Fintech Reckoning

Financial Services Customers Are Flocking to Tech; But It Will Take Next-Level UX to Keep Them Online


Vlad Kurochkin, Zopa, London.




Fintech adoption rates among consumers have nearly doubled every two years since 2015—and the pace only accelerated during the pandemic. As people in lockdown turned to their smartphones and computers so they could bank while remaining safe from the virus, financial organizations raced to respond with new or upgraded digital services and platforms.

The World Retail Banking Report 2020 found more than half of global consumers now prefer internet banking or the use of mobile banking apps, and the numbers keep growing. As organizations go all-in on fintech, emphasizing UX during development and execution can open a competitive edge—whether it’s Jamborow, billed as Africa’s first inclusive and intelligent digital banking platform, or IBM’s Blockchain World Wire, which provides near-real-time international payments.

But traditional banks are having a harder time translating their brick-and-mortar business model for a purely online environment. Only 39 percent of traditional banks have robust data management capabilities, and just 24 percent use data effectively for personalization, according to the World Retail Banking Report.

Today’s customers demand the same personalization and ease of use found in other consumer apps, and they will no longer tolerate clunky interfaces, generic features and disconnected services, says Secil Watson, head of digital solutions for business, Wells Fargo, San Francisco. That’s putting pressure on all fintech players to create more engaging UX that attracts customers and builds loyalty.

When Watson started working on Wells Fargo’s website in 2002, the biggest complaints were that the font size and buttons were too small and the website wasn’t easy to navigate. “The industry and digital interfaces have come a long way since then,” she says.

To deliver the hyper-personalized interfaces that can predict and satisfy consumer needs, remember their data, and offer intuitive and unique financial advice, teams must learn to maximize UX feedback from start to finish.


Banks must seize the opportunity to deliver more digital services for customers.




Banks need to partner with fintech teams or big tech to accelerate project launches, but executives say teams must fight through these barriers:



Fintech teams with agile, platform-based models improve project outcomes over traditional banks.


Source: World Retail Banking Report, Capgemini and Efma, 2020


Fintech innovations don’t appear out of thin air. Teams must constantly measure the pulse of potential users to identify new project opportunities and deliver first-mover solutions. To engage directly with business customers, Watson’s teams prioritize visiting client sites, talking to users about their financial challenges and observing how they work. The ideas gathered from these meetings help teams gauge what would make users’ lives easier. “You can’t get those kinds of insights without talking to people,” she says.

Before U.K. peer-to-peer lending company and digital bank Zopa introduced the Borrowing Power tool last year to simplify the credit-rating process, it conducted customer interviews to assess their biggest money management problems. The team discovered customers needed education about managing debt and how their credit score impacted their ability to borrow money at a lower rate. “The credit scoring system is confusing, and a lot of people don’t understand it,” says Vlad Kurochkin, tribe leader, Zopa, London.

Those insights inspired his team to brainstorm and launch a project to create a tool that would make the credit score process more transparent and more connected to customers’ financial goals. Design thinking helped the team build and share prototypes, iterate the design and launch a beta version to work out all the kinks. One year after the team launched the tool in January 2020, it has more than 50,000 users.

To reveal project opportunities, Watson’s team reviews all customer service calls, creating lists of complaints and requests to analyze which issues bubble up the most or cause the deepest pain. This process helped them uncover frustration with the platform’s password requirements, which involve frequent resets for security reasons. “That pushed us to introduce biometrics so customers wouldn’t have to use passwords each time,” she says.

The team also encourages customers to share their own ideas about what would make the UX better—sometimes through the lens of other tech tools. For example, after smart-watches hit the market, Watson’s team spoke with early adopters about tie-in features that might add value, like mobile alerts on pending transactions. “We co-create with customers then iterate the features that will make them happy,” she says.


Biases and assumptions during the planning and development stages can introduce unnecessary features or even sabotage functionality. Engaging customers in the UX design process solves for that.

“The worst thing you can do is build a cool feature based on your team’s own impression of what works, then discover that no one will use it,” says Kurochkin. “We see this happen over and over again in tech.”

Kurochkin’s team skirts this mistake by treating customers as key stakeholders at every step in the design process. The team members ask questions about customers’ lives, their financial processes and the money problems they are trying to solve as a way to generate empathy for their experience. They then translate these insights to build rough prototypes that they take back to the consumer.

“We might go through this process six or seven times, iterating on our idea until we see that it is clean and simple and easy to understand,” he says.

Beta versions are tested among sample groups of 50 to 150 customers so teams can gather more targeted feedback via surveys and interviews. This exercise goes well beyond asking customers to rate a feature. The team digs into whether a feature is useful, whether it solves an important problem and whether customers trust Zopa to provide that solution to them, Kurochkin says. “It’s important to capture qualitative and quantitative feedback to understand their reaction to it.”

This iterative process adds several weeks to the front end of the design process, but it validates usability and demand risks before any significant time or money is invested in building the full tool or feature. “Execution is the most expensive part,” Kurochkin says. “So it’s worth taking extra time in the beginning to talk to customers.”


—Vlad Kurochkin, Zopa, London


Knowing how users will interact with new tech and benefit from it also helps teams tailor their pursuit of feedback. “You have to ask the right questions to come to the right solutions. That requires looking at the entire customer journey,” says Anne Everett, UX researcher and customer experience strategist, SurePayroll, Glenview, Illinois, USA.


—Anne Everett, SurePayroll, Glenview, Illinois, USA

Her customers at the digital payroll company are predominantly at small businesses, and she regularly talks with them about what steps in the process generate frustration. “I try to let the conversation flow organically rather than sticking to a Q&A guide,” she says. Genuine dialogue encourages customers to share authentic and detailed experiences that can spark actionable insights, she says. This open-ended approach is crucial to uncovering problems the UX team might otherwise overlook.

“The feedback makes it easier for our team to develop a wish list of features to make a more seamless experience.”

For instance, by asking customer service representatives to list the top reasons users call for help, her team can use that feedback to prioritize projects and customize fixes. Most recently, the team learned the top reason for calls was to figure out how to run an extra payroll check. In reviewing transcripts, it found that most callers found this process to be confusing and couldn’t figure out which set of steps to follow. “We could see their frustration,” she says.

In response, the team added a pop-up feature on the interface that explains the process in step-by-step details. The team also simplified the workflow and built a calendar feature to remind customers when it was time to complete related tasks. That project eliminated the ongoing customer confusion and reduced calls around this common problem.

“Feedback isn’t just about picking new features,” Everett says. “It’s about constantly improving your existing UX.”

Such aha moments make UX feedback irreplaceable for fintech teams. Watson had a similar experience after talking to clients at Wells Fargo who were frustrated with a government loan application process. The digital document required users to provide information at each step in the process before advancing to the next step. It was immediately embraced by smaller clients with less complex financial structures, but larger companies wanted to be able to review all the questions in advance so they could gather the necessary documentation before starting the process. The easy fix: Watson’s team added an application guide that users could review before getting started and rolled it out in the next iteration. “That simple insight helped us save a lot of time for customers,” she says. “It made the whole journey better.”

Watson says it’s clear: The future of fintech depends on robust UX feedback at every step of the process. “You can fail big if you don’t bring customers in very early in the project,” she says. “If you wait until you fail, your customers will suffer, and you will lose a lot of time and money trying to fix where you went wrong.” PM



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