The User Lab is a regular series where we take a look at digital products and experiences to investigate what’s working, what’s not, and how they might be improved. We’ll touch on UX and UI design, product strategy, and the trends driving user behaviour across a whole range of sectors.
This episode, we dive into the murky world of digital finance. What do users really want from their banking apps? Can digital products really help users make sense of their finances? And what do legacy banks need to do to keep up with challenger brands…?
We take a look at how the likes of Monzo, Yolt and Cleo are shaking up personal finance management and chat to Steve Thomas from HSBC on the challenges of keeping pace.
Jobs to be done
Managing your finances is part of everyday life, and it often feels like a bit of a chore. It’s not sexy, but, like rollerblading, or navigating around an IKEA, if you can get used to it, then you’ll find life a lot easier.
We took a closer look at digital banking through the lens of jobs to de done, and discovered that most people’s tasks boil down to just a handful of fundamental things:
- Simplifying their finances and saving more efficiently
- Understanding how they spend their money and sticking to a budget
- Being able to pay people and keeping track of their balance
- Being able to easily get hold of financial advice when they need it
- Getting personalised recommendations about how they might make more of their money
Digital banking apps
If we look at some of the banks that have been around for a while, a lot of their mobile apps having been evolved and added to over time. It can be very difficult to introduce new functionality and features to an already ageing and established platform – especially those that date back years.
If you quickly just scan the reviews of digital banking apps from some of the more traditional banks on the App Store, you’ll see frustrations emerging, especially where popular features available elsewhere are just missing, or the app itself is still really mired in financial language and a maze-like structure.
So, how are these new challenger banks and services revisiting what banking really means, finding ways to provide more humanised utility? What role can digital product play in personal finance management?
We took a look at a few digital banking brands to see how they’re shaking up the landscape, and the lessons to be learned from their approach.
At the top of the list is a little bit of a no brainer. Monzo has become a well known challenger bank because of the way that they simplify your finances, using a really friendly way to display your recent expenditure, notifications for things that are yet to happen, like bills and your salary, as well as intelligent change jars that let you round up your payments and gradually save the difference.
It’s hard to fault Monzo, especially considering that they know they’re not perfect – they’re really good at fessing up when they’ve made a mistake and putting it right for everyone to see.
Plus they have a really bright, happy coloured card. Which is nice.
Yolt is a little bit different in that it’s not a bank per se, but more a better way of keeping an eye of wherever your money is using open banking. You can see your current account, savings, credit cards, pensions and investments all together in one place.
What’s nice is the way you can set goals, with the app helping you to save and keep a detailed track of wherever your money is going, using things like smart deals on bills and with brands where you spend most of your money.
Last on our list is something a little bit different. It won’t show you your balance or login, unless you ask it nicely, and will happily give you grief if you start to get a bit cocky…
Cleo is an alternative take for providing an intelligent interface for your money, for people who just hate logging into a list of the stuff they probably shouldn’t have spent their money on. It’s purely a chat bot for your cash, but the beauty of the app is in its simplicity.
While Cleo does all the rest of the stuff you’d expect an open banking dashboard to do, like personalised budgets, spending breakdowns, budgeting tips, and help with the bills, it does it through understanding the things you’re asking it and responding to you appropriately – which, actually, can be quite hard for a lot of banks, even when you’re talking to a human in the first place.
So, what about the older, more mature banks?
We spoke to Steve Thomas from HSBC to understand how they differ and the challenges that they face.
“I actually think one of the biggest challenges that large organisations have – and it’s the same in every sector, not just banking – is, as as your industry is disrupted, as new experiences come out, to be able to keep pace you have to change how you’re thinking,” Steve explained, “and I think the larger you are, the harder it is to change how your collective corporation thinks.”
“You’ve got to get to a point where customers can do what they want to do in the channel they want to do it. But I think that also, what you tend to find is, by us improving digital services and digital capability, you’re actually engaging more with customers, and they’re engaging more with their money.
That’s quite a different thing to thinking, “Actually, now that I’ve got a digital user interface, what’s a better way to display someone’s financial transactions that might be easier to digest, quicker to understand?”
All of a sudden there you’ve got these options you never had before. I think you’ve got to cotton on to the fact that there’s another way of thinking about this and and that means thinking very differently about how people actually manage money.”
So, what have we learned from the new breed of banks and banking services, and from the approach and concerns of the more established banks?
Firstly, it’s obvious that people want an honest and clear understanding of how they’re spending their money, uncomplicated by jargon, sort codes, and long lists of the same looking stuff.
Simplicity is key when navigating something that can very easily induce stress, like managing your money. Ensuring any user can easily make sense of what they’re looking at, understand what’s being said, and then make an informed decision on what to do next, is vital.
Considering how some of these interesting disruptive features can make a difference comes down to just that – they have to be more than just a clever categorisation of your spending, and more helpful in terms of the actions you can take to manage your personal finances.
And finally, while the new blood of banking services do have more flexibility in delivering interesting features to their customers, the focus needs to shift to consider how we can help people make informed decisions based upon the information that’s been presented to them.
Ultimately, though, what will be the judge of these different services, old and new alike, is actually how they can generate revenue. The challenge now, as the older banks catch up, is how to make users pay for features that could essentially be expected as the norm.
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