Fintech is very much the Brave New World of personal finance. A host of new companies are radically transforming the financial landscape, sweeping aside centuries of tradition and putting power into the hands of consumers — perhaps for the first time.
So, what sets these startups apart from the major institutions many of us have faithfully trusted for so long? Aside from radical new business models, many think the user experience design of the products themselves exemplifies as well as fuels their differentiation. So, we set about trying to define the major UX trends that are driving the fintech revolution.
Trend 1: Build Stickiness Fast
It’s no secret that keeping active users is a challenge. According to Andrew Chen, the average mobile app loses 80% of its users within just three days of initial download. And a staggering 95% within 90 days. So not only do you have to immediately demonstrate your value, you have to build stickiness fast.
The problem is exacerbated for fintech tools, which need to overcome our natural inclination to protect our financial data at all costs. Once they overcome this fear, the key is to build naturally sticky mechanisms that keep users coming back on a daily or weekly basis.
Financial planning app Acorns does this ingeniously with its Round-Up feature. Round-Ups take purchases from your linked credit cards and bank accounts and “rounds them up” to the nearest dollar, investing the remainder into your portfolio of choice.
Automated micro-transactions like these are guaranteed to get users to check back in to see just how much the app has invested on their behalf.
Trend 2: Guide the Financial Journey
Traditional finance companies have always done a decent job of reporting your financial data. But they have done a terrible job of placing that data into a broader context, and then using that to guide you on a financial journey that puts your best interests at heart. More than anything, fintech companies have worked out that in order to win customers’ trust they must be seen as their advocates, offering services and experiences that radically improve on their traditional counterparts, and responding to their individual goals.
As such, fintech products often present a clear sense of your progress on a path towards better financial health and seek to make recommendations that stand to benefit you along the way. You get a palpable sense of empowerment with these new tools that give you greater control and clear choices towards perceived mastery. Even if you are simply learning to master the software you are using — to the completionists out there — this simple UX trick can keep you engaged and build trust (and even social sharing) in the long term.
There are potential pitfalls, though. Mint was an early mover in the sector — breaking down the barriers between financial institutions, letting you see all of your financial data in one place. Mint lets you track bank, credit card, investment, and loan balances and transactions through a well-designed user interface, as well as create budgets and set financial goals. All of this for free. Or is it?
While Mint doesn’t charge for its services, it has to make its money somewhere. Like many “free” services it does so through ad retargeting — recommending products and services that can potentially save users money. While ads generate revenue at the expense of a pure user experience, the recommendations on Mint are designed to improve the user’s financial health. The more applicable Mint’s recommendations are, the more likely their users are to find value in the platform. Incentives on both sides are theoretically aligned. But, how can you be sure that the products or services being recommended are truly in your best interest? At the end of the day only you can answer that. You just have to be careful that the guided path you are on is always guided in your best interest.
Trend 3: Sharing is (Self) Caring
It’s no secret businesses built on referrals have a strong foundation. According CB Insights “…referred customers convert 3x — 5x more often than an average user, they’re 16% more likely to stick around for the long-term, and they tend to have a 20% higher lifetime value.”
Successful fintech companies incentivize their users to share the app or platform they are using in exchange for some form of currency. So, whether your reward is free Tesla stock, or $5 to re-invest in the platform, referral bonuses for hooking a friend into the system can be a powerful way to demonstrate a product’s ongoing value while organically building the user base. It’s a win-win for the fintech company and its loyal customers.
Trend 4: Personalized Products
For many years, personalization has been at the forefront of marketing practice. Personalization allows companies to tailor their services or products to an individual’s goals.
With fintech products the stakes are high, and personalization is essential in creating the trust that consumers need to feel an emotional connection with their service. Personalization has to replicate or replace the personal touch you would get when opening a bank account in person or signing up for any other service over the phone. Without that human-to-human interaction, it’s hard to build trust. The most successful fintech products know this only too well. And each of them goes out of their way to tailor a personalized service.
In fact, so important is it to build those human relationships that certain services (such as Betterment) now offer a hybrid model. By augmenting their robust digital tool with telephone support, Betterment’s customers get all the promise of the platform’s technological wizardry with the reassuring old world charm of human support.
