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4 reasons millennials don’t engage with personal finance (according to millennials)

By Explanation, Opinion, Opinion No Comments

Part 2 of a series on millennials and personal finance. You can read Part 1 here

We’re currently conducting research with a group of twentysomethings – our Millennial Cohort – to find out why millennials aren’t engaging with their personal finances in the same way as previous generations.

They’d already told us that they felt underserved by current budgeting and day-to-day financial management tools, so we challenged them to create their own. We asked them to visualise their personal finances however they wanted, using a variety of pens, paper and physical tokens (oh, and glitter and Play Doh).

What we discovered should be of interest to banks. Our four key takeaways were as follows:

1) Millennials distrust financial services companies, and struggle to care about their personal finances

“I don’t trust investment companies or insurance or that kind of stuff and I don’t really care about those issues”

This is what one participant told us, and the same sentiment was expressed by others. Millennials’ distrust of financial services companies is likely to be one reason why they are less loyal customers – and more willing than older generations to switch to neo-banks or potential services by firms such as Google and Amazon.

2) The ‘one size fits all’ approach to personal financial management is inadequate

An inflexible approach to digital person finance services is also restricting banks from building loyal, engaged relationships with millennial customers. One participant commented:

Usually with financial stuff it’s very restrictive. This was all completely under my control – the paper and everything was completely blank and I liked that.”

What they produced is below – and it’s certainly unlike any of the digital interfaces available from major banks today. Aesthetics aside, its focus on goal setting and future spending is in contrast to the historical transactions emphasised by most major banks’ personal finance tools.

Participants found the ability to personalise their ‘interface’ helpful

The current statement- and spreadsheet-based personal financial management tools that banks offer are impersonal, one-size-fits-all approaches that provide plenty of raw data, but little in the way of interpretation or analysis. For a generation which are already disengaged with their finances, the need to do the heavy lifting in terms of translating data into actionable strategies is a major barrier.

3) Budgeting is hard, scary and emotionally difficult to deal with.

Whilst millennials want to be able to financially plan, these are still a source of stress for many in this generation. Participants commented that they are “scared that [they’ve] spent more than they ought to” and that in the future they’ll realize “[they] should have been more careful”.

Reflecting this, some participants used the project as an opportunity to simplify the process of keeping track of their expenditures. Below, a box of beads gives an at-a-glance view of how a participant’s money was spent, with each colour representing a different type of purchase.

There was a common consensus even among those who professed not to currently care about their finances that they were aware that understanding and managing them would be important for the future. But finding personal finance, in the words of one participant, “a complicated, tangled thing”, full engagement often felt out of reach.

4) There are no associated specific ‘real world’ goals with personal financial planning.

 A struggle to make the personal data provided by their banks feel tangible or relevant to everyday life was a common thread among participants.

Several used the research project as an opportunity to start planning towards both long and short-term spending goals, such as trips abroad or reducing the amount they were spending on incidentals such as coffee.

One participant commented that bank data “is quite bland, because it’s just digits” while another added that the project’s visualisation challenge “made me more creative in thinking about my finances”. These insights are borne out in how participants approached the project, choosing to focus on representing specific goals rather than dealing with their financial data in the aggregate.

These four learnings indicate banks are missing the mark for millennials – and in world of open banking and booming fintechs, that’s bad news for those unwilling to change. Find out why banks should be worried about these findings.

If you’d like to understand how our research techniques can help your business understand its customers better, contact us at

Millennials don’t engage with personal finances. Here’s why banks should be worried about that.

By Opinion, Explanation No Comments

Part 1 of a series on millennials and personal finance. Don’t miss the next part – read it here

Traditional banks are struggling to engage with their younger customers. Do millennials simply think banking is boring, or is this a sign of a deeper problem? Why is it that the old guard of financial services find themselves having to offer cash incentives of £100 or more to make customers switch their current account, while neobank Monzo have a waiting list to sign up?

To help answer these questions and more, we’re in the process of conducting research with real twentysomethings – our Millennial Cohort. We want to know what they want from a bank – and why they feel they aren’t getting it from major financial institutions.

The initial results aren’t good for traditional providers. It’s evident that they’re failing to connect with this key target customer group both practically and emotionally: this message from one young professional to banks and financial institutions summarises the sentiment behind many of the responses we received:

‘I want something that shows [my financial data] as a life – I am more than a machine money comes in and out of.’

But it’s not only the inclusion of these features that participants have demonstrated that they value. Personalisation was also an area highlighted by many, with one participant commenting that:

“I think [personal financial management] depends on the person and it depends on how you feel about your expenses. So generalised systems do not work for everyone. You have to create your own.”

The “one size fits all” approach that most major banks – and even neobanks – take towards personal finance interfaces left participants cold. Beyond allowing transactions to be exported as spreadsheets, there’s little possibility for customising how financial information is presented. For participants, this meant that understanding their financial status and how to change it feels out of reach.

