A startup in a corporate desert: Inside the Tysons Corner HQ of Capital One Digital - Technical.ly DC

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Jul. 8, 2015 7:49 am

A startup in a corporate desert: Inside the Tysons Corner HQ of Capital One Digital

Meet the arm of financial giant Capital One that's all about design thinking, wall gardens and shuffleboard.
Capital One’s digital team has an office space that emulates the look of a tech startup.

Capital One's digital team has an office space that emulates the look of a tech startup.

(Photo by Lalita Clozel)

Capital One’s digital offices in Tysons Corner, Va., are located in a sea of highways, parking lots and corporatism. But once you’re in, it’s a breath of fresh air. It might have something to do with the wall gardens.

Located down the street from the bank’s McLean headquarters, the digital team’s fast-growing space is a sprawling open-floor plan with themed corners, hanging plants and a gaming area with a foosball table and other amenities you’d come to expect from a mid-sized tech startup.

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A wall garden in Capital One Digital’s office space. (Photo by Lalita Clozel)

“The way you interact with money, the way you interact with your bank should evolve rapidly,” said Capital One’s head of design Scott Zimmer. “Our teams are designing the near-term ways we’re changing banking,” he said.

The broader digital team is complimented by Capital One Labs, a smaller group located in Clarendon that focuses on “blue sky things,” explained Zimmer.

“A lot of the great ideas, the next products you want to build, take two or three years” to create, explained Labs chief James Patterson. “We need a group that has a flexibility, a degree of freedom that is a little bit further out.”

The team for instance built a new app that incorporates the credit card’s rewards program, allowing users to pour the nickels and dimes they accumulate into smaller transactions. With it, “you can actually use your phone to buy coffee,” said Patterson.

The bank’s flagship digital product is the Capital One Wallet app, a cross-team project that came out in 2014. It “curates your spending,” explained Patterson, by allowing shoppers to visualize their transactions in order to better understand their buying patterns and spot irregularities.

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The bank’s startup arm also has a team in San Francisco — which includes Daniel Makoski, once billed by Fast Company as one of “Google’s Wildest Designers” — and soon-to-come offices in New York.

At Capital One Digital — the bank’s bigger dev and design arm — employees work in teams, ranging from five or six to dozens, under the mantra of design thinking. (For more on design thinking, check out a recent episode of the Technical.ly Podcast.)

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Office amenities include a shuffleboard table. (Photo by Lalita Clozel)

“This floor was built for collaboration,” said Zimmer. Later this year, the digital team will populate two additional levels.

There’s also a user lab — a testing room where customers can try new products while Capital One’s team watches through a one-way mirror. The bank has other user labs in Richmond, Va., Towers Crescent, Plano, Texas, and two more slated to open in San Francisco and Chicago this summer.

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A room for watching user testing. (Photo by Lalita Clozel)

In March, the bank also launched a five-year, $150 million initiative to “[build] the digital capabilities for people to succeed in the new economies,” said managing VP of community affairs Carolyn Berkowitz.

The company is collaborating with various STEM education and diversity-in-entrepreneurship organizations, including General Assembly, YearUp, Black Girls Code (which is now in D.C.), Grovo and Kiva.

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