At first glance there may not seem to be too much common ground between financial services and computer games, but Lee Musgrave and Mark Betteridge say designing products people actually want to interact with has helped them to develop a service that clients want to use.
Musgrave and Betteridge are co-founders of the software company Preciousbluedot and recently built a mobile app for clients of Seven Investment Management (7IM).
The pair met at another software firm, Rare, in the early 1990s. That company, which started in the early days of home computing in an office above a bookshop in Ashford, was sold to Microsoft in 2002 for £375m.
After initially developing games on the ZX Spectrum, they hit the big time in the mid-1990s with a contract for Nintendo, producing global phenomena such as Donkey Kong Country, which sold more than 9 million copies.
Finding the Microsoft environment stifling, they set up Preciousbluedot in 2010.
The transition to financial services came as the pair were clients with 7IM. Following an initial approach about improving 7IM’s information delivery, they finally launched the 7Imagine Apple and Android mobile app last year.
7IM’s head of corporate development Justin Urquhart Stewart says he hired the pair because they wanted to make the app “beautiful”.
As Betteridge explains: “In the professional world you will suffer a Bloomberg terminal, even though it is horrid to use, because it is your job. As soon as you go to the general public, it has to be intuitive and engaging. That is in our background from gaming.”
The app is not designed to replace the transactional capability and raw functions of the 7IM platform but sets out to present the data the company holds on client portfolios in a more user-friendly way.
According to Musgrave, expressing financial concepts visually is key. “The real impact of computers and fixed units disappearing and tablets becoming all you have is not really felt yet. Your phone or tablet will become your phone, wallet and PC all in one,” he says.
“The big thing will be making the information financial services give us through those apps more relevant. Making the data more intuitive and more relevant to them will be huge.”
Betteridge adds: “Lists of numbers do not mean much to people. The power of compound interest is so much clearer when it is illustrated.
“It is difficult to envisage, even for a technical person. The way to make it understandable is to present it in a way people can understand using technology.”
Using raw financial data from Seven’s technical team in Edinburgh, the app supports both adviser and client access, enabling users to get geographical and asset-class data in a visual format on touchscreen phones and tablets.
The pair say there is more to do – both on the 7Imagine app and with wider personal finance technology – and hint that the app could soon support more detailed projection tools used in financial planning.
Betteridge says: “Some of the tools around planning are quite clunky. There are a lot of pieces of software that have been developed on PCs around different parts of the chain, some concerning tax planning, some regarding inheritance and so on. They are all disparate pieces of software. Overhauling that in a graphical way would be useful to a lot of people. If you could make things connected, see where you come from and where you’re going to, people will enjoy it. Also, practically it makes the processes much easier to manage.”
Musgrave is particularly keen on giving pensions a digital makeover. “Pensions are ripe for an overhaul,” he says. “People don’t see their pension as their second biggest asset, or work out the benefit of having it. The house is different because it is tangible. Helping people visualise their pension would make people more conscious of it.”
Despite the huge amount of money spent on developing platforms, there is relatively little innovation aimed at making financial services more engaging and appealing for the end client.
Aegon is shortly to announce a major digital project in the D2C market, while this week’s Money Marketing explores how technology will revolutionise protection.
But the pair say there is still a degree of apathy among providers about embracing technology.
Betteridge says: “The attitude of the company is key for any technology project. You need someone inside the company to have the vision to allow you to then do something creative.
“That is what we have at Seven. It took a lot of trust to allow us to do what we did. If we were at a life company or a big bank, we’d probably still be talking to a middle manager.”
The pair’s own experience of working within a large corporate, when Rare was taken over by Microsoft, was frustrating. Likewise, Urqhuart Stewart founded Broker Services in 1986, which went on to become Barclays Stockbrokers. He formed 7IM with chief executive Tom Sheridan in 2001 to escape the corporate inertia of global banking.
That shared distrust of slow-moving, bureaucratic organisations has helped cement the relationship between Betteridge, Musgrave and 7IM and they hope the app could be the start of something much bigger.
In 1997, Rare launched Goldeneye, a spin-off of Pierce Brosnan’s first James Bond film, which sold 8 million copies and is widely regarded as the template for the contemporary Call of Duty games. That series has gone on to become one of the most successful franchises ever, selling more than 100 million copies.
So if it turns out that Musgrave and Betteridge are on to something big, don’t be too surprised.