The current state of Savings with Koho

Building Savings With Koho

One of the values that is most important to me is to use my position in life to help people. I’ve always viewed my job as a designer at Koho through the lens of how this service can help to improve the lives of the people who use it. One of the ways I know Koho is doing this is by making it easy to save money.

Money is a tool.

It’s not the denotation of your human value that sometimes it seems in our modern world, but rather it’s a device that gives you access to the life you want to live.

When you’re not worried about money you can think about the other more abstract factors of your life, like what really makes you happy, while the opposite feeling of financial scarcity causes people to become closed off, negative, and protective of what little they have. With this in mind and the fact that according to recent studies 56% of Canadians have less than $1000 in the bank at any given time I knew we had an opportunity to make a real difference.

Money helps you get what you want.

I started with a simple question:

How might we make it easy for people to save money?


1 — Research it and make a guess

When we started working on this Koho was only 3 people: the CEO Daniel Eberhard, CTO Charles Iliya Krempeaux, and myself. Resources were in short demand, making it all the more imperative we build the right thing.

I scoured the internet for resources on how to save money effectively and the number one thing that kept coming up was to automate the process. The less someone has to do the easier it is to make it happen. According to Ramit Sethi the author of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” automation is the first step and most important thing you can do to start empowering yourself financially and making sure you stay on track.

Another way I researched was to run informal interviews with people I knew on how they saved money and what was working for them. I quickly learned from these chats that saving money was hard for most people and there was a real problem to solve.

Later on in these conversations, I pitched the idea of automated savings to gauge excitement. Turns out people really wanted it. With this in mind we settled on building an automated savings feature and made sure it got built into the first version of the Koho app.


Test early and often

2 — Test & learn

It’s important to get something into peoples hands and begin testing early, quickly integrate feedback and test again. I try to follow the Lean UX process while remaining flexible to business demands throughout the length of the process.

I started sketching how it might look and work, then moved into wireframes, and working it in Sketch towards higher fidelity. I gathered feedback on this work and after I felt satisfied I moved on to an inVision screen-flow prototype. After that, a higher fidelity prototype constructed in Flinto was used to flesh out the interactions, details, and animations.

I gathered feedback from my coworkers and friends every time I built a prototype. I would then take this information back into sketch and make adjustments. Once I was satisfied that the system and interface made sense it was time to move on.

Some early versions of Goals (from quick and dirty to more refined) that helped us learn quickly but ultimately failed to make the cut. (2015)

3 — Get it built

After gaining some validation on the prototype we decided to build a version of it in code. To keep it simple in the beginning we decided to make the smallest useful version of this concept to test it out in the wild. We built what is called an MVP (Minimum Viable Product).

At Koho we use the Skateboard > Scooter > Bike > Motorcycle > Car concept. Start with the smallest but still useful model (skateboard) and build it out to be able to test, get feedback, and refine along each stage. As we get closer and closer to the end (car) we know we’ve built the right thing.

If we were to jump straight to the full featured product it would probably work, but wouldn’t be nearly as awesome as if we collected feedback along the way.

Now that Goals was working with real money in the wild it was time to… test more!

The first version of Goals we built (2015)

4 —Learn from it

Once this first version was constructed it was time to run a series of usability tests. I arranged one on one meetings with 7 individuals and I got them to run through a series of tasks with the app to see if it the mental model we were using made sense.

One of the biggest findings was people really wanted to be able to customize their own intervals for saving. Saving a bit each day was harder for people to mentally map than a set amount each paycheque, each week, or each month. The main way people wanted to be able to save was when they got paid, (which makes a lot of sense to me, and would be my preferred way to save). A big finding from this process was that we needed to make the system more flexible.

We also founds flaws in the UI that were causing repeated user errors across multiple usability tests.

With usability testing complete I wrapped up these findings and presented them to my team (which had grown to 6 people by this point) to get their buy-in and continue to improve Goals.

Part of a presentation about the usability testing feedback that I presented to my team that illustrates some of the flaws in the UI.

With Koho having so few employees at the time other priorities cropped up and new features were pushed up the priority list. We ended up shelving the improvement of Goals in order to tackle more pressing elements such as building e-transfers, direct deposit and real time feed of transactions. We were trying to compete with big banks which takes a lot of work, and a lot more elements than just saving money.

During this time we had soft launched Koho to a bunch of beta testers to better understand how the product was working for them. Through this we got a lot of positive feedback about goals and constructive criticism on how we could improve it. A lot of this lined up directly with the feedback from usability testing.

With another data point my product manager and I decided it was time to bring goals back up for the next round of iteration.