Trend 5: Design with End Users First
Unsurprisingly many of these tools are purpose-built to appeal to Millennials — often characterized as a digitally native generation — so it is essential to speak their language. Both verbally and visually. Designing for fintech has to be simple, smart and in line with this demographic’s digital expectations.
In an effort to soften the product offering, to make it more relatable on an emotional level, many fintech companies overtly humanize or naturalize their UX design. Cute characters appear, natural design elements abound, or sophisticated illustrations lend new school cool to an industry that previously catered to a generation who valued tradition over humanization. Whatever you do, make sure you design with your end user firmly in mind.
In fintech, Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase “The Medium is the Message” is almost entirely true. Perhaps more than any other UX category, the design of the product itself is on par with the content. With this demographic you cannot have great content without great design. It simply won’t appeal to the target users and will mark you out as an imposter. As such fintech companies invest a great deal in high quality design. Proof of which comes in the form of numerous industry awards which include, amongst many others, the prestigious 2015 Apple Design Award for Robinhood’s iPhone and Apple Watch apps.
“At Robinhood, we’re conscious that design, beyond the words, communicates who a product is for. We’re focused on design that’s friendly, that’s inviting, that doesn’t intimidate you, that isn’t condescending.” Says Alex Bond, Senior Designer, Robinhood.
Trend 6: Simple Messaging
Nothing says fintech quite like simple, clear messaging, parsed into almost comically small chunks. And every piece of communication either directly explains a product feature, removes a barrier to entry or directly implores the user to sign up, get started or in some other way take action. Take a look at industry darling Robinhood’s sales site. If one of the most disruptive technologies to come along in recent years can explain its value proposition so clearly and simply, while rocketing to a market valuation in the Billions, it’s hard to see why all financial products can’t do the same.
Trend 7: Constant Feedback
In any usability scenario it’s imperative that users get timely feedback after taking any meaningful action. But in the fintech industry, it’s not just a core UX tenet, it’s a vital part of the process of building trust and removing doubt.
As naturally mistrustful users, increasingly trained to fear for our cybersecurity, giving a faceless app or website the keys to our financial kingdom is fraught with danger. To make the leap we need vast amounts of affirmation and almost endless encouragement. Which explains why every significant interaction we make is now rewarded with a suitable, brand appropriate little nugget of feedback. These little virtual nods of approval or acknowledgement build trust one interaction at a time.
Trend 8: Data Visualization
In an era that has seen the rise of the Quantified Self (QS) — where we gain self-knowledge through self-tracking — many users have become attuned to seeing their personal data depicted in graphically meaningful ways. With the list of things we routinely measure growing by the day — such as heart rate, respiration, sleep, to our daily run, ride or swim — creating compelling data visualizations is no longer a nice to have… it’s an expectation.
One of the reasons fintech apps are gaining in popularity is because they give users a clear visual overview of their financial activities. Many of the leaders in the field take this one step further, providing future-facing visualizations that show the impact of a user’s actions over time.
Apps like Acorns and Wealthfront graphically show users the future value of their investments — allowing them to modify their financial projections with simple touch interactions. Seeing a clear goal in the future gives users a compelling reason to continue to invest with the platform.
Trend 9: Effortless Engagement
Traditional financial institutions have earned themselves a pretty bad rap for being at best overly bureaucratic and at worst purposefully obtuse. There’s a not so subtle powerplay in effect when you walk into old world bank. You feel the inequality as a small player in their artfully constructed financial labyrinth.
But, however imperfect this system is, we know we can trust these institutions to not steal, lose or otherwise misappropriate our hard-earned funds, so we shoulder through the inefficiencies. It’s this dyed in the wool dependability that fintech companies must effortlessly overcome. Signing up must be simple. Calls to action should be clear. Transactions easily accomplished.
Trend 10: Delightful Experiences
10 years ago, a delightful financial experience would have involved Vegas, a slot machine and boat load of good luck. But today’s products have evolved to offer genuinely delightful user experiences. From simply flawless functionality to subtle but pleasing feedback, a well-designed fintech app should make you smile and seamlessly encourage longer session times. Creating a positive, emotionally resonant experience, is another tool for building trust and an ongoing relationship.
While trends by their very nature change, there are some core UX principles outlined above that apply to fintech but also to many other industries. It’s a tremendously exciting time to work in the field and we can’t wait to apply our findings to our own work for the revolutionary fintech platform Stockpile — our latest client!