Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Check Banking Light

Let me go go a little bit off-topic in this post, but don't despair, financial services user experience will be part it as well.

Discussing about the subject of this blog, I found myself talking with family and friends about how pervasive the "design for designers" (in opposition to users) is.

During this exchange we marvelled at the "check engine" light in the dashboard of most if not all cars. In our experience, the most common situation is where this indicator lights up when the fuel tank cap has been left partially opened (note that we all subject our cars to regular maintenance).

While I assume that this is technically correct, read at the end of the post for a detailed explanation... I did, because I don't know the difference between a carburetor and a windshield wiper.

To make matters worse, the light is usually shaped as a motor... so, no fuel cap. And yes, I know the difference between a fuel cap and a motor.

So, WHY? why? oh why? someone decided that they will label the light "check engine"???!??! Even "Check engine and fuel cap" light will be more helpful! Or a cheap sensor and a cable to inform the onboard computer that the cap is off.

The point is that the check engine light is technically correct, but not very useful to uninitiated users.

This very simple example helps illustrates that people are an afterthought in design in many if not all domains. And that sometimes the wrong shape/image can make things even worse.

So, back to financial services.

Have you seen Personal Finance Management tools that many financial institutions are deploying? Well, I feel most of them are kind of the "check engine light"... what should you do with the data they are showing? A bit of red means that your financial fuel cap is off or that your financial car is going to collapse? Explanation is a must, and green/red lines, pies or bars are only helpful if they have the uninformed user in mind and they are more than visual shortcuts for the financial professional.

Here is the information about the check engine light.

Why can the absence of a simple gas cap cause the check engine light to illuminate?
The fuel system in your car is a sealed system that traps harmful gas fumes. If the gas cap is left off then gas is able to escape from the system. When this happens, a self-test of the performance system detects this “leak” in the EVAP (Evaporative Emissions System) and the check engine light comes on, and a code is stored.

More in Can Leaving the Gas Cap Off Harm Your Car?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The NFC advantage that counts... for the people

There is a lot of buzz nowadays about if NFC is going to be THE payment medium of the future or if QR codes, geofencing, bumping or any other technology is going to dethrone the king even before it becomes the king... even if the future of payments is going to be dominated by not one, but an ensemble of competing technologies.

Curiously enough, those discussions regularly omit the benefits for the end user. And ultimate convenience when replacing the wallet completely and not just for payments.

The fact is that NFC is going outside the traditional payment/transport arena to other domains like identification or access control, like hotel doors and even social media business cards (see popwings.me if you don't believe me)

And while as security enthusiast I can vouch for the increased security NFC secure elements can offer if surrounded by the proper trusted environment... I don't think consumers care that much about it or even distinguish it from other types of "secure" software-only apps.

But I'm writing this piece because I see NFC with one truly great advantage for the end users. And finally I think the battle will not be decided by the banks, payment networks, telcos or manufacturers (unless all of a sudden they ALL agree to work together). It will be decided by consumer adoption.

The advantage NFC has so far (it could change in the future) is the ability of "waking up" your phone and the corresponding app after tapping.

Think of it, you just pick your phone up and tap on your hotel door and the door opens or asks for a pin to open, tap on a POS (point of sale) and the proper payment app will be displayed, get close to your car and it will configure itself to you (assuming multiple drivers) and unlock the doors, getting into the office will open the door, boarding a plane? tap the sleeping phone; taking the metro? tap the gate and get the usual itinerary, going to the movies? tap and the select your extras... etc etc.

Can't you do all that with other techs? well yes and no... you could use bluetooth or WiFi, but you will need all the apps "monitoring" those channels actively... your battery will be gone in hours and not all the phones will be able to do it (iOS ones for example, but they don't support NFC either, so mixed thoughts here... btw it is not possible on Windows Phone either).

NFC still needs improvements like being able to set different payment apps for different shops or things like that. But it offers one big advantage over other contact-less ways of interaction: convenience.

