The team and I at Halleman Bradley have spent the last year trying to re-imagine banking from scratch. While we aim to be at the center of a consumer's financial life, we also needed to challenge the perception that banks don't work for their customers. By utilizing technology and leveraging data, we believe we can provide a better, friendlier experience than what currently exists on the market. I started with the team at Halleman Bradley at the earliest stages by leading design for the company and moving us from 0 to 1. This is our story.
Currently, the US banking industry is dominated by a few meganational banks who hold around 40% of all deposits. All these banks provide basic services to customers, such as holding deposits, being FDIC insured, and offering credit/loan products.
Banks do not delight consumers. Net Promoter Scores (the willingness of a customer to recommend a company’s products or services to others) put this in writing quite clearly.
I am the lead solo designer for our company, Halleman Bradley, and for this project, the Crux mobile banking app. I was responsible for designing our product from the ground up, building a design system, talking to customers to gain insight, and all other design-related needs, such as branding and graphic design.
I worked alongside our CTO, CEO, and COO. Everyone had their areas of expertise that shaped the company as well as the product.
Right now, banks are just “good enough”, which is hardly awe-inspiring.
Newer fintech bank solutions such as Chime and Simple have done a great job with the user and customer experience of their product, but primarily target the unbanked and underbanked demographic. We want to target the full-stack traditional bank customer who wanted a full range of financial products beyond a basic checking account.
The current market for financial products also has the consumer going to different companies for different needs, as financial services are mostly unbundled.
We want to be a financial service that allows our customers to earn for what they do, not for what they have. We want to be the first place a consumer goes for any financial product, need, service, or advice, and the best way to lay the foundation for that was to become a bank.
It would be impossible for us to jump from 0 to 100 right away, so we focused on figuring out what we needed to do to get to 1 first.
There were three things we needed to do to lay out a solid foundation for our future:
It was good for us to sit in a room and brainstorm, but we’re not our customers. We needed to see what people wanted in their bank, and decided to find this out by testing a few different landing pages through Facebook ads.
We were looking to test what messaging and value propositions would land us the highest conversion rate of people who actually sign up for our waitlist after visiting the page.
We ran a couple of different landing pages with different copy variants, but none of them were picking up too much traction.
This was an idea where we thought paying people to bank with us would garner interest. As it turns out, $3 a month + 1% interest wasn’t a big enough value proposition for people to switch.
Our approach with this landing page was to hit on the pain points that most people had with their bank. Things such as fees, processing times, opening hours… all annoyances that add up.
We decided to keep “Love Your Bank” as our primary landing page, as it had the highest conversion rate at 35%. The rate climbed up to 40% for a while a few weeks into the campaign. Currently, it sits at around 45%.
What was interesting was that this landing page didn’t offer any value propositions in the form of incentives or interest rates. The promise of convenience, empathy, and solutions to many common pain points in banking seemed to have struck a chord amongst customers, so this was the messaging that we decided to pursue going forward. It seems that the promise of being treated like a human being was attractive to many people - who’d have thought?
We were starting to get some traction with our waitlist signups, and our goal wasn’t to be stuck in waitlist limbo for the next three years, so I started to work on our mobile banking app.
No matter what new innovations in consumer finance we come up with, people still have basic everyday banking needs. I did some analyses of the mobile apps from some of the big banks, and from some of the new fintech banks, to see what parallels in services they offered.
Regardless of what the apps looked like, or how they functioned, we were able to find common features, as well as pinpoint the interaction-heavy features.
We wanted to offer an exceptional user experience in comparison to existing banking apps, so it wasn’t enough to just stuff these features into our app and call it a day. My goal at this point was to put together an MVP that we could test, in order to validate two things:
Using this insight, we also came up with some features that would differentiate us from our competitors, but I’ll get into those later.
I decided to run tests on the “Move Money” and “Goals” features. This decision was made based on what we knew our API was capable of at that point in time, and also to ensure that the table-stakes features worked as intended.
I tested wireframes in-house with employees from other companies sharing our incubator space. I wanted to test with waitlist customers later when we had something higher fidelity, so that they could focus on the functionality and not the visual design.
The tasks pertaining to moving money were some of the common things people needed to do on their mobile banking app. The goal here was to test whether or not these features worked the way users expect them to.
Moving Money proved to be a relatively straightforward process, with the majority of comments referring to wording being confusing in some spots.
The goal (heh) here was to see if the process of setting up and managing a savings goal was a straightforward process.
Goals was more complicated, and the whole process was wrought with mixed feelings.
No one liked feeling guilty for having to take money out of a goal, or for not committing to a goal, because life happens and it’s never good to feel worse about circumstances that might be out of their control. In many cases, people said that they were actually less likely to set goals because they didn’t want to feel guilty.
I took this feedback and applied it to my design, with the intention of testing version 2 with users that were signed up on our waitlist.
I reached out on our Facebook page, asking if anyone wanted to take part in testing our mobile app. The response was extremely enthusiastic, and I was able to schedule 15 user tests that happened in the span of a week.
This time, I also added Bill Pay to the list of things I wanted to test, along with Goals and Moving Money.
I also included the sign-in flow, both to test, and to ease users into testing the actual feature by giving them the feeling that they’re testing a real banking app.
