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Fixing the terrible design and usability of financial services.

almost 4 years ago from , UI/UX Designer at Instarem.com

In general, the design and usability of financial services websites are terrible.

Design has been of increasing importance to all industry sectors over the past several years, and FinTech is no exception. It is important to understand that design is not just how it looks, but also how it works. Creating a seamless, intuitive experience for the user, whether they are a consumer or an enterprise customer, is critical in today’s environment. And large firms are beginning to take notice.

The re-imagining and innovation of financial services for mobile devices was the fresh start that the industry needed to introduce great design into its process and I got a similar opportunity while working for InstaReM, an overseas money transfer platform. (www.behance.net/gallery/52789211/Instarem-Mobile-App)

The key takeaways from this project - design should be viewed as an investment, should be an integrated part of the process, and not as something that can be sprayed on at the end.

13 comments

  • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 4 years ago

    I have a lot to say on this topic. I’ve been doing design work in financial services for over 20 years.

    And, I’ve seen the shit show play out dozens of times. As many try - and fail.

    A few years ago, I helped (lead product design, UX/ UI) a venture firm launch a new digital bank (mobile first) here in Vietnam. They’ve now acquired over 100,000 customers.

    Thus, as I said, I have many opinions on the topic of design and fintech. Blah, blah, blah - lol

    Design is not a silver bullet

    One thing that is critical to understand when designing in this environment - design is not a silver bullet.

    It must be approached holistically, it requires a process for stakeholder buy-in and consensus, and a design thinking approach must be at the core of the organizational DNA from the top to the operations, to the product, security and compliance teams to the customer service team, and so on.

    And, there cannot be an ivory tower approach to design - where the lead designer and design team goes away for weeks and presents the brass with their findings.

    Design has to be in the executive suite.

    And, basically, every single inflection point of the customer experience across multiple core personas must be considered.

    Core banking design patterns: information, action & intelligence

    In the banking project I mentioned above, I captured this holistic approach by distilling banking down to its essence, and breaking that essence into three key components that defined our design process:

    1. Information - at the core of all banks and the customer experience is information. Your balance, your account activity, what’s happening.
    2. Action - Moving money, saving money, the core activities of banking.
    3. Intelligence - this may be represented by the categorical spending analyses many banks now present. Perhaps, a “safe to spend” - yet, there are opportunities here for innovation. Versus just telling a customer “what happened” - there are ways to illustrate what “might happen” - and there are ways to suggest or automate changes to a customer’s behavior to drive them towards their financial goals.

    I wrote about this in more detail on Virgin: https://www.virgin.com/entrepreneur/what-will-future-innovation-banking-sector-look

    We then ran product decisions through this framework - and formed a core set of interaction principles that realized these components (information, action and intelligence) - and further, prioritized these interactions based on actual use cases.

    I then created a design system, which had these components of how it works as their foundation, and we tested and validated our assumptions with multiple types of user testing.


    The unbundling of finance

    Going back to my point of design is not a silver bullet -

    I’ve seen countless companies crash and fail who try and use design as a silver bullet.

    In my time, I can’t tell you how many startups I saw who tried to make a prettier Craig’s List.

    Once upon a time, Ebay snagged a board seat on Craig’s List, owned 25% and made a run at the classifieds market with Kijiji - they eventually got sued and shot down.

    Yet, my point - even with inside information - Ebay money, and a “prettier design” - they failed to put a sizable dent into Craig’s List business.

    Why?

    The business approach was leveraging a stale, dying paradigm.

    Further, there is an interesting bit of business analysis out there on Craig’s List - and one that comes to mind is something called - The Unbundling of Craig’s List.

    https://alexshye.com/2013/08/15/the-unbundling-of-craigslist-and-reddit/

    The gist

    You can go to Craig’s List and point to a billion dollar unicorn like Uber, Airbnb, etc., who versus attacking Craig’s List head on - the genesis of their business concept originated there and they hit the market sideways - creating a new market.

    I believe finance will be unbundled in a similar fashion and you’re already seeing it.

    You can go to Chase’s shitty, portal homepage - and point to a billion dollar unicorn.

    I can see Kabbage and I can see Acorns lingering in the links of their homepage. Listening to the Robinhood co-founder on TWIS it's clear they're making a run at retail banking.


    Fintech startups get the majority share of venture capital investments

    Last year, fintech startups received the lion’s share of venture capital investments totaling $16 billion usd.

