Seven UX Design Hacks to Make Your Banking Insanely Great

Design is not just about what a digital banking product or service looks like. It's about how consumers feel when using it. Too often bank and credit union leaders rely on their own ideas of what works and fail to realize that the typical user's frame of reference is not logic, but emotion. Seven creative techniques can help improve the digital banking experience.

People working in the banking industry look at personal finance as something rational and clear. They deal with financial issues every day. For ordinary people, however, banking is often complex and confusing, requiring a lot of time and effort. A poorly designed financial product or process only makes this worse, turning what should be straightforward into a frustrating nightmare for the user.

To avoid that poor result, it’s vital for retail banking executives to understand the importance and impact that money has on people’s lives and to focus financial design not just on rules and procedures, but on users’ emotions and psychology. Design is not a matter of how your product looks. Design is about what your customer feels.

To deliver simple and frictionless banking, banks and credit unions need to design user experience the right way with the proper tools, mindset and a shared passion to improve people’s lives.

Here are seven user experience (UX) suggestions to bring more user-centricity into your financial institution so you will be able to delight your customers with an exceptional experience.

1. Utilize ‘Failure Mapping’

One of the key problems in the traditional approach to creating digital financial products is that everyone is eager to create the ideal consumer interface. However, achieving a perfect result is impossible, as people are very different and a single obstacle in the user’s experience can completely spoil the whole impression even if the other features are perfect. That’s why it’s crucial to address users’ pain points. This helps to avoid major problems and minimize their impact.

For example, if I need to send money to my elderly aunt who lives abroad, in most banking applications I would have to ask for her IBAN (international bank account number) and SWIFT code. She would have no idea where to access this information because she is not contacting her bank often. That is what happens as a result of banking specialists creating products based on their own understanding of service usage and forgetting that their financial knowledge usually is better than users’.

Transferwise, on the other hand, a successful fintech application, allows people to send money just by providing the receiver’s payment card number. This solves the pain point because I could just ask my aunt to take a quick picture of her card, send it to me and then finalize the transfer with no stress.

How can banks and credit unions emulate this? During the product creation process they should use standard failure patterns. The “failure mapping” process involves conducting UX audits of a financial institution’s existing products and services, as well as similar solutions on the market, to find possible user pain points.

If failure mapping is integrated in the user journey map, the institution will get a view of user experience problems that generate pain points. It will help to identify possible problems and create solutions for them before ruining the product’s reputation.

In addition, tests with real users help to clarify that some aspects of the interaction are influenced by the factors that the product developer cannot predict.

2. Cut Off Complexity

Over-density is the worst enemy of digital product design. Too many elements will frustrate the user and ruin the experience. Over-density concerns not only the number of elements in the customer interface, but also the diversity of their visual characteristics. Too many colors and shapes will create a sense of chaos. Stick to coherent and holistic aesthetics forming easy-to-understand design language.

When a digital service requires some action from the user it is better to divide it into step-by-step tasks instead of squeezing it all into one screen. You can use progressive disclosure in your forms or divide processes into several screens by using layers behind primary pages.

Both desktop solutions and mobile applications have already developed standards for interface solutions. For instance, users expect to see a profile or login in the upper left corner. And the search bar in the mobile solutions should be at the top of the list. This applies not only to the individual elements and their location, but also to entire pages or functions.

Ignoring usage patterns and creating something completely unusual can lead to extending the learning curve, and often to a failure.

Use different visual means for accents: font size, color, shape, icon. This will help the user to follow the sequence and logic intuitively. The same thing is true for the element grouping.

When interacting with any digital service, the user builds a mental map in his mind. This map should answer how to implement a particular scenario, where to look for information, and what opportunities the service provides.

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3. Evoke Emotions

Many bank and credit union decision-makers believe that finance is all about rationality. But that’s not true. Humans are economically irrational and success of digital transformation in banking depends on understanding that. The human brain does not enjoy doing calculations and remembering numbers. And you know what? That’s perfectly normal and natural because economics are not in human nature. We are emotional creatures. Our irrational, unconscious emotions drive 80% of our behavior.

Many in banking believe that digital means coding, technology, innovations, and other technical stuff. But if the user can’t understand your product, get some value out of it, and feel the emotional connection with it, neither a brilliant marketing strategy nor a huge advertising budget will lead to success.

In order to prevent this and ensure the success of your digital product in the long term, bring emotions to it. Make sure your financial service is pleasant to use!

