What does a good user experience look like when it comes to digital financial services?

At Mapa, we pride ourselves on being able to share ‘user journeys’ to help banks. We show them what their peers and competitors are doing online, both before and after customer login, to help them decide on tactics and strategy for their own ‘user experience’. But what does this actually mean? And can a good user experience inspire not just loyalty, but love?

User experience or ‘UX’ is a big topic. It is defined in various ways, with most definitions referring to how users interact with a system, product or service, and how it makes them feel. When applied to digital (our main focus here at Mapa), it includes not only words and visual design, but the way information is organised and accessed, and the usability of the system in question.

For us, good UX means digital solutions (apps, websites, journeys within those platforms) that enable users (visitors to a bank’s website, potential customers, people applying for products digitally, customers trying to complete tasks digitally) to achieve their aims efficiently and effectively. It should also be pleasant.

The story so far

We’ve witnessed an evolution in digital banking service provision. What started as a race to have the whizziest functionality has become far more focused on this elusive idea of ‘user experience’. Most banks we monitor for our Dashboards offer similar levels of functionality. Customers can log in, check their balance, make payments, and find help. For some banking customers, logging in takes hardly any time, and feels seamless. For some customers, looking at their account balance can be done before they’ve logged in; some can view more information on transactions at a swipe.

Challenger banks came along and introduced functionality that quickly become normal – things like blocking a card from within the mobile banking app. Incumbents have been slow to introduce this, but the key is that when they do, it lacks the visual appeal and – yup – great user experience of these smart new players.

Monzo is a good example. To block your card and order a new one in the app takes 5 clicks, there is relatively little copy on the screens, the visual appeal is a delight (it actually freezes!) and authentication is one press of the thumb, for those users with Touch ID set up.


Beyond functionality

We’ve found that functionality is only part of the equation. What happens between the steps is as important as the steps themselves. New-to-brand customers, for example, may follow the steps below – the space for enhancing the application journey is in the transitions.


Research Manager at Mapa Research Jess Morley comments, ‘UX sits on top of the technology stack. New entrants are smaller organisations with smaller stacks, meaning that they are able to introduce those ‘nice to have’ features of UX more easily than large incumbent banks, who require developers to build on many legacy IT layers just to make even the smallest of changes, such as form pre-filling. As we have stressed, it is these features that make the biggest difference to the overall user impression, potentially putting incumbent players at a disadvantage. However, thanks to APIs these bigger banks are being offered a get-out-of-jail-free card. They can plug in to services offered by third party providers, like Google, who can provide features that neatly join up the dots, such as auto-address filling. This lets them provide their customers with a standout user experience without having to put the work in.

What do customers want and need?

Tom Blomfield, founder of Monzo, told Mapa, ‘Good user experience is about figuring out what a user is trying to achieve at any point in time and helping them accomplish that goal with minimum effort. It sounds simple, but it can take a huge amount of work. Instead, most banks are asking, “how can I use this screen real estate to sell my customer an additional financial product?” Or “how do I increase app usage or dwell-time?” What customer wants to spend more time in their banking app? Not me.’

Dylan Connerton, Head of User Experience at Aviva, argues that it isn’t all about getting users to an outcome quickly. ‘Great user experiences solve a problem in people’s lives. They make people awesome at stuff they are bad at. For financial services, there’s a danger in over-optimising for metrics that don’t help us understand how well the experience helps customers solve this original problem. For example, focussing too much on completion speed during a purchase process can lead to customers having a reduced understanding of the product they are buying. We spend a lot of time working out what is the right amount of friction to apply to an experience that will generate the best customer outcomes.’

‘Positive friction’ is something Monzo does also talk about on its blog – the idea that making things too ‘easy’ may make a task happen faster, but doesn’t necessarily help the customer with their overall goal – for example, saving money, or accessing a credit product that is affordable for them. And let’s not forget the rules and regulations – banks are duty-bound to sell in a responsible way.

A customer-centric culture

Agustin Rubini, Digital Programme Manager at HSBC and author of Fintech in a Flash, told us it was all about the internal attitude. ‘Great UX starts with a team passionate for delivering an outstanding experience to customers. All details need to be looked at obsessively, in a way similar to how Steve Jobs used to design his Apple products.’

‘In HSBC we are using principles from Lean and Agile in order to reskin our website and mobile apps. This means removing waste in the design process, removing the burden on documentation. We include business users as a part of the design process, and we heavily experiment and iterate with the designs to make sure that it works for customers. We are not afraid to change things as many times as it is required.’

While tackling issues around regulation and risk, as well as technology that is often outdated, incumbent banks need to address cultural hurdles if they want to produce user experiences that compete with the new players. The startup mentality of ‘failing fast’ and innovating at speed requires not just technical competence but business buy-in.

The next chapter

The future, driven by greater interconnectivity between providers and intelligent systems that know more about your customers’ needs than they even do themselves, will present banks with the opportunity to move beyond functionality and a great UX and think about creating sticky loyalty. An experience that customers love, not just tolerate.

Technological advancements (and rising customer expectations) will, we think, lead to a real shift in how digital banking providers anticipate customers’ financial needs, and those ‘needs’ will be life goals, broader than product silos. (PFM that goes beyond pie charts.)

The bank of the future will let users aggregate their accounts, thanks to open banking APIs, and may use artificial intelligence to recommend products and actions that promote better financial health – a credit product to pay off a third party loan, a higher rate savings account for that money that never moves, a reminder for bills that will come out before pay day and a notification when you pass certain shops and cafes that you can use loyalty points to buy your daily latte.

But the art of the possible isn’t the art of (great) user experience. Deploying the tech is one thing; the way users interact with it and how much it delights them will be the bigger hurdle. Will people want to use voice-based interfaces over apps? Is mobile-first design the right approach? What about navigation – can it be streamlined so that only the items customers need are front and centre? Will every customer see the same ‘main menu’? In a world of so many new options, how do they find what they are looking for? Can they choose at a granular level how much you notify them, and what you are permitted to do with their finances on their behalf? And does getting from start to finish – ‘home’ to ‘task completed’ – not only require little input from the user, but make them feel all those good feelings you want them to have – trust, delight, loyalty… and maybe even love?

Access to quality research is a big part of addressing these issues, so speak to Mapa for our expert opinion on designing the banking UX of the future. 

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