    Further, banks are some of the most hated institutions in the world and have earned little customer loyalty.

    The Millenial Disruption Index confirms this fact: http://www.millennialdisruptionindex.com/

    And, you can see banks like Chase punching back and winning Millenials over with the Chase Sapphire card:https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-09-22/how-chase-made-the-perfect-high-for-credit-card-junkies

    Thus, it's an arms race between the incumbents, tech giants like Facebook and Apple, and well-funded startups.

    Finally, in designing for finance - you literally have to consider the design of the business itself.

    33 points
    • Eliot SlevinEliot Slevin, almost 4 years ago

      God tier post.

      I think a lot of your points relate not just to financial sector, but literally any large organisation who are centred around basically a few core products.

      Just a note on this point, "Further, banks are some of the most hated institutions in the world and have earned little customer loyalty".

      Its weird, I did quite a few interviews with people my age about their banking choices, I was wondering if a better digital experience would convince people to swap. And I found despite there being many options, with better digital experiences for people to swap to, nobody every swaps. People literally choose what banks their parents use, and don't ever consider a switch until they're going to go for a home loan.

      But despite this, everybody had so much shit to talk about their banks. The app, the customer support, the confusing websites - and just generally, "fuck banks right". But it's sooo hard to get a user to switch!

      3 points
      • Jon MyersJon Myers, over 3 years ago

        You’re absolutely right. Many of these principles can be applied to other institutions and verticals, and I have done just that - in areas of cyber security, bio-tech, etc., etc., yet, I try to distill the essence and approach each situation agnostically and try to get as close to the truth; customer, market environment and problem space as closely as possible.

        Yep, agreed - many just don’t switch.

        I suspect a lot of that does indeed have to do with parents helping (relationship at the bank with a banker) - also, many banks aggressively recruit college students and lock them in.

        I also suspect (in the US) - this will change with age and different financial goals.

        Many young people just aren’t that concerned yet with banking. Switching is a hassle. However, that time will come.

        Another vector to this picture is the role of those that are unbanked (no bank account at all) - and the underbanked.

        Those are especially high numbers still at this point where fintech could be play a key role in providing low income people affordable, dignified financial services.

        But yeah - "fuck banks" lol

        1 point
    • Randall MorrisRandall Morris, almost 4 years ago

      Legendary response.

      1 point
    • Pedro PintoPedro Pinto, almost 4 years ago

      Amazing post. I think in the near future we will see more incumbents buying well-funded startups, like the Simple acquisition by BBVA: https://www.simple.com

      Speaking of the design of the business by itself, the rise of cryptocurrencies have the potential to disrupt completely the financial industry especially in the medium/long term

      1 point
      • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 4 years ago

        Yes, excellent point. We will indeed see more of these types of acquisitions. Though, at least in the US market, the playing field is still thin. Maybe if N26 breaks into the US market - -

        Simple Bank now - personally, I was asphyxiated by their most recent, incoherent redesign. I went on one hell of a rant about it here:

        https://www.designernews.co/stories/72631-site-design-simple

        I wonder how things are going there.

        Additionally to that point of acquisitions - the banks themselves are partnering with fintech organizations and forming their own venture backed cooperations.

        The Financial Solutions Lab is a $35 million dollar collaboration between Chase and CFSI to incubate and invest in fintech startups.

        http://finlab.cfsinnovation.com/

        One other point related to that is the M&A activity around banks buying up design firms.

        Capital One bought design firm Adaptive Path back in 2014. And in 2015 they bought Oakland based Monsoon design.

        I've spoken to a few insiders there - and it sounds like there may be the culture clash one would expect from putting oil and water together.

        With regards to the results - - I suspect most major US banks (Chase, Capital One, etc.,) - have simply given up on their websites. It shows.

        That said, to their credit - I find many have focused on native mobile apps and some are decent. I find the Chase mobile app to be above average. Though I find the color story, controls and icongraphy to be reminiscent of Fisher-Price Toys. It feels a bit honky tonk, bossy out of scale, unsophisticated and impersonal for a place dats' holdin mah monay.

        --

        I agree that cryptos have a shot at disrupting financial industries. I've been involved with a few bitcoin related startups. I suspect the myriad ways many speculate crypto will disrupt financial services may not come to fruition. And, whatever disruptions that take place may be extremely sharp, unseen and not what most expect.

        The Black Swans are circling.

        Crypto is still in its Make Out Club, Friendster, Live Journal phase and transitioning to the MySpace phase. We’ll see more and more radical decentralization, more attempts at centralization - and perhaps power laws may kick in - or not.

