The New UX of Fintech: How to Create an Engaging Customer Experience

This is a guest post by Jon Zanoff, Founder, Empire Startups In our connected world, consumer expectations have drastically changed — they want speed, convenience, and transparency. With newer and already commoditized services like online bill pay, self-help customer service portals, and mobile payments with data visualization, it’s clear that a lollipop is no longer the highlight of the customer experience. These shifting expectations can have a huge impact on the success or failure of a fintech startup. Building a great product is no longer enough. Pairing great technology with a lousy user experience is not a recipe for success. People will remember how you make them feel, and if you leave your customers feeling confused, frustrated, or inconvenienced, they won’t come back. The new fintech user experience (UX) will disrupt traditional financial services, but to ride this wave, you must offer an engaging customer experience. So, how do you do that? We asked fintech UX experts from the Empire Startups FinTech Conference in San Francisco on Nov 10 to share their thoughts and advice with fintech startup founders.
  • Jeanine Swatton, Director of Developer Evangelism, Yodlee®
  • Farhan Ahmad, Founder & CEO, Bento
  • Shiyan Koh, General Manager, NerdWallet
  • Ryan Anderson, Founder and Creative Director, Alchemy50

Where in fintech does UX have the greatest impact? 

Farhan Ahmad: Sign-up and onboarding. This is the first experience someone has with your product and company, and it can set the tone for how easy or difficult the rest of the relationship will be. In financial services, we are required by law to ask for sensitive information, so building trust and providing visibility to the customer about the process and their status is key. We have to do this while keeping the experience as simple and brief as possible. Getting the initial UX wrong is a sure way to turn away customers who really want your product but give up because it looks fishy or is too hard to sign up. Jeanine Swatton: User experience design for mobile apps has been a popular trend, but it is critical for both mobile and web apps in fintech. It’s important to consider the overall design of the app and whether it is compatible with the device screen. It is helpful to evaluate the app performance based on the design. Know who your users are when defining the user experience. Ryan Anderson: Mobile has been a huge advancement for personal banking. We constantly make financial decisions while we’re on the go. Having a real-time, seamless connection with your financial institution and reducing the friction of a transaction is key to a successful experience. With that said, there are still many areas of banking in which the user experience could improve – ATMs, call centers – so from an experience perspective, there’s still work to be done. Shiyan Koh: Fintech is a pretty broad term, but I think about it in terms of technology solutions trying to improve or disrupt offline transactions, like obtaining a mortgage or auto loan, or purchasing life insurance. User experience design can improve rate and fee transparency and help reduce information complexity. Consumers need information, but they also need to feel confident they’ve made the right decision — visual cues and interactions confirm that the decisions they make are the correct ones. Consumers rarely make big financial decisions, so they tend to have fewer mental models around what "good" looks like. This, coupled with the dollar value impact of the decision, has the potential to create a ton of anxiety throughout the decision-making process. With this in mind, you should design a user experience that reduces anxiety and inspires confidence.

Customer expectations are changing. How can fintech startups design a better user experience?

Shiyan Koh: Customers expect their providers to have empathy, and be transparent with them. In a world where you can easily book a flight and a room across the world, it seems crazy that obtaining financial products and making good financial decisions still requires so much effort. Startups can focus on removing as much friction as possible, while still assuring the consumer they are helping them achieve their financial goals. Ryan Anderson: The fintech space is notorious for bad experiences. Know your user. The primary purpose of UX is to reduce friction between an action and the user. Focus on the essentials of what users want and need. Jeanine Swatton: Fintech startups need to pay attention to why customers download or sign up for the app, how customers interact with it, and why they leave. Collecting this data is critical when creating a roadmap for updating your existing user experience. Pay attention to the onboarding experience because you want the user to get straight to the core functionality of the app. Don't create a complicated sign-up process, as this may discourage the user from moving forward. Questions you need to pay attention to while evaluating the UX: Why do customers choose to deactivate their account or delete the app? Is the app intuitive enough for them to get the basic information they need? In many cases, inactive users could have been engaged by making a simple UX modification. Less is more. Keep it clean and simple. Farhan Ahmad: Customers expect companies to know what they want. Traditional banks put all the tough decisions in customers' hands, leaving the customer to compare and frequently, make an uninformed decision. That doesn't work anymore. Fintech startups have to provide a better way for customers to identify and sign up for the solution that best meets their needs.

Is user experience the same as design? What does this mean for fintech?

Ryan Anderson: UX is the culmination of a great design process. Great design is the combination of many things: Research, Graphic Design, Information Hierarchy, etc. When all of those pieces are done well, you get a great UX. It doesn’t matter how slick your app's design is or how cool your logo is, if the user has a bad experience, then you’ve failed. Founders, this means you must be relentless in your pursuit of providing a good user experience. Iterate. If you find a technical or process hurdle, work until you find a solution. In fintech, there are long-established paradigms that just suck. It may not be easy to disrupt, but founders who continue to push for a solution and refuse to kill the experience in favor of precedent will ultimately be the successful ones. Shiyan Koh: We talk about design thinking that helps us create a better user experience, but user experience is the totality of the customers interaction with your product and brand. Jeanine Swatton: Design is part of the user experience, and it’s broken down into visual and interactive design. Overall, you need to understand your customer and determine what their needs are in order to engage them in your app. Consider how customers feel when using the app, and then add features that are helpful to them. How they interact with the app will significantly impact the overall user experience. Farhan Ahmad: Based on my experience, design serves well to attract customers but it's UX that actually drives sign-ups and usage. Design is more about the aesthetic and presentation of the product, and UX is more analytical, technical and focused on how customers interact with your product. They are both critical components of a great product — although many companies put them under the same umbrella — these functions require truly different skill sets.

What is the best advice for founders?

Ryan Anderson: Try to get 6 hours of sleep every night. All-nighters are not sustainable. Shiyan Koh: Don't feel like you have to solve every problem right away. Use your team to share the load. Farhan Ahmad: Have a goal and target for how you want your customers to perceive you. First target a specific customer — digital native, old school, busy professional — and then build an experience around how you want them to perceive you. For example, our current customers are generally small business owners and I want them to feel that we are trustworthy and easy to work with. When they choose us, I want them to feel more informed and in-control. This goal underlines how we build our UX: it's desktop optimized, not mobile; it has lots of trust cues in it, we show you your progress, and our language is plain English, not bank-speak. Jeanine Swatton: Keep your app simple. Pay attention to your users: what they need and how they interact with the app. Customer needs are constantly evolving, and as a result, you need to change, improve, and look for ways to create an engaging user experience throughout the lifetime of your app. Are you looking to connect with and learn from fintech entrepreneurs, domain experts, and the investment community? Don’t miss the Empire Startups FinTech Conference in San Francisco. Register here and follow @EmpireStartups and @YIDeveloper for live updates!  

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