Designing for the Digital – Learning from the Financial Technology Revolution

That’s right, I just called you boring. It’s not even some sort of attention grab; to pique readership and incite conversation. Fact is, you’re not the tedious one I’m referring to. Let’s talk about 21st century financial institutions, whom of which are a seriously a little out of touch in terms of their digital product offering.

A brief look into neighbouring industries reveals that the benchmark in quality user experience (UX) is leagues ahead of financial services. Consumer entertainment, transport, logistics an telecommunications are actively pushing new boundaries in user experience design so why do we not see the same in financial services? Is it due to contrasting values, internal budgets, resistance to change or something else entirely?

The truth is, the obstacle is not through a lack of attempt or business constraints; more so, a lack of innate artistic ability. Adept UI and UX designers, particularly on a digital front are few and far between.

To exponentially worsen the situation, these designers, typically, have zero industry understanding. The result is, as consumers a large portion of our digital experiences in banking, real estate, wealth management and crowdfunding would better suit HAL 9000 over a human being as a result of linear and process driven design.

Theres a design-thinking ‘brain drain’ in financial services which becomes blatant when you empathetically put yourself in a designers shoes. Imagine; you’re in your early 20’s, you’ve just finished a 3 year bachelors degree and the creative world is your oyster. You have access to creative roles at Spotify, Apple, Facebook and Atlasssian. You’re rifling through Seek and consider hundreds of well-paying jobs at fast paced, high growth and stimulating startups – and then you stumble upon a UX role at a big four bank. Let’s be honest, we can safely assume where the preference is likely to be.

Most would pin fault against financial institutions; citing company culture, business vision and team dynamic as barriers causing less favourable employment. While it’s easy to note the contrasting style of work and approach to a design problem at a financial institution compared to a creative startup there is a middle ground.

This The financial technology revolution. Over the past five years, the repositioned approach to how society should interact with financial service providers is moving the yardstick for user experience. Traditionally, UX is an afterthought, layered onto a bed of complex, highly regulated and fiscally-sensitive functionality.

This afterthought would now be considered offensive in the fintech landscape. Startups of merit such as AcornsRobinhood and Australia’s own Simply Wall Street are characteristically human-centric; enabling beautifully crafted extensions to our lives rather than monotonous sandboxes of graphical interface. This substantiates the cruciality for a unique approach to user experience design in financial services and while institutions might identify a new fintech startup as a threat; it’s actually the contrary – the opportunity to leverage and learn from UX-led delivery methods is presented on a silver platter.

With the lack of user centricity in mainstream financial corporations, the sector is rapidly learning and mimicking emerging, customer-focused service providers. This colossal shift is already noted in the financial services landscape through releases such as ANZ’s application: “Grow” which has set the digital wealth management standard among the big four Australian banks. ANZ has capitalised on native iOS design etiquette utilising TouchID for login systems, streamlined ‘glance’ behaviour for account balances and employed a frictionless, single-screen ‘pay anyone’ system.

These are all direct learnings from the recent proliferation of financial technology. In the same way the big corporations are onboard, the new players, with a reduced barrier to entry are also taking advantage. Case-in-point is my infant project HomeFund. I began building the real estate equity crowdfunding platform to democratise the industry and having immersed myself through several stages of validation with key audiences, the outcome for key design and digital experience elements was confirmed.

Responses from reviewers disclosed a series of consumer demand benefits with the most important being simplicity in transactions, frictionless in wealth management and analytics to analyse and understand potential investment properties. All of these points have heavily influenced the initial prototype (shown below) for the native mobile edition of the digital estate equity economy and act as combatants to traditional financial services pain points.

While institutions may believe in the need to entice talent they also need to look at a sustainable approach to digital product development through user experience and design etiquette. While the expanding composition of brands in the fintech revolution are often simply considered bi-products of disgruntled customers and exorbitant account fees, the pertinent lesson is the approach to the everyday human being.

Fintech’s in reality, have set this new benchmark of how brands should treat their consumers, both existing and new. Ultimately, this catalyst will dictate the portal a business, both inside and outside of finance services, interact with their audiences on a digital front. All that it took was a selfish sector, with little regard for it’s consumers, to be shown by a bunch of fiscally-unaware creatives how to design for the 21st century.

mattjones ()

Co-Founder and CTO of Mosaic.