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Design for Financial Services? Trust + Seamless Experience

How do you design for financial interactions that are both complicated and mundane, that require the highest levels of trust, and that most people just don’t like thinking about?

Earnest product designer Mike Hu recently dug into these questions with three leading designers in financial services: Laura Ward from PayPal, Dave Johannes from payment platform Square, and Adam Ting from Blend Labs, a platform for mortgage lending.  

The panel discussion was “Designing for Financial Services” as part of San Francisco’s Design Week. You can read some of the evening’s highlights below.

Mike Hu: What are some challenges of designing for financial services?

Laura Ward: Understanding what people really want. I’ve found that it’s always better to prototype something extreme, and put it in the hands of your most progressive customers and see how they react because they’re a good indicator of the future.

Dave Johannes: Speaking of what people will want—there was a point at Square when we were rebranding, and experimenting with a geolocation service. You could tell the app “I want a coffee” and the app would tell you how far you are from Blue Bottle. When you arrived, the barista would know and be able to hand you your coffee. I’m not sure if we were too early with this idea or not, but it didn’t work. There was a level of creepiness there that people felt, and we had to have the good judgment at that point to call it off.

Adam Ting: In the mortgage industry, there are 7,500 mortgage providers and the top 30 control two-thirds of the market. So we worry less about the long tail—but for those large lenders, they’re very aware of their other large competitors. How can we help them make their product feel different from the next company while still having enough guardrails in place that everything still works?  Our product makes use of a lot of modularity, color options, and configuration points. When we started grappling with this complexity, we talked with Zendesk to learn how they did it. If you look at a Zendesk dashboard at two different companies, they look really different, but also the same, and this example proved helpful for us.

MH: How do you earn trust?

DJ: We won the trust of our first Square vendors, and awareness and trust in our product then spread by word of mouth. These first vendors became our best salespeople; once Blue Bottle started using Square, many other coffee shops wanted to [use it], too.

AT: We rely on user research to understand what people are comfortable with. The mortgage process is so complex and requires so much information that it’s often described as a “financial colonoscopy.” Researchers have ranked the most stressful life events, with death at the top, followed by divorce, and other stressful events; getting a mortgage ranks just below the death of a close friend. It’s a difficult thing. So we have a lot of people trying to smooth out this process.

LW: The number one thing you have to do is not get hacked. Beyond that, what feels right for people? At one point, PayPal’s app was actually too frictionless: you tapped to open up a merchant in the app, and the merchant could then initiate your payment. Letting the merchant control this felt weird like you’re being asked to leave your wallet open on the counter. Our current solution uses a QR code, which is a step back in technology and more work for the consumer—but it puts the consumer back in control.

MH: What is the role of data in your product?

AT: Traditional mortgage reviewers have to go through your bank statements and manually highlight any deposit greater than a certain percent of your monthly income, then follow up with you to ask about it. It’s extremely manual, and this is just one of the areas where we are able to streamline.

DJ: We’re able to use our data at Square to add value for our merchants. We can help them understand patterns of transactions throughout the day, for example, or which customers might be best encouraged to maintain loyalty through targeted offers.

LW: At PayPal, another way in which we use data is in constantly refining our risk model, which helps us make decisions about whether to let a potentially fraudulent transaction go through or not.

Throughout the evening, our panelists shared various pieces of advice. Here are just a few:

AT: In financial services, we all have legal and compliance reviews to go through in order to get a design out. The easiest thing to do is just to add extra words and complications to address compliance—but don’t do this. As problem solvers, we can often find a way around doing this. It may require getting on a plane so that you can sit next to your compliance officer, who has a giant book of rules that they’re working from, but you need to be willing to work through that.

“I encourage you all to get out of your office and into a retail space, or other places where people are making decisions about their spending and finances.”

LW: I encourage you all to get out of your office and into a retail space, or other places where people are making decisions about their spending and finances. Creepiness can come in when you don’t understand what’s really going on for people in those moments. You surface something to a person and they ask “How did you know that?” If you understand what’s going on for people, you can surface things with the right context, at the right time, which will make more sense to people.

DJ: Financial transactions are difficult. How can you design things so that people don’t have to think about it?

Earnest would like to thank all the panelists, with special thanks to Max Gustofson, Nick Wilson, and Mike Hu for their work in organizing this panel. Thank you as well to Earnest Data Editor Lian Chang, who contributed this blog post.

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Earnest is a technology company using software automation, smart design, and exceptional service to restore trust in the lending industry and help clients take control of their finances.