All tests after the login flow would lead them to the home screen. This screen serves as the entry point for all the features being tested.
These features have to do with managing funds in one’s account.
Firstly, I wanted to test that our check deposits feature works as well. Without physical branches (yet), we needed to make sure that people can meet their banking needs through our mobile app.
Other features, such as sending checks, paying friends, and setting up direct deposits are things that people might not need to do on a day-to-day basis, but can be a major inconvenience if it needs to happen on short notice. It was important for us to make sure that these features worked as intended, and that our customers are aware that they exist.
Almost everyone we tested with was confused by what “Move Money” meant, and almost no one tapped on “Move Money” first when looking for a feature within it. We changed it to “Pay & Transfer”, and the resulting test was much more successful.
When paying friends, most people wanted to search for a contact, but didn’t see the search icon. We changed it to a search bar to increase visibility.
Savings goals was a feature we didn’t see too much of in other places. Our API supported this feature, so it was easy enough to implement on our end. We also saw a lot of enthusiasm for this feature, and some customers already had ideas about what they could save for if they had this feature in their current banking apps.
I tested adding a goal, adding to a goal, and cashing out a goal. I wanted to make sure that these could be accomplished easily.
The one thing everyone was confused by was the screen where they could “Kickstart” their goal, by adding an amount to it so they don’t start the goal at $0. Most people were expecting to set the goal end date/amount being saved per period/saving frequency, so we moved the kickstart screen to the end of the adding process. Testing it again resulted in less confusion.
I wanted to test if people were able to easily add and manage their bills in one location.
Being Canadian, I thought that the bill pay system would be similar in America. I was used to adding my bills to my mobile banking app, and my bank would ACH the funds to that account. What ensued was that people were… not used to this way of doing things.
It turns out from talking to our customers that most people pay their bills from external sources. It would be a feature that makes sense down the line, but right, it’s difficult to pay every single bill from one source due to differences in how different merchants set up their billing.
We changed focus to having customers be able to pay the rare bill that requires sending a check instead. This also put our bill pay feature in the spotlight, where you can take a picture of a bill, and it’ll fill out all the details for you. Pretty cool, huh?
Wording is also very important, as customers had terms that they were familiar with when dealing with financial products. It was also equally important to sound human, as customers were delighted when they came across a button that said “Very Nice” instead of “Confirm”.
Not presenting information overload was also crucial. Having more screens was better than packing one screen with 4 different sets of instructions. People generally moved through the flows pretty quickly, so having an extra screen or two for the sake of clarity wasn’t the worst thing in the world.
We looked to improve upon or innovate new features that would provide value, and through conversations with our waitlist customers, we came up with a few things were small in nature but had a big impact on the customer experience of our product.
Please note that some of these designs are intended to be used as a proof-of-concept for our vision and potential investors. User testing was not done on all of these.
Normally, you’d wait about a week before receiving your debit card after opening up a new bank account, so in order to alleviate some of the inconvenience, we would make it so that your debit card is available for use on Apple Pay right away.
We want to attract savers, and also be different from other banks who prioritize making people spend money. By encouraging people to save money, we’ll build a base of fiscally responsible customers who can also turn into responsible borrowers.
Bill pay should be simple, and not require you to manage it from a multitude of external sources and merchants. As well, you should be able to feel safe paying for things, which is where one-time use credit card numbers come into play.
The traditional way of applying for credit is… applying, and you’ll take a hit to your credit score for each hard inquiry. Financial institutions have a lot of information about their customers, so why not use it to constantly underwrite them? Through soft credit pulls, as well as analysis of a customer’s financial transactions, we can determine if someone is creditworthy and offer them products automatically for them to just take - no application needed.
Most credit cards have a rewards system that is very fixed, with cashback categories that never change. We feel that your rewards should adapt to what you spend the most money on.
Credit card APRs are ridiculous, and it would be a big relief for some if they could finance certain individual transactions for a small monthly fee.
Transactions are not the most interesting thing in the world to look at. They’re not always the easiest thing to decipher sometimes, as well. I created an icon set for all the transactions categories laid out for us in the API, with hopes that it will make transactions easier to scan and understand.
There are a lot of different states, and again, we want to be a friendly, approachable bank. I made some colorful illustrations to add delight to otherwise empty screens, and to visual convey information.
For the sake of keeping things neat, consistent, easy to update, and easily referencable by engineering, I put together component guides complete with specifications.
Every grand vision that turns into reality has to start from somewhere. Our goal is still ultimately to be the center of everyone’s financial lives, but to start, we need to build a product that some people love, and then make it work for even more people by learning from our customers.
When building something from 0, the process is rarely linear. A lot of it is figuring things out along the way, and the important thing is to validate it by talking to people outside of the office. I found that every customer was at a different level of financial literacy and had different needs, so it was good for us to keep them in the loop throughout the design process.
Constant communication is extremely important when working with engineering. All my design decisions I made with consultation to our CTO, as I needed to know if certain things were possible to build on his end. The speed at which our app is being built is due to no misunderstandings about what is and isn’t feasible.
The product and company will continue to evolve. Currently, we’re in the pre-launch stage, gearing up to open our first accounts and then moving forward to add the 9,000+ users from our waiting list. Until then, sign up for our waiting list so you can be notified when we launch the bank of the future.