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Header How empathy drives innovation at TD
• Oct. 16, 2023

Empathy might not be commonly associated with innovation, but it’s the starting point of every new project for Gary Fernandes, head of Human-Centered Design (HCD) Research at TD, the Bank’s ‘user-centered design’ research arm.

“Curiosity and empathy drive our process of creating accessible, human-first design,” said Fernandes, whose team has done field work with customers and colleagues to create design innovations across a range of Bank products and services, from improved ATM prototypes to mobile banking app experiences.

Fernandes might seem like an unlikely candidate to work at a bank. With an academic background in developmental psycho-musicology, his curiosity about the intersection of psychology and technology led him to study human-computer interaction at Carleton University.

His HCD Practice colleagues at TD hail from a range of similarly unique and diverse backgrounds, with expertise across anthropology, psychology, industrial design, communications, architecture, urban planning, public policy, photojournalism, graphic design, computer science, human factors, and human-computer interaction.

“We don't make laptops, ATMs or mobile phones, but we design experiences that run on those pieces of hardware," says Fernandes.

"We know our customers and colleagues use devices like these every day and they form an important part of people’s experiences with the Bank. When we identify our customers' and colleagues’ unmet needs and understand the obstacles they may encounter with our systems, our products or our services, it allows us to help create a better, richer experience for them.”

Empathy and curiosity are the foundational principles of TD Invent, the Bank’s organization-wide approach to innovation. It’s a dynamic test-and-learn approach to help the Bank stay closely attuned to what matters most to its customers, colleagues and communities. TD Invent works to help solve customer and colleague challenges by making incremental improvements to Bank products and experiences and encourages the development of new ideas and technologies.

An organization-wide approach

Human-centered design is but one example of the hundreds of experiences TD Invent informs across the Bank, says Imran Khan, Head of TD Invent.

“TD Invent is an approach that is connected throughout our entire organization, and it includes all of our colleagues,” he says. “A key part of our strategy is building a culture of innovation from within — we aim to innovate with purpose as a shared behaviour. We think about the needs of our lines of business, and leverage colleagues’ ideas to constantly experiment, learn, and evolve new solutions for colleagues and customers.”

TD iD8, a program under TD Invent, is a platform through which all colleagues can submit their innovation ideas. TD colleagues have submitted more than 78,000 ideas to iD8 since its inception in 2019, and the Bank has already implemented about 10 per cent of those ideas through various TD lines of business.

This collaborative mindset is supported by a robust patent practice at TD, whose colleagues have been named inventors on 1,600 TD global patent applications to date. TD is the number-one financial patent filer in Canada.

Creating better user experiences

Amanda Buchanan designed an ATM user experience with enhanced visual components and guided English/French audio to assist people who have difficulty seeing, work which resulted in several patentable designs that may be deployed in the future.

For an in-field study of the concept with a group of blind volunteer users, Buchanan connected a touch screen laptop to an ATM-style keypad that the test participants interacted with. The goal was to understand how the team could improve the experience and make it more accessible.

“Our team’s work involves testing not-yet-developed technologies and ideas, so developing a prototype to test with human users is frequently one of our unique creative challenges,” says Buchanan, a TD Invent user experience design expert with the HCD Practice team.

“Ultimately, our human-centered designs aim to create better experiences for people. With the TD patent process in play, those benefits can extend beyond the Bank because our patentable designs can be used by any external company that wants to license the rights from TD. It’s pretty rewarding to know TD makes its innovations available to organizations outside the Bank.”

Members of the TD Invent team take the pulse of larger macro trends in innovation such as generative AI, spatial computing, and new business models, collaborating across the organization in a connected way that is aligned closely to the enterprise.

“Empathizing with the different needs and objectives of our colleagues and responding to different strategies within the Bank’s various lines of business is one way we help drive more value across the enterprise,” Khan says. “Because we’re more connected across the organization, we can see the impact of that enhanced value more quickly through TD Invent.”

Taking a product beyond its original application

The TD Invent cross-collaboration approach, which includes sharing best practices among the Bank’s corporate functions and lines of business, enables in-house innovations to travel throughout the enterprise and evolve beyond their original application.

The TD Accessibility Adapter, a web browser plug-in designed to create more inclusive and accessible user experiences for colleagues, was first piloted in the U.S. with frontline retail colleagues at TD Bank, America's Most Convenient Bank (AMCB). The tool has extended its benefits to a wide range of TD colleagues since its launch in the spring of 2023, from frontline customer service representatives to product representatives and data analysts and represents a collaboration with input from across the Bank. With the recent Canadian and American launch of the Adapter, it is also now available to the public at no cost.

“We found that many of our colleagues who use the Accessibility Adapter did not have a particular accessibility need, but they really love it,” Khan says of the tool, which has accessibility elements such as a dyslexia-friendly font plus features for improving focus and alleviating tired eyes such as reading guides, adjustable font size and dark mode.

“When your eyes get tired it can be harder to focus, so this tool has ended up improving the experience for a wide range of colleagues.”

You can learn more about TD Invent and the Bank’s holistic approach to innovation at the TD Invent website.

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