        Anyhow, the incumbents are not necessarily in total denial and asleep either.

        Major financial institutions have formed something called, The BlockChain Alliance - with the purpose of resolving institutional transactions via Blockchain.

        Though, Goldman has already dropped out of this - thus, expect power struggles, and start and stop sputtering.

        The area of most promise for crypto may be in developing markets where most are unbanked. There is obvious, existing precedent for the symbiosis of mobile, mobile payments and mobile banking in massive markets (China, WeChat) and emerging markets.

        In emerging markets one of the biggest inhibitors to banking is trust.

        As broader understanding of these technologies and their implications take hold, perhaps we will see crypto (related Blockchain technologies) become the defacto trust agents in these markets.

        Further, adoption of these technologies by governments in emerging markets may address their major pain point - revenue collection.

        I can envision a city that’s overlaid with a mesh of transactional inflection that powers day to day life. Use the road, ding - it hits your wallet. Use the park, ding. Throw something in the trash, ding. Basically, pay for services as you go.


        Shoot - I could GO ON and ON about this stuff. Sorry for rambling. I love this topic. I was thinking about starting a newsletter to leverage the sources I have and to track it.

        I’m just a little spent for time working on a new startup, building a team, etc., (unfortunatley, not in fintech) - guess, I shouldn’t be writing so much on DN. :) - but, I did just write this on my phone in a taxi.

        0 points
        • Pedro PintoPedro Pinto, almost 4 years ago

          Thanks for your reply. I would love to sign up to a newsletter of that kind.

          I believe in the cryptocurrency potential but this new ICO craze is bringing a lot of speculation and expectations to the market.

          There are really interesting projects like Civic, Golem, Iconomi, but most of them are raising too much money in this initial phase.

          0 points
          • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 4 years ago

            Cool, thanks for the encouragement.

            Yeah, there will be a lot of tulips exchanged in the ICO hysteria.

            Some of it has legs.

            Swarm.City is one that caught my attention.

            0 points
    • Thomas Michael SemmlerThomas Michael Semmler, almost 4 years ago

      So glad to see I am not the only one writing lengthy responses. This is fantastic and inspiring! Thank you for putting the time together to write this!

      0 points
      • Jon MyersJon Myers, almost 4 years ago

        You're welcome! My pleasure.

        I do suppose many assume the lengthy response writers are a bit bat shit crazy. :)

        In truth, I have a process for it that uses dead time.

        It's rainy season here in Vietnam and I'm cabbing everywhere. I simply find discussions I care about and write my thoughts in Letterspace in transit.

        Copy, paste, done.

        0 points
  • Tom WoodTom Wood, almost 4 years ago

    The first two words in this post tell you everything you need to know "In general.."

    Firstly, some context. I am the Art Director for a company called Peregrine Communications. We specialise in design and communications for the Financial Services industry. So I have some knowledge on the subject.

    Firstly, not all financial services are created equally. For every antiquated HSBC app, there is a Monzo. For every Santander there is a Simple. To blanket the financial services industry with a single statement is as infuriating as suggesting that all cars are as badly designed as a Fiat Multipla.

    Secondly, it's all well and good to talk about one's experience designing a FinTech startup, but working with a financial institution the size of a high-street bank is totally different. Enacting change at the level of a Barclays or HSBC is like turning the Titanic.

    Thirdly, there are so many tiers to the Financial Services industry. There are institutional investment banks, there are public UCITS funds, there are Family Offices, Private Equity investors, Credit investors, etc. You get the drift. Each of those has different audiences, different requirements, different expectations and crucially; different budgets. The appetite for change in Financial Services varies enormously from firm to firm.

    Finally, to many firms it's all well and good to talk about design, but to many others it's all about their financial performance. You need to understand your client's priority; one of your clients may be a high street banking disruptor, in which case the needs will be totally different to a client who has a small base of High Net Worth Individuals seeking high returns.

    Apologies for the long post; but it's very important that we stop with these generalising posts, talking about design as a silver bullet (as wonderfully put by @Jon Myers).

    4 points
  • Bruno MarinhoBruno Marinho, almost 4 years ago

    It's also good to keep in mind that some of these services make use of bad usability on purpose because they want certain features to be "hidden" from the majority of users.

    But there are also some good examples of new Fintechs that have great design like Robinhood, NU Bank and Transferwise from the top of my mind.

    2 points