"The mistake companies make is thinking 'how are we going to use technology to help our customers', which means you end up building things no one will use," explains Adam Warburton, head of mobile at Travelex. He says companies should instead think about what is making a customer's life difficult and how technology can fix a particular problem.

Warburton's mantra is to always think 'customer first'. And by deconstructing a customer's needs, this allows his team to come up with ways of making their lives simpler.

He believes retailers and financial services alike are all too keen to show of their skills and build a product – such as a slick mobile app – before thinking thoroughly about the customer need.

"People in mobile tend to show off with complex solutions to show what they can do, but building the most simple product is the most difficult," he says, noting how the simplest apps get the most traction from consumers.

"Beacons are a perfect example of this – everyone wants to use beacons. I get an email every week from a provider or someone in Travelex who is asking about beacons, but no one knows what they solve for the customer yet."

Get, go, spend

Warburton says deconstructing the customer's needs around foreign exchange involves thinking about their travel plans – "they want to spend money abroad, so build it out from there."

He says Travelex customers tend to plan their holiday, get their cash, go abroad, spend their money and return home. "Deconstructing these things into individual jobs helps you identify where they are underserved – how we can add value?"

He describes techniques such as restaurant recommendations for the 'planning' element and a currency converter for the 'spending'.

"And no one caters for you returning. How many times are you left in the airport with €50 and think 'I may as well spend it'. People haven't yet thought that through," he adds.

Warburton uses Starbucks as an example of a company solving a customer's problem. "It clearly identified an issue of waiting in a queue and now offers customers the ability to pre-order their coffee."

Supercard

But with Warburton's influence and his background creating apps for O2 and Walmart, Travelex has launched a couple of successful apps of its own. The first, Supercard, allows customers to spend their money abroad without succumbing to the hefty bank charges. The Supercard is linked to the customer's UK debit or credit card so the consumer's bank does not even know the person is out of the country.

"It allows consumers to save a lot of money, but it is a loss-leading product for Travelex. The reason we've done that is because we're trying to redefine how people internally see value. So instead of revenue, Supercard is about an active set of customers and learning from their spending behaviour.

Warburton says the app and card go hand in hand because the mobile device allows consumers to manage their transactions. "The app is the USP which pulls everything together."

The app was so successful that the original pilot of 10,000 cards were gone within the first four hours of its launch in May. With a little help from MoneySavingExpert, customers had requested 100,000 cards over 24-hours and the app downloads sent Travelex to number six in the app charts. "For a brand like Travelex we thought it was inconceivable."

Money app

But two months later it did it again with its Travelex Money App, which was featured by Apple as the best new app in the App Store, sitting next to the likes of Uber and Spotify.

"Travelex Money was an app Travelex should have launched five years ago," explains Warburton, saying the app allows customers to buy currency online and have it delivered or picked up from a store. "But most foreign exchange apps concentrate on how much cash you want, but when you go away, you're unsure about how much to take. No one bridges the gap of contextualising how much you need."

But Warburton and the new digital team did just that. "We did a lot of consumer research on how much people take with them and put that in the app. We ask what type of traveller are you, how many people are going and for how long? Then we recommend how much you should take with you, and over 50% of consumers are using the feature."

Warburton joined Travelex at the beginning of 2015, six months into the company's digital transformation strategy which saw the 40-year-old company increase its digital team from five to the 65 it has today. The team is currently working on a third mobile app which will allow customers to make international payments and confirm when the bank transfer has been successful.

The effect of online

"Online has changed financial services," adds Warburton. "You see the likes of Barclays, RBS – everyone is embracing digital and the new ways people are going to pay.

"Travelex has been late to the game and we're trying to make up for that," he says, explaining how the key difference in the Travelex strategy is how it concentrates on consumer value.

"Look at traditional financial institutions, forever and a day it is always about shareholder value, they control the rules of the game, hold all your money and punish you when you do something wrong," he says. "But ours is customer value not shareholder value. Supercard is great example, and that's the reason no one else has launched it, it wouldn't work for them because those guys are making millions off the charges."

Warburton will be talking in more detail about building products customers love at the RBTE show, which takes place at London’s Olympia on 9-10 March 2016. He will speaking about building beautiful apps in the eCommerce Theatre on 9 March at 14:50. Click here to register for RBTE 2016.