Navigating through Financial Elder Abuse
A UX case study
As I was listening to Jay tell us how his mother was exploited, it became apparent how difficult financial elder abuse can be.
His father had passed away leaving his mother a large estate in Montana. After which his sister and brother-in-law moved closer to their mother to “help” with the finances. Unfortunately, they began to slowly whittle away at her properties and holdings, preying on her vulnerability and trust. They took control and sold almost all her assets, and ruined her finances. It wasn’t until she was dependent on the state to keep the electricity on, that Jay realized what had happened to his mother.
Financial elder abuse is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. Seniors lose an estimated $3 billion a year. Financial elder abuse is when someone improperly uses a senior’s money or property. It is tough to combat, in part because it often goes unreported. The victims are often too confused, fearful or embarrassed by the crime to report it. And government officials learn of only 1 in 44 cases.
My team and I were challenged to design a website that aimed to help the elderly. It would help them report fraud, find help, relate with others’ experiences and provide resources. This was an excellent opportunity for me to learn about this topic, see what already existed for it and find out if I could improve on existing designs.
Meet The Team
As a team, there was equal participation in the research, ideation and user mapping phases. After which I separated to work on my own sitemap, wireframes, low and high fidelity designs, and usability testing.
Design Thinking Process
Since this was a sensitive subject, I used the Design Thinking Process to focus on empathizing with the users and accurately defining the problem and solutions.
Learning From Jay
I knew right off I would need to talk to someone that had experienced financial elder abuse. I reached out to multiple groups until I found Jay’s story on Facebook. As stated earlier, he was very helpful in answering all of our questions and more.
I learned from Jay that policies and laws are created state by state. Often times, the state official isn’t in charge of only this one area. They also handle other topics like child protective services and more. Because financial elder abuse is new in terms of policies and laws, it is often left out on the limb.
Jay also explained that many government officials don’t know how to handle financial elder abuse. He became frustrated that he had to tell them how to do their jobs.
One thing I’ll always remember from this project came from the interview with Jay. When talking about the abusers he said “Abusers never apologize, they never accept that what they did was wrong. Victims need to know what happened to them was wrong. And they should never be ashamed when they empower themselves to reach out to find help.”
Part of our research included a Financial Elderly Fraud Survey for our friends on social media. The results showed that about half of them knew others that had been victimized by financial elder abuse. Yet, few of them had any ideas where to report an incident. Most would likely report fraud to a bank or a lawyer.
Have you or someone you care for experienced Financial Elderly Fraud?
What resources do you know of to help those that have experienced fraud?
- “I think the bank can help if it has come from your bank account.”
- “Call an attorney and a bank.”
- “I have no idea.”
- “Help abounds for the elderly.”
I also found experts at the Aging Services Administrative Office located in Utah. Debbie, the Education Specialist in the Field, and Kris, one of the Financial Auditors, were eager to talk with us. They defined the three biggest obstacles with financial elder abuse: lack of reporting, the shame victims feel due to isolation and the public’s lack of awareness of how to deal with elder abuse.
Listening to all these different voices helped us understand the breadth of the situation and how crucial it is to:
The research centered around both the victims and their loved ones. Given that it would come down to the victims to seek out help we created the primary persona around them. Their loved ones would inspire a secondary persona.
Margaret McGee became our primary persona. She is at risk of becoming a victim of financial elder abuse. Margaret’s goals and frustrations steered the creation of content and design to be empathetic, accessible, empowering and simple. George Steinhorst became our secondary persona. His goals and frustrations led the designs to provide pertinent resources and concise contacts.
When I was performing card sorts I realized people approach the problem differently. Some of the participants viewed things analytically, while others viewed them as educational.
Later during testing I found some users didn’t understand what an “advocate” meant for them, so I changed it from “advocate” to “specialist” as one of the project sponsors suggested. I wanted to make sure I addressing the correct persona in the correct places.
From the card sort I learned that informative copy would also be critical. Just because I understood the meaning of a card, it didn’t mean Margaret would see the same meaning.
