An article on “Brain Mapping” that I read recently had some interesting insights on the working of our brain. A study at 3M Corporation concluded that we process visuals 60,000 times faster than text. Words are processed by our short-term memory, which retains only about 7 bits of information. On the other hand, images remain indelibly in our long-term memory. This probably explains the use of symbols worldwide to convey information related to a variety of subjects, like, vegetarian/non-vegetarian food, recyclable/one-time use plastics, parking/no parking areas, entry/exit symbols, emergency exits, fire alarms, hospitals etc.
International Standards developed by ISO (International Organization for Standardization) provide a coherent set of graphical symbols. These symbols make up for the constraints in deciphering written information owing to language barriers across geographies. In the same vein, it may be a good idea to introduce standard graphical symbols and colour codes for financial products and services as well.
Symbols indicating the type of product and exposure to risk can help customers become more aware of what the bank is trying to sell. It would be rather convenient if customers could distinguish between insurance and other investment products just as they would tell vegetarian from non-vegetarian content in packed food. Colour-coded application forms can help one easily distinguish between different offerings such as insurance, investment etc. This idea can be extended to indicate risk levels on the forms, for instance, red for high-risk and green for low-risk, relatively safer investments. Furthermore, a combination of symbols and colours can help indicate the type of investment (like structured products, mutual funds, deposits etc.) and risk exposure. When used in checklists that are attached to application forms, these symbols can inform customers about the document they are about to sign, thus averting any risk associated with signing wrong or unnecessary documents.
Besides impeding sales push and marketing overdrive, colour codes and symbols can help mitigate mis-selling of PPI and endowment mortgages to retail customers, rate swap (hedge) products to small businesses, and ULIPs as mutual funds to the uninformed.