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Digital banking for all

by Peter Ballard
25th March 2021

I recently sat down with The Times, as part of the Money 2021 report.

I offered my perspective on what digital banking means for older customers based on research we’ve done with leading financial providers over the last two decades.

Although older people are likely to be less confident using digital, at base they still want exactly the same thing as anyone else; intuitive, easy to use, and secure ways to manage their money.

The following is an extract, taken from a long-form article on banking for all published in The Times by Raconteur.

Do traditional banks often overlook the UX and design needs of older customers? And how much does reliance on legacy technology and systems hold UX back?

It’s not so much a fault of legacy technology holding traditional banks back, it is also ‘legacy thinking’. Until the pandemic, the accepted wisdom in most traditional banks assumed older customers preferred traditional banking methods. They still tended to see digital banking as part of a channel choice they offered to customers, and therefore those that didn’t choose digital were expressing a preference for branch or telephone banking. What this ignored was how some people felt excluded from digital banking because it was poorly designed for their own needs or levels of comfort with technology.

Digital-only banks didn’t have this choice, they focused entirely on the digital channel. As a result, they tended to invest heavily and early in UX, as they saw this as their main USP. They had to make banking so easy and effortless that it tempted customers away from their traditional bank. These start-ups built UX into their product development process and took customer feedback throughout the design of their digital experiences. This paid off in easy-to-use apps and slick processes that addressed the pain points that traditional banks were failing to address. 

By targeting a small subset of everyone needing financial provision it’s easier for digital banks to understand their customers because there’s a smaller range of customers to understand. In turn, they only have to meet a small subset of their customers’ financial needs, whilst many also don’t have complicated financial products in market.

That said, the needs of ‘older’ customers are sometimes overstated. At a basic level, older customers want the same as younger customers: intuitive, easy to use and simple to understand ways of managing their money. It’s a fallacy to think older customers are scared of digital. What they're scared of is going wrong with their money – just like anyone. If user interfaces weren't so polluted with sales and marketing content, consumers would feel more confident. 

In truth, traditional banks don’t overlook the needs of older customers any more than digital banks do, but that’s because they’re not targeting these customers, so they don’t need to design for their needs. I think by design digital-only banks are less capable of serving older (less digital-ready) customers because they have no way of easing customers into digital, whereas high-street banks have branches - irrespective of how intuitive and sleek their user interfaces are. A big issue for older customers is security too, and I’m yet to see a challenger bank do anything compelling around security, whereas messaging around security is commonplace with high-street banks.

One area where both digital banks and traditional banks can do better for their older customers is thinking about the devices they support and larger screen formats. Some of the limitations for older customers is their preference for say an iPad over an iPhone, as this makes things easier to see and is better for pinpointing their touch on buttons. I’d like to see more done in this area specifically.

Another area is onboarding, as mentioned people aren’t afraid of digital banking, but they are afraid of making mistakes with their money, a more tailored onboarding experience will boost confidence and help them manage their money better. We could also see more in voice-enabled banking, to help poor-sighted or restricted dexterity users.

How can traditional banks go about designing empathy into their digital solutions?

When speaking about designing empathy, people often talk of doing this by making technology more human. But people misinterpret this as making technology like a human and end up making bad chatbots that are overly friendly that frustrate or confuse customers. Ultimately, a bank is there to be trusted with your money, they’re not meant to be your mate, and nobody wants them to be.

On that basis, designing empathy means:

  • Providing people with support when they need it, and not hiding the option to contact the bank. 
  • Allowing people to speak with a real human when they need to. 
  • Being conscious of the differing and ever-changing financial needs of people and supporting them based on what you know about them.
  • Being conscious of and accounting for the differing access needs of customers (from temporary to situational and permanent impairments).
  • Not overloading customers with information or judging them. Provide them with the information they need and let them decide whether this is positive or negative and give them the option of assistance if they indeed deem it negative.

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