Work in the Financial Services sector

Standard & Poor’s: When a site becomes a platform

In 2003, i worked on an interesting project with a small but outstanding team. We were flown in to assist with the front-end development on a financial services application that was being developed for Standard & Poor’s in Capgemini’s development centre in Lower Manhattan.

I worked as lead designer on a tactical team with information architects and coders, to deliver the user experience for a complex and powerful hosted investment management application which S&P was planning to white-label and sell to their customers – financial services operations whose investment activities were not their primary line of business – to use for managing client assets and linking S&P research with a wide range of investment products and services.

Not only did the architecture need to be robust and scaleable, the user interface had to be modular and “skinnable” so the look and feel of the application could be tailored to each customer’s brand standards. When demonstrating the application, we were able to do live “switching” of the UI using CSS and JavaScript, which was quite innovative for the time. This capability exceeded the client’s expectations, and demonstrated that we truly understood their business challenges and could deliver capabilities that gave them additional features they could use to sell the platform to their customers.

Co-operative Development Foundation: Campaigning for women


We were approached by the Co-operative Development Foundation (the heart of the Canadian Co-operative Association’s international development efforts) to help them craft a campaign to solicit donations for their international women’s program. These donations would be used to help women in communities around the world to attend a global Co-operative conference.

Drawing inspiration from a quote by Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” we developed a print advertisement, email campaign, a video, a microsite and materials that could be displayed within credit union branches.

The feedback and response to the campaign were tremendous, and resulted in further brand consultation work with the CDF.

http://www.cdfcanada.coop/bethechange/

Visa Canada: Leveraging cultural sponsorship

Sonar was instrumental in getting Visa into the sponsorship of film festivals. But the art of sponsorship is more than just getting the logo onto the media wall. Sonar created custom content – originally syndicated radio programming, which later evolved into online video features – starting in 2005 as a way of leveraging Visa’s sponsorship of the Toronto International Film Festival into increased earned media impressions.

The Red Carpet Radio syndicated reports from the festival were morning-after recaps of the previous night’s activity at the Visa Screening Room. These were picked up by radio stations across North America and abroad. The earned media impressions of every “live from the Visa Screening Room” on-air mention tallied up to hundreds of millions of impressions – impressive numbers for a fairly modest sponsorship investment.

As Red Carpet Radio evolved, it became a video feature, with major exclusive distribution partners. The content is professionally produced (it was shot in HD in 2010), and is shot live at gala screenings, then edited uploaded and distributed within hours, where TIFF fans can see the night’s activity before the night is over.

Online activities are supported by offline contests and promotions to drive further traffic to the redcarpetdiary.tv site and further increase the value of Visa’s sponsorship investment.

CUMIS Group: Here for you

When we got the call from CUMIS, we were intrigued. From the appearance and colour scheme of their logo to the placement of their corporate headquarters in the middle of an apple orchard overlooking Highway 403 in Burlington, Ontario, it was easy to think that they manufactured farm machinery. As we were soon to learn, we were not the first (nor the last) to make that mistake.

CUMIS has operated in the insurance space for over 75 years, serving the credit union space exclusively, with a commanding market position. But decades of the status quo had left the brand somewhat directionless and unfocused.

The first goal was to revamp the logo itself. The name itself (believed to have originated as an acronym for Credit Union Members’ Insurance Society) had pronunciation issues, and the look was pure 1970s brutalist-industrial, depicted in dull mustard yellow on white.

With the new identity, we sought to bring emphasis to the “U” in order to force its pronunciation as a long vowel sound. We also wanted to bring some symbolism to the identity without actually creating a symbol. The change was to be evolutionary, so we needed to keep the mark of identity as a typographic solution only.

The solution was to treat the “U” as if it were a loop of ribbon, one side red and one side gold. These two halves were then split and allowed to “cradle” one another, in a gesture similar to hands cradling, protecting, nurturing, representing the goals of an organization offering insurance and wealth management products and services.

Printed collaterial pieces were another trouble area. When viewed together, all of their brochures and other communications pieces had absolutely no family resemblance at all. They almost looked like they came from completely separate companies.

It wasn’t hard to see that they had a serious brand image problem. This was in part due to: a) the core values that helped to define the brand becoming lost; b) product managers who viewed their departments as “sub-brands” and believing that their needs were different from everyone else’s; and c) an internal creative department lacking inspiration and having grown accustomed to product managers art-directing the creative. Working with the CUMIS Marketing & Communications team, we set out to address each of these issues in an integrated way.

As we set about creating a new visual language for the CUMIS brand, we recognized that key internal thought leaders and stakeholders needed to be brought in early in the process. By presenting and receiving approval on all creative direction from the executive level first, that “top-down” endorsement helped smooth the adoption of the refreshed brand throughout the organization, rather than having to push and fight to sell new concepts into the organization from the bottom up. Rather than creating “brand police” to monitor and control things, we wanted to create an entire organization of brand advocates who wanted to do everything possible to promote a strong and consistent brand.

We extended the “ribbon” idea from the identity into a visual motif that separated the masthead area of cover pages from the image and supporting content. These ribbons also extended to the interior of pieces. Generous use of white space also helped the elements stand on their own and not get lost in cluttered layouts.

Photography was to be used exclusively, with images portraying everyday Canadians engaged in activities together. The rationale was that insurance should allow people to go about living their lives in happiness, with the knowledge that should anything unexpected happen, the would be looked after, as would their businesses, property and loved ones. The sense of community reflected in many of the images was also intended to suggest a connection to the core values of the co-operative movement.

We often say that a brand is more than just the logo on the building. But in this case, refreshing the brand also included the logo on the building! The revitalization of the brand was extremely successful, and in 2009, The CUMIS Group was purchased by The Co-operators, who continue to operate the brand and serve the credit union sector.

imoney.com: Turning green into Internet gold


The year was 1998. The Web had been around for all of about 5 years, and the Internet Gold Rush was on. A plucky team of innovators, funded by now-billionaire financier Gerry Schwartz through Bayshore Capital, started up a venture called FSDirect in an effort to launch one of the first independent financial services sites in Canada.

Reactor was called in to contribute to the user experience of the first generation of the site, and along the way, we managed to land the branding assignment as well. (… or was that the other way around?)

Keep in mind that 1998 was pre-iMac, pre-iPod… pre-iAnything, really. Truly groundbreaking! (You can thank us later, Mr. Jobs… just send the royalties to the following… but i digress…) The imoney brand lasted through several iterations of the site design before it was folded into another financial services site in 2000.

It was very innovative at the time, and even bested the efforts of many of the major banks, who were taking very tentative steps into the online consumer investment and trading world. Alas, the screenshots of the imoney interface design have been lost to the ravages of pixel erosion. Besides, they were so ’90s!