Let's break the bank

Building a new consumer bank

Banks are stuck in the past – their products and services aren’t in sync with the speed of our lives or how we manage our money. Fees and other ‘gotchas’ only confirm that our money isn’t working hard enough for us.

I was part of an ambitious project to build a modern bank from scratch, to re-invent the banking experience.

Challenge

The underlying objective was to create a new, personal bank that members would be excited to be a part of. To help guide every step of the project, we identified several high-level goals I felt were critical.

  • Foster trust through transparency and innovation.
  • Give people a better deal. It’s their money, not ours. It’s their time, not ours.
  • Adapt and optimize for the member, not the bank.

I led product design across all customer touchpoints to synthesize business requirements with an elegant and intuitive user experience. I worked directly with the Managing Director to define and prioritize the product and features.

tl;dr

I focused on designing solutions to make the experience Simple, Modern, and Valuable.

Checking, savings, and credit card accounts were combined into one account to create a unified banking experience. I designed a “one number” calculation that showed aggregated and projected balance. I found ways to improve standard features like bill pay, search, and online signup to make them easier for the user.

The Process

I worked among highly coordinated product, design, and engineering teams. I implemented Lean UX concepts to facilitate team collaboration and communication. Data and feedback drove design to identify problems and iterate on solutions.

Research

Competitive analysis, industry reports and market research were used to understand current offerings and identify missed opportunities in the banking landscape. Interviews and surveys helped pinpoint user challenges and friction points.

Surveys were used to understand how people spend and manage money.
Interviews were used to understand current challenges and pain points and how existing products and features were actually used.
Detailed analysis of mobile apps, including features, navigation patterns, and task analysis was completed.
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Banking industry reports highlighted user goals and pain points. Adaptive Lab, in particular, did some extremely comprehensive work, as seen above.
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Making sense of it

I re-grouped with the team to dive deeper and organize the findings.  Affinity mapping helped me group feedback so I could define user pain points. As well, personas were created to highlight individual behavior and mindsets, while later serving as a measuring stick for proposed solutions.

Defining the Problems

I sorted the feedback from users into three broad pain points. None could be solved with one solution, but rather would require improvement and refinement across the entire product.

Complexity

Personal banking is a juggling act, moving money between savings and checking accounts while constantly monitoring a credit card balance. These siloed products are outdated and don’t prioritize the consumer. Additional examples:

  • Too many different product offerings
  • Constantly moving money between accounts
  • Lots of opaque processes and rules
  • Credit card points games make it hard to follow or redeem rewards
Low value

People don’t feel like they are getting much value from their bank. They don’t feel like a valued customer in part because there are lots of fees.

  • Low savings account interest
  • Lots of fees and gotchas, notably ATM fees
  • High interest on revolving credit card accounts
  • Lack of trust in banks because not always acting in customer’s interest.
Outdated

Products like checking and savings accounts no longer fit user needs. Mobile apps often lack basic features or the features aren’t integrated well and don’t prioritize user goals and needs. Apps should be easy, transparent, and very functional.

  • Mobile banking under-featured
  • Poorly implemented
  • Hard to sign up
  • Bank branches still needed

Solutions

Some of the solutions didn’t translate to specific features or have digital design solution. But the following served as the building blocks and framework for the product roadmap and development.

Simplicity at the product level

Tremendous thought and care went into the product formulation itself, how it would work, and what financial perks could be offered. The result was one account that combined the best of savings, checking, and credit card into one. It behaved like a debit card, which reduced the need to pay a credit card bill or transfer funds back and forth. Deposits earned interest and all card spend earned cash back. That also removed concerns about high interest on credit cards.

An integrated product afforded the ability to display one number to show available cash across all daily spend. It accounted for card spend, outstanding checks, and pending transactions.  This gave an accurate calculation of the user’s Spendable Cash.

Dashboard

Research told us tracking monthly spend was very important to users. In response, I experimented with several concepts to show balance and cumulative monthly spend as the primary elements on the main screen of the app.

It was important to show a comparison between these two amounts because cumulative spend is only meaningful as compared to overall balance. A visual representation seemed the best way to illustrate this ratio to maintaining simplicity.

The graph went through several iterations to maximize readability. Test users understood what they saw, but found the information wasn’t meaningful. The problem was everyone had their own system to manage the complexity of their specific bills and cash flow. The graph didn’t reflect or match that and as a result, wasn’t helpful.

I had inadvertently created a layer of complexity by using visuals instead of showing transactions. Removing that context forced users to understand their finances from an unfamiliar viewpoint.

I went back to the drawing board and took inspiration from social feeds. Based on that idea, I changed the design to be a “stream” of financial and member history. In addition to transactions, it included account notifications and messages.

Users found it immediately familiar and usable, both as a financial layout but also as a feed of information. Including messages within the stream meant one integrated view – users didn’t have to navigate for important information.

Search

A big frustration voiced during research was an inability to find specific transactions. ‘Search’ is ubiquitous on mobile applications but it’s very basic on most banking mobile apps.

Our goal was to build powerful and intuitive search capability that would allow users to find Stream items including transactions, messages, and the metadata within each.

I did a quick test to see how users search and what they are trying to find. I discovered there were two primary use goals: searching for a single, specific item or a collection of items. When searching for a single item, for example double-checking a specific charge, we found:

  • Most of the time the target was a recent transaction
  • Users were likely to search by merchant name

When searching for a collection, checking the number of trips to Starbucks in the last month, for example, we found:

  • Desired search results spanned a longer time period, often months
  • Users were likely to search by category or merchant name

This distinction was important because we could create a better search experience by populating search suggestions for a specific merchant or transaction as the user typed.

Providing search suggestions as users typed:

  1. Made search faster by reducing typing
  2. Reinforced search results with visual feedback
  3. Showed different types of results, like a specific transaction or specific merchant

Including specific transactions or merchants in the suggestions addressed a specific user goal and shortened the search process. Search suggestions were customized to the user’s transaction history – so they’d never get bad suggestions. Finally, to create visual consistency, suggestions were ordered by a carefully crafted ruleset.

Suggestions based on user input are of a specific type, including merchant and specific transaction.
Most mobile apps implement search as a separate screen, but conceptually it made sense that Search simply updates the Stream. It also reduced navigational overhead.

Payments

Industry research showed Bill Pay led to higher user conversions. Spendable Cash also became more accurate and valuable to the user when recurring bills such as rent, cell phones, and Netflix were accounted for.

The challenge was creating easy bill payment that allowed users to easily set up recurring bills – paid automatically or by reminder each month. Each bill added would improve accuracy of Spendable Cash and give users a clearer picture of their available funds.

Connecting recurring bills improves the accuracy of Spendable Cash - but also give greater budgeting ability.

Users speak about paying bills in terms like, “I have to pay the electric bill,” but a lot of banks start with the payment method rather than recipient. I designed the payment flow to follow the human model; select the recipient first.

Searching a database of billers allowed users to easily find the recipient to pay. Using an integrated service, we could retrieve the bill amount due and due date for most national billers after users entered account credentials. That allowed us to schedule the payment, select the best payment method for the user (based on card perks), and also update Spendable Cash to reflect upcoming bills.

Manually entering bill information or selecting payment type for most recurring monthly bills was not necessary.

This design also allowed additional billers and payment methods to be added seamlessly without redesigning the user flow.

Result

This project represents a ton of work, lots of research, industry knowledge, and design thinking that yielded some yet-seen ideas in the market.

We developed creative solutions in a highly regulated industry to build a new personal finance product that represents a thoroughly new approach to banking, one that prioritizes the user.  We accomplished this through product features, giving people a better deal and making each dollar work harder.  The result, I believe, is a new banking experience, one that is in sync with our lives.