What makes a great fintech user experience?

I’m Head of Product at WorldRemit, a service which lets people send money home to their family and friends living in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In this role, I’ve experienced first hand the unique UX challenges that face fintech companies. Here are three things I’ve learned over the last two years about what makes a great fintech user experience and how to build one.

The WorldRemit app

1. Designed so well you forget it’s fintech

Traditionally, banking and personal finance apps have left a lot to be desired in terms of user experience. They are rarely designed with the user in mind, have cluttered interfaces and often rely nauseatingly on a single brand colour (Santander, I’m looking at you). These apps typically have a restricted set of functionality, showing that they still consider the mobile experience an add-on, not a core way for users to interact with their service.

In contrast, the new wave of fintech companies, like WorldRemit, Acorns, Mondo, Venmo and Osper are focused on building products that can hold their own against the best of consumer apps. This approach is summed up by a quote I heard recently at a conference:

If we design it well enough, perhaps they won’t know it’s a financial service at all.

In practice, this means clean, simple interfaces, and a focus on what the user is really trying to do. These companies use the same techniques the best tech companies use, developing in quick iterations and making improvements based on real world user feedback.

This is no small challenge, given the regulatory constraints under which financial services operate, which means that just as other apps are stripping out the ‘friction’ from their process, we are continually required to add more in.

2. Keeping it simple despite the regulation

Almost all fintech services have to adhere to KYC (Know Your Customer) and AML (Anti-Money Laundering) regulations, which specify that the company must collect enough information to confidently verify the identity of their clients. We at WorldRemit and others in the industry have spent a huge amount of time working out how we can guide users easily through our process, when in certain cases we may have to ask them for up to 25 pieces of personal information.

Some approaches to simplifying the KYC process are:

  1. Don’t ask for it all upfront. This is standard UX best practice these days, but even more important when you’re going to need a lot of information. When somebody registers with WorldRemit, we ask for the bare minimum information, and only when they are about to complete their first transfer (and are therefore confident they want to use our service) do we ask for the rest, e.g. address, date of birth, gender.
  2. Take as much of the burden off the customer as possible. A basic way to meet your KYC requirements is to ask people to send in photocopies of their passport and bills, but this is a huge inconvenience to users. WorldRemit has integrated with multiple partners, such as Experian’s ID service, to try to provide a positive ID match for someone based on information they’ve already told us. Only in the cases where this fails do we ask them to submit photo ID.
  3. Explain yourself. Users deserve an explanation for why you’re asking for certain information. We need to know people’s date of birth in order to successfully verify their identity, but unfortunately people lie about their age on the internet. For whatever reason, possibly because it felt too personal, people would often fill in the date of birth field with a fake answer. Since we added the explanation that this information had to match the date on their passport so that we could confirm their identity and keep their information safe, the accuracy (honesty?) has increased dramatically.
  4. Set expectations. Many processes in financial services transactions are outside of the control of the fintech company users interact with. For example, the investment startup Nutmeg lets users transfer in their existing ISAs, and although signing up to Nutmeg is simple, because of banking processes, the whole process can take 15–30 days. Their design lead recently explained at a fintech meetup that the key to happy customers in this kind of situation is managing their expectations with good copy.

I believe the next set of advances in this area will come from machine learning models and intelligent application of realtime data to give people a different experience depending on their estimated likelihood of being a fraud or compliance risk.

3. Making people feel secure

But there is a risk in making the process too easy. Some companies are overstepping the mark and learning this the hard way — consider the bad press that Venmo received for not providing basic security checks to prevent criminals from taking over people’s accounts.

But, more interestingly, user expectations reflect this. I was pretty surprised when I did my first round of user testing at WorldRemit and every single participant told me they were pleased that we required them to enter a PIN to open our app: it wasn’t difficult for them to do, and it made them feel safe.

Fintech is different. Trust and security are as important as simplicity. This isn’t messaging or photo sharing, having a slick UI means less than proving to people that you’re keeping their information, and above all their money, safe.

High-profile security breaches like the TalkTalk hack in 2015 have not gone unnoticed. People now expect companies to go above and beyond to protect customer data — especially sensitive financial information.

This means that, unlike in other industries, verification and identification steps are not seen as obstructive but as part and parcel of a trustworthy service, and additional layers of security can provide more confidence in the service.

Ultimately, a great fintech UX is different from a great UX for a messaging app. The best fintech companies are working to strike the balance between keeping things simple and keeping things safe for the user.