5 — Refine it

No feature is ever truly finished as there is always room for improvement. With the information we’d gathered we decided to refine our MVP, moving one step closer to that car. Unfortunately we were unable to update the backend functionality of Goals at this point due to code base complexities we didn’t have time to fix. We were limited to a visual update of the UI which we based on findings from our earlier usability testing.

The next version of goals we built (2016)

After our visual update we got the go ahead to refine the functionality we had been working towards since the early interviews. We knew this was going to be much more complex than a simple UI update. To figure out our next steps we used a process called user story mapping.

This process is great because it heavily focusses on ideation and discovery which was exactly what we wanted to explore.


Brief aside: The process of User Story Mapping is like this.

Step 1: The Story

The story is primarily the list of steps and actions that your imaginary user would take during a specific time frame. If you were designing for someone taking a flight you might map out a longer timeline of them looking for the flight online, making the decision, time at the airport, time on the plane, picking up their bags, the trip etc.

To make the story each participant takes 5–10 minutes individually to write out every step they can think of on a post-it note. Once everyone is done you take all the post-its and create one horizontal timeline of all the events, piling duplicates on top of each other.

For our process with Goals we wrote out each step a user might take during one day, from waking up to going to bed.

Step 2: Brainstorming!

In this part of the process you get all participants to write out as many ways your service could interact with your timeline. The goal here is quantity not quality.

For us we spent some time individually again for 5–10 minutes to write every possible way Koho could interact with a user’s story to help them save money, each on its own post-it note.

Step 3: Voting

We then combined all our ideas and lined them up where they fit on the timeline. We each got three votes each to pick the ideas that we thought could have the most positive impact and found a way to really increase the functionality of goals.

What we learned:

We realized that it wasn’t just about putting money away into a savings account, it was about helping people make the correct decisions when it comes to their money.

We found that we’d be able to extend goals to be more along the lines of envelope budgeting and make it a more complete but flexible tool. In doing this users would better understand how much money they had to spend and would make better choices accordingly.

Our User Story Mapping

Where we’re at now:

Repeating the cycle

We combined our insights from our user story process with data we had gained from user interviews, usability testing, secondary research, and user feedback collected through our in app chat.

To figure out this system we took out all the things we wanted it to do and designed modular inputs that worked together to allow maximum flexibility while balancing ease of use.

We took each input we might want to use during setup and put it on a post-it note. We then did the same for ways people would want to move funds from a Goal, and how they might edit or adjust it as they lived with the budget/goal/envelope.


We then mapped out each of the different combinations we could imagine for savings and budgeting to see if they fulfilled each scenario we could imagine, and to our delight the system worked!

All our inputs and ways of adjusting a savings goal
All they ways you might want to save money combined with all the inputs you might need.
We also mapped out various screen flows to determine which setup made the most sense.

It was designed to be super simple to set up, and would have all your money automatically go where it needs to be.

Imagine you put your paycheque into Koho. Then automatically all your expenses are set aside. Your rent, bills, subscriptions, savings etc are all in their proper “buckets” or “envelopes”.

The amount you want to spend on groceries is automatically in a grocery budget without you having to lift a finger. When you purchase groceries the funds automatically come out of this bucket, and it draws down until you put in another paycheque and it fills back up again.

It would be easy to see just how much you had left and budget accordingly. It would also be flexible enough to be easily adjusted as you learn more about your spending habits.

The beauty is that once all your expenses are set aside and automated what’s left you can spend guilt free. In Koho we call this balance “Spendable”

Most people spend as much money as they have, so if it automatically moves aside what you need to live then you’d only spend the portion that’s allocated for free spending, curbing unnecessary over spending.


Once we had the flow, the system, and the ideal outcomes of the feature figured out I took these ideas and distilled them into screens and prototypes to begin testing our hypothesis.

Turns out people loved the idea!

One direction we’ve explored for the future of Koho’s savings feature — Prototype below (2017)

After some testing with the prototype we figured out that while a flow made sense people also wanted to be able to see all the options of their goals at once. So we iterated again and settled on a flow that ended with a summary as shown below. Unfortunately priorities popped up again and Goals got shelved for a while longer.


Finally we got the chance to apply all our learnings and rebuild goals. We redesigned the UI system in place across the app so once that was done we totally overhauled the visual design of Goals. We’ve also added tools like RoundUps and PowerUps to Koho’s savings arsenal in the process.

This is where Goals are at now:

Current state of Savings with Koho including Goals, RoundUps and PowerUps (2018)

This is always a work in progress and we’re still redesigning the saving experience with Koho to make it an incredibly flexible and powerful tool for saving money. I can’t wait to try out the next iterations and I’m excited to provide Canadians with a tool that could help facilitate their dreams.

Thanks for your time!