This should worry banks. The “open banking” initiative and its related legislation – such as PSD2, in force as of January this year – mean that there is a significant opportunity for enhanced personal financial customer experiences.

A large range of smaller ‘fintech’ firms now offer more sophisticated, more user friendly and more customisable tools than the major banks, and as “open banking” grows, the savviest banks will begin offering a selection of these to their customers.

What our research so far has begun to show is that banks who do not embrace these changes will be left behind. There is a significant gap among millennials between offerings and expectations in personal finance – and that has led us to commit to further direct research in this area, with the aim of delivering clear messages and guidance in this area to banks.

In our next part, we’ll look at four key learnings that have helped shape the next stage of the research. Don’t miss it – follow us.

If you’d like to understand how our research techniques can help your business understand its customers better, contact us at


Tottenham Hotspur, Rochdale FC, and the VAR system: a very public UX failure

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Wednesday night’s match between Tottenham Hotspur and Rochdale was one of the most public examples of botched UX in recent memory. The introduction of the new Video Assisted Refereeing (VAR) system made for a disjointed game with long pauses, 2 goals disallowed without explanation, and mystified and angry fans and players.

What’s more, it all happened in front of an audience of millions. What went wrong – and how could it have been prevented?

When the soccer authorities initially researched the idea of using VAR to support referees’ decision making, it’s almost certain that they asked fans, players and officials the question “Do you think a system that helps to increase the accuracy of the decisions by match officials is a good idea?”. The answer would, of course, have been a resounding “Yes”. No one wants a less fair game. But the caveat that might – or at least should – have accompanied that response was “As long as it is not detrimental to the atmosphere, passion and energy of the match”.

Good UX design factors in these kinds of caveats at an early stage. When you ignore them, you end up with the kind of mess the current VAR system is in. Wednesday night’s game was a classic example of a process that functioned correctly, but still dissatisfied users – having a vastly detrimental impact on the experience for fans, players, commentators and officials alike.

Their feedback is damning – Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino commented “I think football is about emotion. If we are going to kill emotion, it’s not so happy what we have seen”, expert summariser Jermaine Jenas called it “comical” and that he was “sorry for the referee’”, while player Danny Rose raged that it was “complete nonsense” that he was left “waiting around and not knowing what is happening”.

During the match the new VAR team interrupted the game a number of times for several minutes each, with no explanation given to either the crowd or the players as to the reasons why. Worse, no reasons were given for why decisions originally made by the referee were over-ruled. The game’s flow was massively impacted as a result – and both players and fans were left feeling unimportant or irrelevant to proceedings.

VAR designers should now be asking themselves how they moved from universal agreement that the system was a good idea to universal vilification by its users.

Our belief is that simple UX research factored fully into the design at the earliest opportunity would have helped enormously in ensuring the VAR process both improved decision making and protected the things fans, players and officials love about the game.

By designing the system in closer collaboration with these stakeholders groups, it would have become clear that a system that interrupted the game for many minutes and did not communicate with fans and players was totally unacceptable. VAR is a clever system devised in an office by clever people, but it’s clear that its design process didn’t fully consider the needs of its users.

If they had started their design by looking at the barriers to adoption – asking stakeholders for their views and simulating potential processes – the system’s problems would have been identified long before Wednesday’s match, and it could have received very different feedback.

Simple, early UX research could’ve helped to avoid what will no doubt be a costly re-work of the system.  But this doesn’t just apply to the VAR project – many organisations are now waking up to the significant impact that early-stage UX research provides.

Making UX an integral part of your product design optimises the outcome and de-risks your project – talk to us about how we can help.

This is not a drill: The (very) real dangers of bad UX

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The recent Hawaii missile alert incident highlights the power of UX design in helping both system owners and system users.

On 13th January 2018, mobile phone users in Hawaii received the following emergency alert message: ‘Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.’.

Fortunately, there was no missile inbound. It was inadvertently issued by a staff member of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s State Warning Point office for a very simple reason – faced with an on-screen menu of choices, they clicked the wrong button, choosing to send a real alert instead of a drill.

A classic case of human error – but the system could have been designed to reduce the chances of this happening. Although a password had to be entered for confirmation that the message should be sent, both the drill and not-a-drill versions required this. Unhelpfully, both also used the same password.

As a consequence, there was nothing to inform the user that they had clicked the wrong link, and were about to send a live, state-wide alert.

What’s more, the links for both the ‘DRILL’ version of the alert and the real alert were very, very similar:

Why this happened

The system’s functionality served its core purpose of distributing messages quickly, but less thought was put into how users experienced the interface’s design.

Judging by the lack of error prevention and error correction measures in place in the system, UX doesn’t seem to have been a priority during development.

Had it been, a key first step would have been to consider all potential use cases before commencing development. Chief among these, the sending of a ‘drill’ or test message, and the sending of a real message.