Consumers want simpler, more convenient and more useful things, not the opposite... and they expect security. If key players in the industry start leveraging this advantage and the competitive technologies do not come up with something similar; NFC still has the opportunity of fulfilling its promise.

I don't want to take my phone, look through my 140 apps, choose the app, wait for it to open to, only then, open my house door, take the bus or pay for a coffee...

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Pumpkins, Santa, Valentine and eBanking

Last Halloween I happened to go to a bank branch... and it was decorated for the occasion, Jack-O-Lanterns, spider webs and some bats here and there... and it was fun... it felt like my the bank was relating to me and to the mood of the customers... after all Halloween was very present in our thoughts at the time. In my case because there was a party and people will disguise themselves and it will be fun, but I have friends with kids that were also in the mood because they shared those moments with them.

In a nutshell, the bank was part of the moment and it felt just right to see decorations like those.

Later that day I accessed my online banking... and nothing, exactly the same as the day before or even the month before for that matter.

It is an interesting situation, as I was only fortuitously at the branch during those days, but I access the online and mobile banking much more (several times a week).

Most probably, I missed the efforts made by the bank in the branches for other "social events"... I don't even know if they actually did something for these events.

So, shouldn't Online and mobile banking interfaces start dressing up for the occasion? Should, at the very least, interfaces respect these social events? Christmas, the new year, Valentine's day, thanksgiving,  Halloween, the national Day (independence, Canada's day, Saint Jean, etc), "take the bus" day, etc.

While mostly cosmetic, these changes can improve the "personality" of the bank and bring it closer to its customers. And that is a good thing, because we trust more and we care more about someone or something that is closer to us.

Happy holidays to all of you!

PS: and just as a test: have you spent more than the usual milliseconds looking at the cute Piggy Santa here? did it make you feel a teensy bit happier? why don't you tell me in the comment section?

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Richard Branson, Virgin, Banks and social media

Let's dive into one of the hottest subjects of the moment: social media (since I strongly believe in the perenity of this blog, I must add that we are in November of 2012... don't blame me if social media if no longer relevant in 2047 and you are reading this for the first time... and by the way: ask your parents about Facebook ;-)).

Banks like any other conceivable type of organization are trying to get Twitter followers, Facebook friends, LinkedIn connections and any other type of relationship in whatever social network there is... and so far... they're failing!

Funny, though, is that people working or owning those companies are faring much better than the companies themselves. Take:

- Richard Branson, 2.7 million followers in twitter, Virgin (all Virgins combined) less than a million.
- Fernando Alonso, 1.2 million followers, Ferrari, 350 thousands.
- Barack Obama, 21 millions, the white house 3 millions.
- Mark Cuban, 1.2M, the Dallas Mavericks, 240 thousands.
- Meg Whitman, 240K, HP, 160K.

So, people seems to be more interested in people than in organizations. As a matter of fact, the few (less than 10) companies in the top 100 twitter-followers ranking are news, sports or social media organizations. Traditional companies are way, way behind.

I think this by itself speaks volumes of how people relate to those traditional companies: they don't care much about them or the things they have to say.

But they care about the ways, thoughts and advice of the people linked to those companies... because they can empathize with those people... they can see them as talking in personal terms, even when a twitter is received by millions.

So companies trying to get more followers, fans, friends, etc need to relate to people more on a personal level and also talk more like they were people and not big abstract companies. Be more human and communicate to people, not just customers... relate, empathize, bond.

To complete the picture, facebook sheds a somewhat different light with a more mixed results, sometimes the people have more "likes"(Branson and Obama), sometimes the organizations have more (Ferrari, the Dallas Mavericks and HP).

The difference is due to how people perceive the different social networks, Twitter followers are expressing an interest on what the followee (person/company) has to say; in Facebook a lot of people like public figures or companies because it tells something about them and not because they are fully interested in what those have to say, it is more like a personal statement, I "like" Ferrari.