For example, I noticed from a card titled “Videos” that there were many different questions about the characteristics of the video; Such as: What is the Video about? Who is in the video? Is it a prevention video? Is it an educational video? Is it a video about a first-hand experience?
I learned that non-descriptive categories or tasks would be difficult for Margaret to understand because they wouldn’t know what to expect. I would need to add descriptions below each topic name.
User Story Mapping
Creating the user story map was not simple. There was much debate when we created the user story map. Ultimately, it centered on providing what Margaret needed.
Part of the team wanted a web assist to help the elderly in navigating the website. I felt Margaret would view this new technology as confusion and would ultimately reject it, so the web assist was taken out.
We also had two forms of reporting financial abuse, over the phone and an online submission. The online form was taken out because Margaret may fear giving her information out over the internet. I placed it back into the designs later on. The online form needed to be there as a call to action as you’ll see further on.
After user story mapping, I learned that the designs for the web site would need to be simplified. I would need to use mental models of the elderly to create a positive experience. One mental model is how the elderly get their news. They tend to get it through the evening or morning television news broadcasts. Because of this mental model, video learning became a key component of the website.
Designing For desktop
I then worked on design for the desktop. At first I wireframed some intricate transitions. I wanted the screens to slide one on top of the other as you moved between them to give depth. But given the time constraints I had to pull back my designs. I ended up designing the website for desktop so new screens would simply appear as the previous one disappeared. In the end, this was a good choice. I believe complex transitions would have deterred Margaret rather than helped her.
I updated my style through different iterations and drew inspiration from material.io design guidelines.
Call To Action Needed!
When updating to high-fidelity I found my homepage didn’t have a clear call to action. In that iteration Margaret would only be coming to the current iteration if she wanted to learn.
This reminded me of a lesson from working in home improvement retail. People don’t visit home improvement stores because they want to learn about plumbing. They come because something has happened to their home. Their basement is flooding from a leaky pipe, or their toilet is overflowing and they can’t figure out why.
The same principle applies to a website or an app. People seek out informational websites out of need, not out of curiosity.
In this case, fraud has occurred and Margaret needs help. So I made sure a “REPORT FRAUD” button would be on the top of each header. In addition, I placed a simple form on the home page to help her search for an attorney or other specialists. I also wanted a familiar face as a spokesperson in a video. I felt Reba McEntire would explain how to begin to recover from financial elder abuse while conveying trust and empowerment.
Earlier I mentioned the online submission form was taken out of the MVP, fearing it would scare Margaret. Looking at other sites forms I could see why. Their forms are long, complex and seem to ask for more information than necessary.
But the form needs to be there!
I re-designed it to be as simple as possible. I phrased it to help guide Margaret through the form. The form also gives her the option to put in as many or as little details as the victim feels safe to share. She could then choose her method of being contacted. And by providing their state, a local official who knows their local laws would reach out to her.
For accessibility and a safe environment, I worked in blues and grays with plenty of white space to create trust and empathy. I used large text with plenty of line spacing, to allow visibility and fluidity. I also made sure there was visible feedback with hover states to inform users of what is clickable.
I also wanted to use material design guidelines as much as possible, so I referenced back to material.io to verify I was following proper guidelines as closely as possible.
From testing it became even more apparent that videos would become a large part of this website. Project sponsors that helped with testing responded well to the idea of videos in each screen. One project sponsor expressed it would be an “easy way to understand things.”
I was happy to see that users were able to move through the design with relative ease in my second round of usability testing. Some users found places where the text was center aligned and I noticed their reaction to it. They commented how strange it was to have it center aligned and that it was hard to read. I made sure to change those screens to left-align body text.
Conclusion and Learnings
The goal was to design a website that aimed to help the elderly navigate through financial elder abuse. Testing showed users could navigate through the site and would help. By acknowledging the personas and using material.io design guidelines I feel I was able to design a cohesive consistent site that achieved the goals that were set forth.
Looking back though, I recognize I could have spent more time testing. I also wish I had build fast and failed fast. There was much I didn’t know and there is much I still don’t fully comprehend. If I was given the chance to design again for this challenge, I’d love to see how I could take it one step further.
Thank you for taking the time to read! Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn!