Interview by Ben Wiedmaier, Words by Kris Hoppe, Visuals by Austin Smoldt-Saenz
Greg Marinelli is a VP, UX Research Manager for Consumer & Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase, where he and his team focus on consumer banking experiences. His team explores how people think about checking and savings accounts, what they earmark certain accounts for, and the broader space of financial experiences and how those translate into product expectations.
In short, his team explores—through generative and strategic approaches—the jobs being done within the consumer banking products offered by JPMorgan Chase. We chatted with Greg to learn more about how his team approaches this work and the critical role of representation, inclusion, and equity-based thinking in these practices.
dscout: Describe your team's research approach and practices.
Greg Marinelli: While we talk about ourselves as a qualitative-based research organization, at our core, we're a mixed methods team. We leverage a lot of qualitative work, but it's always informed and sharpened by data. Data can provide those larger-scale "Hey we notice this..." observations, and we then use qualitative methods to dive deeper and explore what might be going on and why.
We are regularly looking at our existing product suite, asking how it might better serve our customers, and we're always peeking around the corner to explore new interaction flows and models. There's so much more to researching how people use bank accounts than meets the eye. These are certainly topics of critical importance to our customers and the wider world, and have real implications for folks' well-being and health.
How does the broader org value qualitative UX methods, from your view?
Like any evolving organization, we have been educating our stakeholders and partners internally about the value of—and role for—qualitative research. And this wasn't just about methods. I've been here for five years and in that time our group has strived to evangelize customer research, customer-centricity and the ways qualitative feedback informs that thinking.
That evolution, that maturity is present today, creating a customer-first, flexible method mindset across our partners. Product, marketing, tech, and certainly our data analytics teams are more aware of and familiar with the qualitative approaches we take, which increases our collaborative power and the impact of our results.
Our partners are better now at recognizing how qualitative data can feed into their processes and needs, which sharpens their asks of my team and has helped my team become strategic thought partners instead of reactionary order-takers.
We have leaders who ask all of the time, "What have we heard from customers that supports this decision?" So, now the value of research is actually less something that we have to fight for, but now something that is expected. If we do not have qualitative data—if we don't have customers saying that we are resolving a real customer need or a problem—our leaders are not happy.
Of course, like many qualitative (and quantitative) researchers, we still have to justify the rationale for our methods and approaches. This can often crop up with sample sizes specifically. Sometimes a partner might ask about the underlying validity of conclusions from samples of 20, and assume that we can only get valid research results with samples in the hundreds or thousands.
But approaches that use large-scale surveys are not by definition more valid or valuable, they're just subject to different biases and potential methodology errors. So, we have ongoing conversations about how different approaches can work together and triangulate what we're all ultimately trying to achieve with our research.
"If we do not have qualitative data—if we don't have customers saying that we are resolving a real customer need or a problem—our leaders are not happy."
VP, UX Research Manager for Consumer & Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase
As a rapidly maturing (and scaling!) team, how are you keeping inclusivity foregrounded in your team's practices, and the practices of colleagues?
We have conducted research internally to identify places where inclusion can be more formally integrated into our process, whether that's in our product development, design, research, or content processes. There are now steps in those processes that include guidelines and standards of practice: we're making our products more inclusive by doing the same to our processes.
But almost as important as formalization is socialization. We have to share our work and describe the steps behind it, what went into these updated approaches. As a leader of a team, that's critical to my mission: town halls, speaking tours internally—these are important to creating open, honest dialogues about these issues.
We are helping teams find in-roads and overlaps in their own workflows, and are helping set goals (both personal and team-wide). That's the way it's working for us, especially as we're scaling quickly: executives who believe in it, processes that formalize it, and engagements that socialize and share it.
For me, personally, this has all come together through our UX Research Standards and Training group. That’s a group of mostly senior researchers working to create skills-based training to our wider research org.
This can include everything from upskilling junior researchers to continued education for more seasoned researchers. In my role on that committee, I've focused a lot on recruitment, sampling, and screening practices, especially as those relate to our DEI objectives.
Why is that part of the process—recruitment—especially important to you?
Well let's start with the basics: the goal with recruitment is matching the right people with the right study. Then there's JPMC's reach: we serve more than 66 million households in the U.S., so it's critical that we ensure representation of an incredibly diverse population and that we strive to give underrepresented voices the space to be heard. These factors really created an urgency to more formally shape our inclusive recruitment processes.
In practice, this takes a few forms. Most tangibly, we created Chase Inclusive Screening Guidelines. This is a ~50 page document that contains our philosophy and best practices for inclusive screening and recruitment. It includes mandatory screening criteria, which allows us to look org-wide and ensure we're being representative across the business.
We provide language guidance for important criteria like gender, race, and financial stability. This way, researchers have clear best-in-class language and are not left to guessing, but are relying on research-backed language. The documentation also includes guidance on what criteria not to ask, and when it's not needed—or even appropriate—to ask about certain criteria.
Finally, we also required every Chase UX Researcher (all ~120 of them!) to attend a multi-hour interactive training session on the Guidelines and inclusive recruiting practices generally. We are actively re-thinking what's important to our work and what shows compassion to the folks sharing their experiences.
Overall, we want to shift our participant recruiting mindset from excluding participants to including participants through our screeners. We are doing this across all of our research tools.
In addition, we can view all of the potential participants who apply for our studies. Having the ability to toggle through questions, sort by criteria, and watch videos aligns with our new inclusive screening practices. Even something as simple as asking an open-ended question in a screener—which not all tools offer—makes a big difference when we're seeking to include and not just exclude.
"Overall, we want to shift our participant recruiting mindset from excluding participants to including participants through our screeners."