To be be clear, bank facebook "friends" are not a big lot... Bank of America has less than 700k "likes" in Facebook and 58k Twitter followers. In LinkedIn, BofA is faring in the middle with 250k followers. And Bank of America serves more than 55 million people! You can imagine almost all other banks (if not all of them) have worse follower/customer ratios.

If banks want to leverage the power of social networks as communication and engagement channels they need to start doing things differently as they are doing them today.

A few ideas:
- relate to the people, be more "fun" and social, trying to be as neutral as possible (the real personalized message should be delivered through online or mobile banking)
- get a spokesperson... a person or a character that has a distinct personality and can even be separated from the bank, that represents the bank, but it is not THE bank. Talking in first person is great to make connections.
- promote people... for those wanting their 15 seconds of fame... help them.

So, let's stop just doing damage control and answering tweets about online and mobile banking problems and start relating to people.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

paying bills is boring even with lipstick!

Continuing with my series of posts on improving online and mobile banking, this time (find here the previous entry) I will make a case for intermediation instead of, or in addition to, simplification.

Lately I've seen many technology providers and banks showcasing the new advances in mobile and online banking... nice pie charts that move, a couple of web 2.0 interactions and bill payment operations that show the logos of the utility companies.

No doubt we're living a modernization of banking sites and the whole digital banking experience, but it seems to me that the more things change, the more stay the same.

Take for example bill payments... you can add all the logos of the world and make them drop into de screen and show me how my payment is "being processed" with a progress bar... but you know what? I still find paying bills boring!

You can also show me my investment in mutual funds with a pie chart showing the distribution of assets among stocks, bonds and money markets, and allow me to click into one of them to see the whole composition of the segment... but, I still prefer to do other things than choosing funds and looking their composition.

Sure I want to make money, but for that I work and I have a bank to take care of the money I make. I feel that I belong to a group that represents the vast majority of people... we don't know how to take care of our banked money, we don't care enough about how to do it or simply we would rather be doing something else.

I like current efforts being made to simplify, beautify and enrich digital banking, but sometimes it seems like putting lipstick on a bill!...it will still be a bill ;-)

Instead on focusing how to make paying a bill nicer, let's remove it from the equation... automatize it... alert the user that a payment will take place and then do it. Give the power of veto as it gives the user the control over the operation, but don't force the user to pay it everytime.

Propose the funds that are best for the user, change them when needed and show the user the progress from time to time... again giving the control to the power user that wants to do it on her own.

And even if the user will visit less the banking app or site, the interaction either by alerts, mails and on the site will be much more meaningful.

Quantity should not be over quality... I interact with a bus driver everyday, but I'm not closer to him in any way... and if you remove him from the equation like in the subway I don't see the difference. But my usual cab driver when I go to the airport puts the kind of music I like and knows when to talk to me and when to leave me alone because I'm busy.

Let's make the new digital banking more engaging, more helpful, more valuable and more meaningful for the users.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Recalculating! the online and mobile banking...

Following my previous post where I revisited the obscure language online banking uses, let's dive now into where the emphasis is made in online and mobile banking.

Today online and mobile banking offers are built around banking and financial products, not customer objectives. Today, it is up to the customers to choose and operate those products in order to achieve  their goals. Of course the banks are there to help bridge the gap between goals and means, between wants and needs... usually in the form of human financial advisors in the branches.

But interaction with those advisors is getting less and less common (when was last time you popped into your bank branch?...), while the changes in the objectives and wants of the users change more and more frequently. Paradoxically customers interact with the banks more often than never before through online channels. The problem is that those channels predominantly focus only on the products and their management.

Last time I compared digital banking and healthcare... for this post let's compare it with a GPS.

