PengeWorkshoppen (the MoneyWorkshop) seeks to equip bank customers to reclaim responsibility for their personal economy. The workshop is a method that Kirsten Bonde Sørensen developed as part of her Industrial Ph.D. project for the savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse and the Kolding School of Design, Denmark. She defended her Ph.D. dissertation on 4 November 2011.
By Arne Vollertsen, Kolding School of Design
– My mother spent every penny she made – every month. I seem to have inherited her attitude to money.
This disarming example of economic self-awareness appears in the documentation included in Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s Ph.D. dissertation. The words are taken from a collage created by one of the participants in a so-called MoneyWorkshop.
So what is a MoneyWorkshop? And what does something as serious as money have to do with cutting and pasting and making collages?
Simple enough: A MoneyWorkshop lies in the intersection of finance and design. Kirsten Bonde Sørensen uses a novel and surprising device. She fearlessly takes a method from the designer’s toolbox and transfers it to the domain of people’s personal economy. Specifically, she packs a box with scissors, glue, paper etc. and puts it on the table in a situation that is normally light years removed from the creative process where this sort of remedies typically belong: the customer’s encounter with the bank’s loan or investment officer.
“A meeting with the bank” – now that is a serious event with no room for playing around. But Kirsten Bonde Sørensen disagrees She is driven by a vision of the “self-managing customer”, and the MoneyWorkshop wants to achieve nothing less than to equip the customer to reclaim the responsibility for his or her own personal economy. With collages and a playful approach, it aims to produce self-awareness and empowerment for the bank customer. An awareness that might include, for example, the insight that “I seem to have inherited my mother’s attitude to money – maybe it’s time I moved on.”
Kirsten Bonde Sørensen was an Industrial Ph.D. scholar at the savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse in Denmark. Here she developed her MoneyWorkshop through a series of experiments involving the bank’s customers. These experiments have enabled her to document specific behavioural changes in most of the participants.
For example, they were asked to make three collages about their personal economy: one about the past, one about the present and one about the future. The process of representing their personal finances in pictures – the present state of affairs as well as their dreams about the future – generated new insights. And working with pictures is a more effective way of generating self-insights than merely talking about the issues. The ambiguous character and emotional impact of the pictures appeal to one’s unconscious values in a way that words alone cannot achieve.
Kirsten Bonde Sørensen found theoretical evidence of this in recent findings from cognitive psychology: We are capable of modifying counterproductive patterns of thinking and behaviour by developing new mental strategies.
|MoneyWorkshop. Materials from the designer’s toolbox in the form of scissors, glue, crayons and pictures are put to use in the so-called MoneyWorkshops. That is a more effective way of generating self-awareness than the traditional conversation between bank officer and customer. |
Photo: Kirsten Bonde Sørensen
With her MoneyWorkshop, in a sense, Kirsten Bonde Sørensen has taken a tool from the designer’s toolbox and passed it on to the bank customer.
But Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s Ph.D. dissertation is about much more than playing with scissors, paper and glue. Just look at the title: “When designing emerges into strategies in an organisation and in individuals”, which highlights the fact that design holds a wide range of potentials and perspectives for individuals and organisations alike.
And over the many pages of the dissertation, from something as trivial as scissors and paper she soars to a very high level of abstraction. The dissertation has an unusually strong emphasis on theory, something that was pointed out repeatedly by the evaluation committee, which comprised Professor Martin Woolley of the Coventry School of Art and Design in the UK, Professor Richard Buchanan of the Weatherhead School of Management in the USA, and Associate Professor Jørgen Rasmussen of the Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark.
"There are many different discourses at play here – an unusually large number in fact," as the imposing figures pointed out during the defence procedure, which took place in a property owned by Middelfart Sparekasse, an old townhouse close to the bank’s futuristic headquarters on the city’s harbour front.