By taking an end-to-end view of how the software will be used before implementing it, there would have been the opportunity to ensure error correction was fully integrated.

How this could have been prevented

The system’s development process appeared to have missed out one of the bedrocks of user experience – error prevention. Ensuring error prevention is considered and incorporated throughout the system’s design should help to significantly reduce the risk of a user making a mistake.

A system which does this effectively should lead the user through a clear, step by step process. There should also be clear, visual distinctions implemented, whether it be variation in colour shading or separated lists to easily differentiate between drills and non-drills.

We’ve outlined an example of how it might have worked better below, with 4 separate screens – not just one list – separating a user from sending an alert:

Screen 1: ‘Is this a real alert or a drill test?’

The user needs to select whether it’s a real or test alert they’re running.

Screen 2: ‘Is this an amber alert, tsunami alert, or missile alert?’

They then need to specify the type of alert. They would also have the option to provide extra information for recipients (e.g. an URL to a live update feed).

Screen 3: If the user has selected that this is a ‘real’ alert, a visual indicator (stop sign, emoji) appears to warn them. The user clicks ‘Confirm’.

The user has to select a confirmation button to proceed with a real alert.

Screen 4: ‘I want to tell everyone on the island about an impending nuclear strike’. The user clicks ‘Confirm’.

They need to select another confirmation button to ensure they wish to proceed. The drill option will have less steps as the consequences are less. After Screen 2, the user can quickly test the alert.

Screen 5: Click ‘Send’.

The system operators weren’t the only ones failed by its design. The system’s owners – the recipients of the message – were also let down. From a service design perspective, the alert’s recipients (all 1.4 million of them) are just as important. The usefulness of the alert message itself is questionable, particularly for a ballistic missile strike – providing a number to text or link for more information would be useful, and help to give the recipient a clearer understanding of what they should do next.

For example, San Diego’s tourism board uses an emergency app to warn about incoming tsunamis. But it’s matched up with other forms of communication – printed maps are posted to residential houses and businesses in the inundation zones, which are also available online. Road signs highlight hazardous zones and evacuation routes, which alerts and guides residents to safe areas.

It’s vital that the designer works directly with and for the user from an early stage to ensure a system is effective. If it doesn’t work well, the person operating it is liable to make mistakes – and those mistakes mean that it’s not just failing them, but the recipients too.

Customer centricity in financial services – an aspiration rather than a destination?

By Opinion No Comments

“Customer-centric” has been a buzzword in financial services for decades. The reality is that it has usually been an aspiration, and rarely a destination. The damage done by this has been limited thanks to reasonably robust quant surveys and customer segmentation models, but that’s now changing.

What we see today is a rapidly changing landscape where customers are evolving more quickly than ever – and where companies are failing to adjust. The financial services industry is rife with examples: the advice market’s furious debate on the merits of robo-advice versus face-to-face omits any serious consideration of customers’ preference, due in no small part to an absence of understanding of those preferences. Meanwhile, banks preparing for PSD2 are still in many cases considering access to their customer data their exclusive right – without considering what the customer themselves might want to do with it.

Compounding the problem, consumers today are fundamentally different to the consumers of ten years ago. The ability of the average person to share their views to a wide audience has increased exponentially. The ability to publish, engage and share at any time has had an effect on us as individuals, shaping how we evaluate the importance of our own opinion and our willingness to share it.

The conclusion? The attitudes and segmentation of people is significantly less predictable than it once was, and many FS businesses are ill-prepared.

Until recently, a mix of data gathering and ‘conventional wisdom’ about customers gave organisations confidence that they knew their markets. The problem with this, of course, is that conventional wisdom tends to let us down.

The alternative – tearing up the rule book and starting again- is usually considered far too scary for organisations steeped in market segmentation lore and vast reservoirs of survey data. There’s an eagerness to stick to the traditional broad groupings of customers, a shorthand for understanding an extremely complex set of motivations and behaviours across a wide range of demographics. But to do so is to suggest that what happens in the macro does not occur in the micro. This type of dangerous thinking has the potential to delude organisations into continuing to build propositions and products for customer groups that are inaccurate or non-existent.

Addressing the problem has so recently often relied on tracking and analysing consumers’ activity online – but with standard segmentations rapidly diminishing in usefulness, it’s an inadequate solution. The real answer is simpler – organisations need to start talking to their customers again. Really talking to them – face to face.

Brands continuing to rely on ageing preconceptions are in danger of becoming irrelevant. This is particularly true of the financial services industry, with its traditional, slow moving banks and insurers. To retain their position, leading firms must abandon preconceptions and aggregate data, and instead take a radical approach to gaining a genuine understanding of their customers.

We’re in a time of flux. Those who will succeed are the ones who accept that a fundamental shift is taking place, and invest in understanding its impact on their clients. It’s time to get out there and meet them.

Find out more about how to make the most of facetime with your customers. Contact us