If the GPS were built in the same way than online banking, then the interface would not ask you where you want to go, but if you want to know how fast you would like to drive your car in this moment, in towards which geographical direction; it would also tell you what are the streets in the next intersection and of course your current position... but it would never ask for your destination or show you how far are you from it. Being up to you to find the way to your destination, to estimate the time it will take you to get there in your current situation and perhaps more importantly to figure what to do if you make changes, to analyze the traffic ahead and basically every decision needed to get to where you want to go.

Continuing with the GPS analogy... financial advisors work for you like a GPS... they ask you where you want to go and set you on your way... but the analogy ends there... as the GPS knows when you make changes and adapt to them... "recalculating" sounds familiar? the GPS will adapt without you having to ask for it....and you can ask for it anytime as well.

Was it the right exit? Is this fund still the best for me? Let's stop for a coffee, how much it will delay my trip? I want a new car, how much it will affect my savings? or should I take a loan? Which type of loan? how much money should I put as down payment?

A digital banking interface that takes the users objectives at heart and puts all the financial instruments and products subordinated to those objectives will help the users much more than the opposite.

As examples: How much monthly money do I want for my retirement? How close am I from getting it? Can I change my car? What are my savings objectives? how close am I from reaching them? How can I have more money per month and what will be the consequences? And many more

Today, technologies exist to know when the customer took the wrong exit or her situation changed... and in any case, he/she should be able to tell you... and the online and mobile banking to tell her what's best for him/her.

Customer centricity, not banking product centricity is the future.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The obscure language of online banking

Let me ask you the following question: are you very familiar with a given topic? of course you are, either a hobby, a passion or a profession we are very familiar with, at least, a few subjects.

And of course, the subjects where you have that expertise have their own jargon, their own language... in mathematics you talk about integrals and linear functions, in programming about classes and exceptions, in healthcare about illnesses and obscure body parts, in finance you talk about bonds and credit margins. To the non-initiated those terms are sometimes cryptic or, perhaps even worse, misunderstood.

I find the comparison between healthcare and finance particularly revealing... when you go to the doctor and she tells you that your TSH is a bit too low and she would like an ultrasonography... you immediately want  to know what does that mean, if it is serious and why you need something that is usually used for pregnant women.

In finance the sense of urgency is usually much lower, but the language could be as baffling; simply when a credit card offers you 0% interest on transferred balance, but 1% fee for the first 6 months up to a limit of 25000 dollars; or when your banker tells you that you liquidity is a bit too low and your assets need more diversification.

And the situation gets worse if the non-expert must interact with tools and systems using those language...

Thankfully healthcare is mostly face to face and we can ask our physician what are those things she is saying and then we can act accordingly to this understanding...

Banking is less and less face to face. We are all converging to a world where banking through electronic channels, online or mobile, are the norm. These financial electronic toolboxes give us the ability to interact with our bank 24/7 and to do an amazing amount of things from any place we want... but

Most people are not financial experts and they are supposed to use this toolbox more or less on their own, sometimes without even a diagnosis, a financial situation analysis.

I bet almost nobody would consider doing electronic healthcare in the same way we do online banking... imagine that the accounts are your medical measurements and that you can choose what treatments you can apply on yourself... so, your accounts are cholesterol levels, TSH levels, glucose levels, blood pressure levels, etc and you can apply sonographies, antibiotics, anti-cholesterol pills,  etc. Nobody non-expert would do that (I'm even doubting experts would do it)... the risk is too great.

Thankfully the risk in banking is much lower, very rarely life and death, and people can make sound financial decisions when presented benefits and consequences in a clear and simple way that is in easy to understand.

Online banking solutions should factor in the people (yes, I unabashedly used the name of the blog ;-) ) presenting the information in clear layman’s terms, with clear benefits and consequences. This will lead to greater opportunities for users, more trust and more action, and for banks, increased loyalty and more sales.

As with many things, it is WHAT you say AND HOW you say it.

This is the first post on a series of posts on humanizing electronic banking (mobile and online) .