4. Turn Design Into a System

The consumer should not have a feeling of unevenness or inconsistency when using a bank or credit union’s digital products. The product flow should be smooth and connected. It’s essential to see the UX design of your product as a system to ensure this. A design system could be compared to a map that guides the product developers and stakeholders through a complete collection of UX insights, user interface assets, commonly used visual components, design statements and the style guides of the specific design. Apple has a very advanced design system called Human Interface Guidelines, which covers design principles, interactions and more.

The system of UX design standardizes the principles of product vision, experience design, user interface creation; it regulates the elements used and introduces consistency. On the one hand, the design system should respect the particular digital platform guidelines, but on the other, create a native look and feeling uniting the service on all platforms.

A financial design system keeps everyone in the institution involved in product design on the same page, It provides a rapid and effective solution, the ability to scale up rapidly, and also the ability to more easily adapt to constantly evolving consumer expectations.

For the consumer, the benefits include seeing the same design ‘language’ in various banking solutions and with new digital channels. This minimizes the cognitive load on the user — making it easy and pleasant to complete even a complex financial task.

5. Don’t Hesitate to Ask

Without consumer research, it is almost impossible to create a product that fully solves users’ problems in a manner that’s quick and completely understandable.

When creating a user-centered financial service there has to be a clear understanding of the aspects that either cause headaches or deliver pleasure for the customers. In our experience there are five key research methods that have proven to be the most effective.

  • User personas — invented characters with a precise description of their age, gender, occupation, location, income, daily life, thoughts and other details. Each user persona represents a specific type of end-user that can be defined by polls, stakeholder interviews, desk research and field research.
  • User interviews — these help to understand people’s motivations, pain points, feelings, daily routines and behavior while using various financial products. They can be performed at any stage of a product’s development.
  • Card sorting — involves having consumer participants organize all content items in up to seven main groups and then labeling them (like “Transaction list”, “Transfer between accounts”, “Card settings”, “Profile information” etc.).
  • Tree testing — is a tool to ensure that users can easily navigate through a digital financial service and find exactly what they need.
  • Usability testing — is the best method to get insights about exactly how real users interact with a product. It should be performed as often as possible to test separate scenarios or the whole product.

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6. Dig Into the Irrational

To have a better vision and create a user experience that will have a positive impact on the mind of their users, UX professionals can benefit from proven research regarding various elements of the user interface, along with consumer behaviors and reactions:

Jakob’s law and consistency. Introduced by renowned usability expert, Jakob Nielsen, the law states: “Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”

Therefore, financial UX design should avoid using unfamiliar approaches, different paths and uncommon element placements.

Mental models. A mental model is a representation of what a person has in mind, before using a new product for the first time. The model isn’t based on known facts about the product, but rather on beliefs, expectations and assumptions, as well as the previous experiences and things the user has heard about it.

What model do your customers’ minds create when they think about starting to use a new banking product or service?

Response time. For digital banking users, receiving constant feedback is highly important. Responsiveness, in fact, is even more important than ease of use in terms of consumer satisfaction.

“Unnatural reading”. When it comes to financial design, it is essential to provide information so that the user will not only read it but, most importantly, understand it. That’s where UX design plays a major role. There can be so much data on a banking website that the user can be overwhelmed trying to process it all. Moreover, if the information is constructed poorly, filled with complicated terminology and not complemented with visual elements, consumers will have a hard time comprehending it.

The paradox of choice. When creating a digital banking product, often the designers want to include it all. “Our product has so many great options, how can you not display that to the users? They will appreciate our service, because it has more cool stuff than our competitors, right?” Well, not quite. Users think they want all of the options and possibilities in the world, until they get them. When faced with too many choices, they will get stuck and can often end up becoming confused, frustrated and ready to leave.

Building trust. When a person visits a brand new banking or fintech platform, their first impressions are critical, as the determination of whether the website can be trusted or not literally happens at first glance. Several studies have concluded that professionally-made design elements and features are more important than a website’s content.

Other factors, such as customer care, demonstration of service and user guidance, also play a huge role in building trust.

7. Challenge Your Legacy

One final thought that relates to the ability to execute on the above ideas and concepts: It might be surprising, but thousands of bank and credit union employees experience frustration daily when working with outdated banking back-office systems. How would you feel if your main working tool was creating problems instead of helping to solve them?

Many financial institutions have done a lot to improve the customer experience. Unfortunately, there are many that have also disregarded their own employees’ experience — those are the people who, at the end of the day, are the ones who ensure a satisfactory customer experience. It not only causes system and human errors but also takes a lot of time and makes the process painful and unpleasant for their customers.

Why not disrupt banking business processes and technology to create a user experience for employees that would result in even greater customer satisfaction?

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