Generations of Design Thinking

Bank of America has a pretty useful account feature called “Keep the Change” that came about from some work they did with IDEO. Keep the Change is brilliantly simple: use your debit card for purchases and Bank of America will round up to the nearest dollar, depositing that amount into a savings account. And BoA even matches some teeny percentage of that annually. Sure, you’re not going to get rich but it’s a constant little trickle of money into your savings account that just happens.

Travel back a century to San Francisco, it’s 1904, and A.P. Giannini has just raised $150,000 from friends and family to open the Bank of Italy. At a time when banks were for the wealthy and the businessman, his ideas for the Bank of Italy were radical. The great empathy he had for his clients meant the bank was going to be open on Saturdays. They accepted small deposits and let folks open accounts with little money. He gave home loans and extended credit to recent immigrants. He recognized an unmet need in his local community and designed a service to meet those needs. A classic “design thinking” story.

So pulling these two little anecdotes together, under Giannini, Bank of Italy begat Bancitaly Corp which turned into TransAmerica Corp which, in the 1950s, turned into Bank of America. It’s a bit difficult to wax poetic about a corporation worth around $600 billion but I certainly think the spirit of A.P. Giannini lives on in that Keep the Change program.

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