Chase Farro

For unbanked millennials — A Bill Payment Credit Program

Yumeng Ji
Yumeng Ji
Jan 16, 2018 · 8 min read


This is a client project I’ve done in the MFA program in Interaction Design at School of Visual Arts. I worked with two teammates on the challenge to design a banking application for JPMorgan Chase. Chase Digital sought to discover and serve the needs of unbanked Millennials whose behaviors defy historic banking use cases. Our solution won the 2017 Top Solution Award, SVA IXD.

Time and duration: From September 2017 to December 2017

My Role and responsibilities: Product designer, User researcher and Strategist. In a team of three, I performed revelatory ethnographic research, identify essential problems and provided innovative solution.

Collaborators: Andrea Kang, Ke Hu

“As one of the major financial institutions, what service, app, or product could Chase create to help the unbanked to access all of the functionalities that we have on a daily basis from a bank? How can we build trust with customers who don’t usually trust financial institutions?”

— Wilbert Gutierrez, the Vice President, User Experience Design Lead at JPMorgan Chase:

The Problem:

17% of millennials in the US do not have access to a bank account. And even if they do, they choose not to have one.

In 2017, roughly 17% of millennials in the U.S, were institution unbanked — they have neither a checking nor a savings accounts with a bank, credit union or savings & loan institution.

17% of millennials in the US do not have access to a bank account

Our Solution:

Farro — A Bill Payment Credit Program

Farro is a unique checking account that features smart bill payment and a built-in credit growth system to help users improve their financial capability over time.

Design Process

Phase 1.1: Understand the Users

User Research — Desk Research and User Interview

Who are Millennials?

What are they saying, thinking and doing?

We conducted interviews with 8 unbanked millennials and 4 banked millennials in the Bronx and Bedford-Stuyvesant. All of these users were intercepted at check cashing services and pawn shops.

How do they spend and manage money without bank?

  • Our current users rely mostly on cash and manage their money in their head. Whether their first step of receiving income comes from a direct deposit to a prepaid card, a check, or cash — the second step is always to convert this income to cash. The third step is distributing that money to their respective living expenses: rent, utilities, money they need to give their parents, phone bills, etc. Perhaps the user sets some money aside in savings, in a shoebox or elsewhere. Then, they end up with cash in their pocket — money they are “free to spend.”
  • Alternative Financial Services (AFS) provide a quicker and easier solution than bank does. Bank is not the only place offering financial services. These millennials are using alternative financial services, such as check cashing and prepaid card, For them, AFS can solve the problem in front of them right away and meet almost all their needs, which makes them feel in control of their money and life. That’s their comfort zone.

Phase 1.2: Identify the intrinsic cause of the problem

Research Result Analysis

Why are they unbanked?

We aligned all the obstacles users are encountering based on their banking journey and try to figure out what are those break points that stop them using bank.

Chase bank expects financially stable customers. Chase services are designed for someone with a consistent income in certain pay bracket. They expect the user to open a bank account, and meet a minimum monthly balance, pay maintenance fees and keep track of their balances. However, our users are financially in survival mode. There are too many obstacles to get bank’s services for our users. High minimum balances and unreasonable overdraft fees. These overdrafts drain people’s bottom line until they default on their own bank accounts and get kicked out of the banking system entirely. This gets those people blacklisted from the banked world and it’s hard to get back in.

What are some consequences staying outside the bank system?

  • AFS hurts because it cost money and and they’re not necessarily cheaper than banks.Those fees can range from $3 to 10% of the entire paycheck. At the same time, AFS is not leading them to financial future, it’s not healthy and sustainable. However, AFS has a long-term risk which is the high services fee caused unhealthy spending, and it’s helpless for them to become more transparent in the mainstream financial world.
  • Time-consuming and stressful. All of the money management is manual and fragmented. They’re spending time at check cashers, dividing up cash between bills, keeping track of due dates. Remember they’re in survival mode and paying off their bills on time is the most important thing. Yet their process is time-consuming and stressful.
  • Good behaviors are not credited. These people are not very different from banked people. They’re employed and paying bills on time. They are performing their responsibilities well. However, because they’re operating money outside of the bank system, none of these positive behaviors are being tracked. They lose the opportunity to build credit

Phase 2.1: Perceive opportunities from obstacles

  • Improve the way they manage money to help them in control of their life. The user has to juggle multiple steps to get this “free to spend” cash. While they feel in control of their spending (and do meet their financial responsibilities), it’s difficult for them to track their spending and saving over time.
  • Build sustainable relationship between bank and millennials. The problems like blacklist, ID issues, high maintenance fee and overdraft fees led the difficulties for our users to keep a long term relationship with bank. However, those people are in their stage of just start building their financial future, they are valuable clients for bank in the future. It worth to build a long term relationship with them from very beginning.
  • Build trust through educating them banks’ credit system. Our users are not financially educated very well to understand how a good credit score can be beneficial for their whole life, and they also lack of the awareness that they should track their financial behavior to gain credit score as early as possible.

Phase 2.2: Design

Product details:

Auto-customized Budgeting

Users can divide their checking funds between two buckets: a “Fixed Amount” and a “Free to Spend.” Users create their “Fixed Amount” by registering their monthly bills. This allows them to see progress towards paying bills vs. how much they can spend.

Register And Pay Bills In-App

With Farro, users can connect bills like rent, utilities, or phone bills and pay directly inside the app, When users locked enough money the bucket, user can pay it directly through Farro — saving time, effort and money.

Building Credit

Once a user pays their registered bills on time and in full for 6 consecutive months, they are offered Farro credit limited to the total amount of their bills. This allows users to pay their Farro credit statement and build their credit score, without changing their financial responsibility or behavior.

Phase 3: Pitch Farro

Product Value:

Farro achieves 3 things:

  • It removes any access barriers so our users can actually afford a Farro account. That means no overdraft fees, no maintenance fee, no minimum balance.
  • Farro has a built-in expense management tool. Inside the checking account, you can connect bills like rent or utilities and pay directly in the Farro interface — saving time, effort and money.
  • we provide a credit line based on proven bill pay. By offering a credit line limited to the total amount of their bills, our users can learn to pay off a predictable, comfortable amount of credit. And they can always control the amount they accept.

Why Customers Trust Farro?

  • The design of our application helps them feel the tangibility of their money and understand their bill situation at a glance.
  • All of Farro’s core functionalities mirror the users’ core needs, meaning Farro has an immediate effect on their everyday lives.
  • We empower users to control their credit and payment methods so they’re always in the driver seat.
  • At the end of the day, it’s obvious we’re in the business of building their financial future.

Why Banks Trust Farro?

  • New accounts opened, means more online transactions and more revenue.
  • By creating a more sustainable relationship, we can generate higher retention rates, financial growth and ensure our users graduate into other bank products like an unsecured credit card.
  • We also have the opportunity to gather important data on how our customers manage their money. Not only will we have more accurate risk evaluation, but we also learn customers’ typically hidden pain points that can inform our strategy and identify what’s missing from a bank’s existing products.

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