The Key to Good UX Design for Bank Apps Is Customer Research

PREMIUM — The mobile phone is becoming the preferred method of banking for many customers. Bank of America just crossed the 25 million mark of mobile users, Chase has 30.1 million mobile users, and Wells Fargo has 21.2 million users. So, it’s safe to say that mobile banking is crucial to a bank’s business as well.

Features and offerings are key components of a mobile app, but for the user, the most important, and most obvious, aspect is the user experience, also known as UX.

“Even with the coolest features, if the app isn’t easy to navigate, then no one is going to want to use it,” Ed Gross, senior vice president of product management at Kony, a fintech that helps banks build mobile applications, told Bank Innovation.

At Bank of America, for instance, Rachel Kobetz, head of digital design, told Bank Innovation that there is an in-house team focused on studying its digital customers. The team uses the data on hand as well as quantitative data based on research.

The design team also draws “UX inspiration from outside banking or financial services,” she said — tech companies and the like, rather than banking peers.

Gross echoes the same the strategy at Kony. “We design a user experience for banking apps for any touch point,” he said. “For this, we take our learning from a variety of industries and apply it to a bank,” he said. Maybe that’s because fintechs and other digital companies are better at UX than banking apps? Gross or Kobetz did not comment on this observation.

For example, the PayPal-owned P2P app Venmo‘s ease of use may explain its popularity vs. the bank-backed Zelle.

And in fact, simplicity is the way to go, at least for German challenger bank N26. “That’s the key word,” Christian Hertlein, head of design at N26 told Bank Innovation. “The app has to be simple, clean, with minimal fuss.”

Hertlein continued, “Fewer keys, no popups, the focus must be on the core essentials. How do you communicate what needs to be communicated to the consumer without flooding them with too much information on the screen. The design must be intuitive.”

Even the color scheme for N26 is intentionally kept minimalistic (mainly black and white, with a few splashes of color.) The app has just a few basic feature icons on the screen, and to access different sections of the app (account balance, savings goal etc.), a user just has to swipe.

Bank of America’s app is less simple and takes some time to get used to it. The app has about five buttons at the bottom of the screen, including accounts, transfer, bill pay, deposit checks and menu. But then the homepage also shows BankAmericaDeals and a few other features like Schedule an Appointment etc.

But this crowded homepage doesn’t seem to be a major pain-point. As Kobetz explained, the bank will continue to analyze data on the needs and pain-points of their customer, and tweak designs accordingly.

Customer Feedback

Crucial for a design team to improve the UX is customer research — a combination of customer feedback and analysis of usage patterns.

At N26, qualitative research, for instance, consists of identifying customer patterns. Hertlein said the starting point for design research is target groups. The bank also looks at “extreme users,” (those that are technology-savvy and those that “have never used a mobile for banking,” he said).

“The research is extensive,” he said. “We need to understand the holistic experience of each feature, each touch point to make it seamless and easily integrated into their lifestyles. We want the customers to return to the app and use it everyday, so it has to be easy and intuitive.”

As a third-party app maker, Kony works with small to midsized banks and credit unions. For Kony, initial research is conducted by interviewing stakeholders and, understanding customer demography.

Once the research is over, there is prototyping, testing (usually among the bank’s or FI’s employees), and then refreshing the design based on that user feedback, which tends to be a perpetually ongoing process, Gross, Kobetz, and Hertlein all agree on these points.

“User experience is how banks are going to differentiate themselves,” Gross said. “Users are continuing to choose to do business with an enterprise, especially digital enterprise, based solely on their experience. The experience is part of the service. For digital users, the app has to be good and consistent.”

N26’s Hertlein puts it this way: “We do not look at design in isolation. What design means for us is more than a visual skill set, we use it as brand mindset on how to approach opportunities, problems, and innovation.”

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