Investing in innovation: How human-centred design is transforming Macquarie's Corporate Operations Group

Macquarie's investment in innovation has introduced new ways of working. In the process it has also transformed the careers of Freddie Cator and Steve Packham.


The finance industry is undergoing a period of transformation meaning innovation has never been more important - both as a tool for change and as a means to survive it.

Since 2017, Macquarie's Corporate Operations Group has been working on innovation projects to break new ground. Using human-centred design (HCD), these projects are transforming the way people across the group work.

Two of the employees involved in the projects are Freddie Cator and Steve Packham. In helping to transform the way people work, they've also transformed their own careers.


A framework for curiosity, creativity and collaboration

Freddie Cator joined Macquarie in early 2016 after finishing his Bachelor of Commerce. His first role was in a Market Operations regulatory reporting team.

During the year he spent in that role, he became intrigued by a change management project his boss was working on. As well as aiming to deliver a digital confirmations platform for the FX trading business, the project was also a test of human-centred design and how the process could be applied to improving products and services within the organisation.

Freddie was curious, and asked a lot of questions. When the project expanded, he was asked to join.

“I knew nothing about human-centred design," says Freddie. “There is a lot of jargon around it, and people have preconceived ideas about it, but that's generally about human-centred design done badly."

He says it is an analytical and rigorous process that provides a framework to explore creative solutions to address human needs.

“Too often we stay in our niche. A human-centred approach lets you explore things from a different point of view," Freddie says. “It's very collaborative, and it's given me a new appreciation for diversity of thought."


Innovation driving change

When the initial project was over, Macquarie's Corporate Operations Group wanted to do a broader roll out and Freddie now trains others to apply human-centred design. He's now a Manager in the Digital Transformation and Data team, and Freddie says it's his curiosity that led to his career change.

“I wouldn't be where I am now if I wasn't super curious, and hadn't asked my manager lots of questions," Freddie says.

His role sees him run human-centred design projects and deliver training.

“It is shifting the way people work together and the small interactions. You can't always measure the return on investment" says Freddie. “Some people love it, some people are cynical, but that's part of driving change in any organisation."


Finding a niche in innovation

Like Freddie, Steve Packham had no background in innovation or human-centred design and took a fairly traditional path into financial services. He studied economics in the UK, completed a banking internship in New York, and worked in London, before landing a business management role in tech at Macquarie in November 2015. In 2017 he took a secondment to help roll out a Human Resources innovation project, and has been working on human-centred design innovation projects ever since.

Steve was originally chosen for the project because he didn't have a background in Human Resources.

“By not being an expert, you bring a sense of curiosity to a new subject," Steve says. “You're constantly learning. But I found I had skills that transferred. You need to be comfortable with ambiguity and trust in the process. I also found my economics background helped me use an analytical lens."

Steve immediately felt like he'd found his niche and is now a Senior Innovation Manager at Macquarie showing others how to use human-centred design as a toolkit and running global innovation training.

Steve has also been able to draw upon his childhood dreams of becoming a cartoonist, by using sketch noting to prototype ideas as part of the human-centred design process, and developing a course to train staff across the organisation in this skill.


How the process of innovation can help

Steve says human-centred design has its roots in empathy, interviewing and asking questions, and he has become a passionate advocate of its transformative power.

“At its core it is simply an approach to deliver solutions by considering the human, or person, at every stage, and how they actually behave," says Steve. “It would be nice if more of the world was designed for humans."

“We are looking to change the way people approach their work, not add to their workload. It's a way to create new things, by asking how can you do things differently?"

Steve says that investing in new ways of working such as human-centred design can help combat the disruption occurring across the financial services industry and assist Macquarie and its employees to address the future of work.

“Human-centred design is building capabilities for the future: teaching people to think strategically, using innovation," Steve says. “Innovation is a skill people are going to need more of in the future."


The impact of human-centred design

Both Steve and Freddie say Macquarie's global cultural diversity and mix of skills has provided valuable perspectives that feed into innovation training. They have traveled to Macquarie's offices in New York, London, Gurugram and Manila to deliver innovation training to employees in a range of roles.

To date over 800 members of the Corporate Operations Group have trained in human-centred design and 10 projects have run in the group globally, to transform the way the teams work and the customer experience - from on-boarding to vendor management and data analytics.

A defining feature of innovation is that it's a process that never finishes, and the most exciting part for both Freddie and Steve has been watching human-centred design grow and embed within Macquarie's culture over the past year.

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