Steve Wozniak helps Capital One unveil new Silicon Valley-esque space in Tysons Corner


Steve Wozniak signs autographs at a new CapitalOne office in Tysons Corner after a panel in Vienna on Tuesday. (Yue Wu/The Washington Post)

To tout their new digital headquarters in Tysons Corner, Capital One Financial executives turned to their long-standing advertising strategy: the celebrity.

On Wednesday, they opted for Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple Computer, to help unveil their office for digital operations. The legendary Silicon Valley veteran became the latest famous face hired by the bank, joining the likes of Alec Baldwin, Jimmy Fallon and Samuel L. Jackson.

Capital One said it paid Wozniak’s standard “appearance fee” for the event but declined to reveal the amount. And it appears unlikely that Wozniak will appear in any “What’s in your wallet” commercials anytime soon — the company said it has not paid him for anything else and has no other business relationship with him.

The new digs, which will house the company’s social-media managers, software developers and digital-product managers, wouldn’t necessarily impress current employees of Google or Apple. But with its urban design, featuring open floor plans, glass-walled conference rooms and mobile workstations, the new space stands in stark contrast to the company’s traditional offices just one floor below.

“When I think back to what we were trying to do at Apple, trying to change the way the world worked, I see a lot of those same things, the same mission, happening here,” Wozniak said in an interview. “There was clearly a lot of thought that went into designing this space.”

Capital One executives are hoping the new office will foster innovation and outside-the-box thinking.

Of course, having slick new digs doesn’t always translate into an engaging social-media strategy. And not many banks have gotten traction with customers on Twitter or Facebook.

On its Web site, Capital One says its social-media efforts have gotten praise from business magazines. In a J.D. Power credit-card customer satisfaction survey last year, the company was ranked “about average.” Its retail banking division got average or above-average scores in customer service in three regions of the country, according to J.D. Power.

Wozniak acknowledged the bar on the technology front has been set rather low by the industry. Unlike other sectors that have been turned on their heads by upstarts (a la Uber in transportation and Airbnb in travel), he said banks have largely failed to make their services “fit seamlessly into” consumers’ day-to-day lives with the use of technology.

Having a more collaborative environment and an open work space also could help the company recruit the type of computer engineering and technology talent that might otherwise not be interested in working in the financial services sector, Wozniak said.

“People today expect apps and Web sites that come naturally to us as humans, ones that we can use very quickly, without any hassle or anything we have to sit down and learn how to use,” he added.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he manages the Post's On Small Business blog.
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