VP, UX Research Manager for Consumer & Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase
And like many other UX teams, you shifted to a remote-first approach with your research. What was that like?
Like most of the industry, our research approach certainly had to change. While folks often think about the negative implications of remote-first research, we’ve found there to be a number of positive effects.
First and foremost, the primary spaces we interact with customers have changed. We don’t spend as much time in homes, or doing in-office interviews. Instead, we now have access to folks through their smartphones, or a website. And while your initial reaction would be to say that’s a net negative, it can be very helpful to our research.
Money and finances are sensitive topics, and I think our customers are sometimes more comfortable sharing experiences via their phones than they might in a face-to-face setting. Having a more removed relationship can—in some instances—allow our customers to open up in new ways.
In addition, since participants are often in their home, sometimes they can provide context they wouldn’t be able to in our lab. We’ve had customers dig through their desk to show us budgets they made, or show us a closet full of old bills. In some of our remote studies, customers have let us into their lives in really powerful ways.
The second change is more methods-focused. Even if we can create a connection with a person during an interview, it's still a single snapshot. With a remote-focused approach, we can leverage tools like diary studies, so we can understand experiences over time and as they happen.
This lets us track the natural ebbs and flows of life and how money and finances come into play. Is there an emergency that comes up? What about an impending bill? Could a milestone in a child's life be around the corner? With a diary study, we can watch folks' experiences and impressions change over time, which is really important for our decision making and recommendations to our partners.
The work we’ve been doing with remote diary studies–it’s hard to image how we’d do that in-person. At least how we’d do it in a resource-conscious way. To relate this back to inclusive recruiting, our remote-first studies allow us to capture moments from more people, not less. We can create an incentive structure that expands our samples because of the resources we’re saving. It both lets us feel more confident in our decisions, and lets us recruit more diverse perspectives.
Finally, remote-first research really allows our partners to empathize and contextualize these individuals in a much more intimate way. Again, it's very different than in-person research. We try to involve our non-research partners as much as possible. Sometimes they sit in on interviews, they watch our card sorting or usability tests, or they watch our replays. But it's very different listening to a customer interview, for example, for 30 or 60 minutes, than watching a person's life unfold over a six or eight-week diary study.
"So much of what we do as researchers is attempt to bring empathy into the rest of the organization, and the reason many of our diary studies are effective and successful, or so well received, is because they're one of the best vehicles for creating empathy."
VP, UX Research Manager for Consumer & Community Banking at JPMorgan Chase
Our researchers have become quite good at using the tools available to us to pull clips, send transcriptions, or even provide video replays for partners to walk through and provide commentary on. We’ve gotten very good at providing touchpoints along the way with top-line findings from the mission. We create quick reports based on individual parts. These quick reports one a rolling basis create engagement. Folks get excited and want to see more.
The last thing is flexibility during the study itself. Once we launch a diary study, we might learn something from the first part that informs–or completely shifts–a subsequent part. We try not to change too much one a study has launched, but it’s helpful to adapt our questions and research activities based on early data from our participants.
We're able to react in a really useful way to make the research most impactful for our partners. Sometimes a partner will peek at a study or one of our top-lines and ask us to probe on a finding and we can do that in a later part. We want our research to lead to action, to impact, and staying nimble is helpful in that. We can't always do that with something like a standard survey. Once it's launched, that's it.
Are there specific tactics that you could share for upleveling UXR DEI practices?
Yes! And this is such a great question because it is essential that DEI-related tactics are specific, not general.
The first tactic is to write down goals relating to inclusion, especially around recruitment. Make them explicit. Post them in places where all of your team members can engage with them. Second, you must have a way to track those goals. How are you weaving those goals into your existing recruitment practices? Make the link from the goal to your work / project.
And finally, you need to enforce these values and goals upon your research vendors and partners. The market of research tools is broad and you should have high expectations of the folks who help you and your team do the work. There have been multiple occasions where we have requested research vendors change their practices to better align with our goals.
In addition, I think every researcher should get into the habit of regularly asking themselves "Did we include any questions in here by default?" and "Do we really need this question?" I find that screeners are often the most recycled and reused of research tools, and that doesn't often make for an inclusive experience. It might make for an easier one, but that's not what we're trying to do. You want to create thoughtful screeners with carefully-worded questions that help you include people more than they do exclude people.
Let's take education level as an example. For a time, we were excluding would-be participants who didn't report a certain education level, but few folks could explain why we were doing that. If there's not a hypothesis you are testing around education level, then why exclude folks? Is there some behavioral data you're basing that decision on?
It’s essential for us to recognize that folks across the education spectrum have similar jobs to be done when trying to effectively earn, save, grow, and manage their money. Why would we ever exclude folks as a practice by default?
Would you share advice for leaders of research teams to help organize and drive action around inclusive practices specifically?
There’s really only one piece of advice I have for research team leaders—you have to prioritize inclusive research practices and make it part of your formal processes. That means either making it part of formal evaluation criteria for your employees, or, even better, actually making it somebody’s job to focus on these efforts.
There are too many folks who are doing DEI-related work “on the side”. If we continue to operate as an industry by relying on a select group of folks to think about these issues in their “free time,” that work will, by default, end up deprioritized when workloads become too much.
Also, please never use the word “Other” in a screener.
Head here to learn more about DEI initiatives at JP Morgan Chase Company.
Ben is the product evangelist at dscout, where he spreads the “good news” of contextual research, helps customers understand how to get the most from dscout, and impersonates everyone in the office. He has a doctorate in communication studies from Arizona State University, studying “nonverbal courtship signals”, a.k.a. flirting. No, he doesn’t have dating advice for you.