to join STRANDS, and can you tell us about some initiatives you lead here?
I was referred for a Data Developer position by a co-worker at that time. And frankly, my first thought was that I wasn’t prepared for the job. I didn’t have a background in development, and my financial experience was more production-based.
Despite my concerns, I decided to go for it and face the challenges that came with the role. That was the best possible training I could have asked for.
Obviously I am biased, but I love the skill-set that the data team brings to the table at STRANDS.
We’re fully aware of the consequences that good or bad database management can have in all environments, especially in production. This is critical when it comes to troubleshooting and correcting problems.
One of the projects with greatest impact we’ve worked on as a team and that I’m most proud of is that of data categorization, which is the foundation of our financial management products.
4. What are your favorite books, websites, films, and/or resources in the industry?
I like many, but I highly recommend:
- Expert one-on-one Oracle by Thomas Kyte. I read it when I was a DBA and learned about what’s important in Oracle, why, and what happens if you do it the wrong way.
- Data Science for Business by Foster Provost and Tom Fawcett. It provides you with a comprehensive introduction to Data Science concepts.
- KDnuggets. A site founded by Gregory Piatetsky-Shapiro covering all things AI, Analytics, Big Data, Machine Learning, you name it.
- Kaggle. Very cool place to participate in Data Science competitions and test your skills.
- Moneyball. A movie based on a true story about a baseball manager that employs computer-generated analysis to acquire new players.
5. What advice do you have for anyone interested in a career in Data Science?
I’d say: Don’t wait until you feel ready to take action.
That applies to everything, but it’s particularly true in the Data Science profession. This sector is so dynamic and involves so many disciplines (methods, processes, algorithms, systems…) that you will never know it all. And that’s okay – as long as you feed your motivation and keep learning.
If you have any inclination that a career in Data Science is the kind of work you would enjoy and that you would be good at, you should definitely explore it.
Don’t wait to be 100% confident before you show up.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Data Engineer Team Lead