Initially, the audience found it hard to gauge whether this statement was positive or negative, but gradually the arrow swung toward the positive side of the dial, as the debate unfolded. The members of the evaluation committee all agreed that this was “a significant piece of work in the field of strategic design,” not least because the dissertation draws its academic credentials from such varied sources as rhetoric, classical Greek philosophy, cognitive theory and organisational theory and concepts such as co-creation and research through design. Still, the committee did point out a few weak points in the dissertation, for example a lack of clarity in the use of some concepts.
But all in all, the evaluation committee could not hide the fact that these criticisms were trivial compared to the high overall level of the dissertation. And it was apparent that the committee was very pleased with the way in which Kirsten Bonde Sørensen engaged this unusually large number of theories simultaneously. The committee even seemed to express a certain gratitude for the theoretical unpredictability of the dissertation and the unusual academic challenge that the 368 closely written A4 pages presented.
The evaluation committee further mentioned the excellent timing of the dissertation. In light of the current banking scandals and financial crises they felt that it would be behove the financial sector to focus more on responsibility in the bank-customer relationship. At a time when many bank customers have discovered – often the hard way – that the bank’s loan or investment officer is not a disinterested advisor but rather a salesperson tasked with pushing the bank’s products, Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s MoneyWorkshop suggests a new way of banking. A new way with a touch of public service, of selflessness and of foregoing short-term profits in favour of “the greater good”.
Have we reached a point where we demand the same from banks and other commercial companies as we do from the health Method Cards, design process, design method, competences, creativity, design education care sector and other elements of the welfare state? That the system should not only step up when we experience an emergency but should also aid and support us both before and after, take a holistic view and offer prevention and follow-up care and generally assume responsibility for the whole package – the whole person? Who knows, but Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s Ph.D. defence clearly demonstrated that her dissertation has plenty of food for thought for bank officers and designers alike.
Action. The customers’ own ideas about their desired future enable them to seize responsibility for their lives, make new choices and modify their behaviour accordingly. Here, one customer imagines being a ‘jazz money man’ – in this customer’s mind a metaphor for someone who has taken charge of his or her own money and life.
The current financial crisis was of course brought about by multiple factors. One factor is aggressive banks that have abandoned old-fashioned banking ethics and instead pursue high-risk loans and geared investments and offer dubious “advice” to their customers.
In that light, the savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse is the teacher’s pet, maybe even an angel, and Professor Richard Buchanan described the bank as an extraordinary and fascinating company.
In her Ph.D. dissertation, Kirsten Bonde Sørensen describes how the focus for Middelfart Sparekasse is not on the customer but on the whole person. That may sound like a cliché, but a look at the bank’s organisation and activities reveals that its values and its world view permeate the entire organisation.
Middelfart Sparekasse has been practicing Corporate Social Responsibility since it was founded in 1853, and for example, the bank has helped construct a preschool, a youth recreation centre and a culture centre. The staff at the bank is self-managing, and the bank has received numerous awards as best Danish as well as best European company.
In 2010 Middelfart Sparekasse spent 25 million kroner reimbursing customers who had lost money on ScandiNotes (high-risk bonds), because the bank acknowledged that its advice to the customers had been inadequate.
In 2011 the bank was looking to open new branch offices, but where? Where others would have looked for suitable locations, Middelfart Sparekasse looked for suitable employees in a radius of 50 km around the city of Middelfart. They received a large number of applications and subsequently opened offices in Horsens and Odense.
Middelfart Sparekasse has an approach to banking that ought to serve as an inspiration to the rest of the sector, especially in the financial storm that is currently raging. And despite the storm, the bank has embraced Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s MoneyWorkshop and is ready to further develop the concept and implement it as part of their daily operations. It is not enough to have self-managing staff. Now the bank wants self-managing customers.
Kirsten Bonde Sørensen defended her Ph.D. dissertation When designing emerges into strategies – in an organisation and in individuals on 4 November 2011 at the savings bank Middelfart Sparekasse in Denmark. The dissertation is the result of an Industrial Ph.D. project carried out for Middelfart Sparekasse and the Kolding School of Design, Denmark.
You can read the summary of the dissertation here.
See also the article on Kirsten Bonde Sørensen’s research Using Creativity to Enhance Consumer Awareness in Mind Design #25, January 2010.