Financial tasks usually capture our attention when there is an immediate, short-term need such as paying a bill that has come due. If we have established routines for managing our finances, it’s especially easy for us to continue down those paths without much thought. In fact, most of us are not making a deliberate choice not to use digital financial services – those opportunities for usage simply never make it into our line of sight. The attention challenge is even more pronounced in a digital environment where physical cues and human interaction are limited, and an increasing number of digital products and services compete for visibility. Finding specific moments that align with a real-world need can help bring digital financial tools to the forefront of our attention and increase engagement.
When people come across digital financial services, it can feel risky to trust a new provider or a virtual process with no human touch points and no tangible paper trail. The stakes are especially high when cash flows are tight. Any delays or errors in processing can result in fees and penalties that may affect long-term economic security. Each individual touch point, whether it is a website visit, a log-in, or an email, represents an opportunity either to reinforce or break feelings of trust and confidence.
Financial services can be hard to understand when they are unfamiliar or novel. When we come across information that is difficult to process, we may give up and turn our attention elsewhere. And processing new or complex information uses up cognitive resources, leaving less mental bandwidth for decision-making. Making it easier to scan and interpret information frees up resources for decision-making and action. When it comes time for the consumer to make a choice, it’s important to structure the decision so that options are not overwhelming and are clearly comparable.
Even if we intend to take up and use digital financial services, we sometimes fail to follow through. When signing up for a new product, we might drop off within the onboarding process if it includes complex steps or takes more time than expected. Even small hassles such filling out a form or authenticating a separate account can derail progress. Ultimately, we may put the action off for another day, or even change our minds entirely.
To identify the challenges your users struggle with most, you’ll need a deep understanding of the situations and external constraints they typically face. A mix of qualitative and quantitative research methods can help you gain insight and test your assumptions about your users.
For a detailed guide on conducting in-depth interviews and observations, see Qualitative Research Methods: A Data Collector’s Field Guide from FHI 360.
For an overview of how to approach questionnaires, see Survey Fundamentals: A Guide to Designing and Implementing Surveys from the University of Wisconsin.
For a sample of validated questions, see this Tip Sheet on Question Wording from the Harvard University Program on Survey Research.
To learn more about the limitations of these techniques, see Do people mean what they say? from behavioral economists Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan.
For an organized opportunity to experience firsthand the challenges and opportunities in accessing financial services, see FinX from the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI).
For a comprehensive guide to running Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs), see Evaluating Financial Products and Services in the US from Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA).
For a guide to A/B testing, see the A/B Testing Tool from ideas42.
There is no “neutral” pathway when it comes to design – the way that we design programs, products and services will impact behavior. As you optimize your products and services for adoption, consider applying this regret test from Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products:
“If people knew everything the product designer knows, would they still execute the intended behavior? Are they likely to regret doing this?”
For example, many people will never bother to change a default setting such as automatic subscription renewals, even if they don’t want the subscription to renew. If your users were prompted to make an active choice, would they still be happy with the option you set as the default? Would they see you as a provider who’s on their side?
In an age when users can abandon your service or switch to another provider with one touch or swipe, a genuine dedication to the financial health of your users will differentiate your company and support long-term sustainability.
ideas42 would like to thank JPMorgan Chase & Co. for their generous support of this project. We are also grateful for the time and support of the many organizations that shared their insights or served as examples in this playbook: Alliant Credit Union, Aspiration, Bank of America, BFA (Bankable Frontier Associates), Catalyst Miami, Center for Financial Services Innovation, Digit, EARN, EverSafe, Flourish Savings, FS Card Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Kinecta Credit Union, Latino Community Credit Union, LendingClub, National Urban League, Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, Policygenius, Propel, Prosperity Now, Texas Tech University, UNC Center for Community Capital, and UnidosUS.
The views and opinions expressed in the report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of JPMorgan Chase & Co. or its affiliates.
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