Introducing a Behavioral Playbook for Financial Providers

Mar 29, 2018 | By Katy Davis, Maddie Kau, & Abigail Kim in Blog

Digital tools such as automated savings and investment, expense tracking, and person-to-person payments save people time and help them manage complex finances. Useful features like these can even support overall financial health, particularly for low- and middle-income consumers, if traditional financial services don’t meet their needs. Widespread adoption of these services also benefits financial providers that have invested in the technology. It can reduce retail costs, enabling them to offer products to customers at lower prices, and produce data that informs new features.

Yet many people don’t use digital financial services, and not necessarily because they have made an active decision not to. As we have written about before, boosting the adoption of digital services that help people build savings, reduce debt, and manage cash flows could support greater financial health for the 138 million Americans who are struggling financially.

That’s why, with the generous support of JPMorgan Chase & Co., we created an open-source playbook for financial providers to easily apply behavioral design to digital financial services. The playbook builds on our years of experience applying behavioral science to financial health—from supporting employee financial stability to designing the Financial Health Check to reimagining financial inclusion. As more and more financial services and tools move into the digital world, it is prudent to package lessons and strategies for helping customers find and use digital financial products in a digestible format, so providers like banks and credit unions can employ them.

How does behavioral science fit into digital financial services? We know that when it comes to managing financial tasks, consumers aren’t constantly scanning the marketplace for new solutions to make banking easier, comparing costs and benefits, or avidly using their “ideal” products once they’ve found them. It’s more likely that household financial management consists of taking care of immediate, short-term tasks such as paying a bill that has come due. And people tend to stick to their established habits because it’s what they know. Even if a someone wants to try new digital financial services, a series of subtle obstacles can still stand in the way.

The playbook shows providers how to address four common behavioral barriers to adopting digital tools:

Capturing attention

We all have limited attention. Digital financial services may never even enter our line of sight, or may quickly be forgotten. The playbook outlines several principles for overcoming this challenge, including details on how to incorporate the human element in a digital environment.

Inspiring trust and confidence

People may lack confidence in a completely virtual financial transaction with no tangible paper trail, and new providers, lacking a known brand name, may struggle to build trust without that human interaction. One path to inspiring trust is to ensure the images, aesthetic style, and wording of a product reflect the way users see themselves (or want to see themselves).

Simplifying the decision

The seemingly endless set of product options (from budgeting tools to person-to-person payment apps to automated savings and investment products) can be overwhelming to navigate for a consumer with little or no support. Limiting the number of options and/or using the same attributes to describe all options can help people evaluate trade-offs.

Facilitating action

The hassle of setting up financial profiles, managing usernames and passwords, and linking external accounts can derail onboarding and cause many people to give up. Internet connectivity issues and limits on data usage or device storage can make it even harder to follow through. Of course, eliminating complex steps outright is ideal, but when this isn’t possible, helping users create detailed plans for navigating obstacles can promote follow-through.

Putting these insights into the hands of financial providers expands the reach of behavioral science for financial well-being. Banks, fintech startups, nonprofits, and credit unions can use this playbook to incorporate a behavioral perspective into their digital services, increasing adoption and use. And when financial providers help customers overcome common barriers to managing finances digitally, it can clear a path toward helping them reduce debt, grow savings, and improve their financial health.