4 UX Lessons from Top Finance Tools

Until recently, finance applications weren’t exactly inspiring when it came to user experience. 

That’s a nice way to put it. The blunter truth is that older fintech looked like it was designed in a windowless cubicle just outside the Seventh Circle of Purgatory. Promoted by big banks, these apps simply digitized the colorless spreadsheets and life-sucking tax forms that make banking boring.

Thankfully, the forces of market disruption are making fintech UX friendlier.

It all started in the wake of the financial collapse of 2008, a crisis which prompted a new attitude Bill Gates expressed well: “Banking is necessary; banks are not.” Startups are willing to leverage new technology to meet customers where they are have begun to reshape expectations for fintech tools. 

Consider some of the principles these fintech innovators are employing to change the rules of the game when it comes to user experience.

1. Design with the user in mind.

A lot of bad financial applications neglected a cardinal principle of good design: fashion tools that fit the user’s needs and desires. 

The next wave of fintech isn’t making that same mistake. In part, that’s because its target demographic demands it. Fintech companies are competing for a market share that’s disproportionately Millennial.

Millennials aren’t shy about their antipathy for traditional banking or their demand for user experience as mobile as they are. In fact, a recent Accenture survey found that 78% of younger customers would bank with a company like Amazon or Google if it offered more seamless digital services than their current banking provider.

For this generation, too, aesthetics and user-friendliness aren’t optional. That’s why they’re seeking experiences like those offered by financial apps like Robinhood. Streamlined and fitted out in a sleek green theme, the platform allows users to engage in commission-free trading with as little as $1. For Millennials without gigantic trust funds to invest, Robinhood’s distinctive offering lowers the barriers to building a balanced portfolio in real-time.  

2. Automate to demonstrate value.

It’s good to choose for ourselves. But in some cases, it’s better to have some choices made for our benefit. 

That’s definitely the case when it comes to financial planning and saving. About two-thirds of Americans save little or nothing from their income — a state of affairs with drastic social consequences.  

Our tendency not to save when it’s up to us makes innovative tools like Chime particularly important. The online banking app integrates a “Round Up” feature that deposits change from transactions to the nearest dollar in a savings account. For instance, a trip to the grocery store might cost $31.72, and a croissant from the bakery might be $2.17. Chime rounds up the bills to $32 and $3, respectively, and invests $1.11 in a personal savings account. Over time, that pocket change steadily accumulates, making savings automatic. 

3. Visualize data.

Numbers on spreadsheets don’t inspire excitement in most users. What engages them is being able to see and experience how they matter for them. That desire heralds the rise of the quantified self (QS).  

Think about your relationship with your Fitbit or Apple Watch. You’re constantly monitoring your steps, heart rate, and sleep patterns so you can see your overall performance. 

The fintech vanguard is making your financial data more like the personalized numbers on your wearable devices — something you can see and track visually. Wealthfront provides just this kind of service for its users. One of its innovative features is a forecasting tool that allows subscribers to peer into a projected future based on their current behavior. The visual interface allows them to see their progress toward individualized goals, as well as the impact of their present decisions on their future outcome. Those kinds of visuals make everyday abstract financial decisions more concrete and meaningful.  

4. Make fintech personal.

One of the biggest barriers to wider adoption of fintech apps is perceived risk in entrusting our hard-earned finances to a computer program. While we appreciate the power of technology, it also concerns us. For security reasons, many would rather bank with a man than with a machine. 

Managing wealth through an app need not involve such a Manichaean choice, of course. Some of the most engaging new platforms adopt a hybrid approach. Consider Betterment, an investment tool that delivers advice from real-life financial experts through smartphone apps. Users get the best of both worlds: the convenience of a mobile experience backed by the trustworthiness of seasoned brokers.

The latest in fintech applications is continuing to change the way we think about our banking. Gone are the clunky user interfaces of yesteryear. To survive in the competitive landscape of financial tools today, designers are creating experiences that are more personalized, increasingly automated, and more visually engaging for users. That’s making banking easier and more enjoyable for a growing mass of customers — a sign of the rapidly shifting financial services industry.