The team and I at Halleman Bradley have spent a year trying to re-imagine banking from scratch. We aimed to be at the center of a consumer's financial life, and challenged the perception that banks don't work for their customers. By utilizing technology and leveraging data, we believed we can provide a better, friendlier experience than what currently existed on the market.

I led design for Halleman Bradley at the earliest stages, moving us from 0 to 1. This is our story.

The landscape

The US banking industry is dominated by a few meganational banks that hold around 40% of all deposits. These banks are all FDIC insured, and provide basic services to customers, such as holding deposits, and offering credit/loan products.

Banks do not delight their customers. Net Promoter Scores (the willingness of a customer to recommend a company to others) shows this quite clearly.

My role

What did I do?

As the only designer for our company, Halleman Bradley, I was responsible for all of our design needs, which ranged from branding all the way to product design. I will be focusing on my work in designing our product MVP.

I worked alongside our CEO, CTO, and COO.

Laying the groundwork

Ruthless early prioritization

For us to go from 0 to 100, we needed to figure out what were the most important things to focus on first. We put our focus on three things:

  1. Understanding what’s important to customers
  2. Compete with the best apps in terms of UX
  3. Target working millennials who prioritize saving

Finding product-market fit

Understanding our customers

We needed to see what people wanted in a bank, and decided to find this out by testing a few different landing pages through Facebook ads.

We tested what messaging and value propositions would land us the highest conversion rate of waitlist signups.

Early tests

We ran a couple of different landing pages with different copy variants, but none of them picked up much traction.

Getting closer

We came up with the idea to pay people to bank with us. Unfortunately, $3 a month + 1% interest wasn’t a big enough value proposition for people to switch.

The one we stuck with

The one that worked the best focused on solving the pain points most people had with their bank. Things such as fees, processing times, opening hours… they were all annoyances that added up.

The conversion rate sat around 45% for most of the time this page was up. What was interesting was the fact that the incentives offered were mostly on the promise of convenience and good customer service. The promise of being treated like a human being was attractive to many people - who’d have thought?

Making it real

Building the MVP

Only having waitlist signups does not make a company, so we started working on the mobile banking app.

We didn’t want to go in guns-blazing trying to disrupt the banking industry, which meant our product still needed to meet everyday banking needs for our customers. This meant looking at existing banking apps too see what parallels in services they offered.

I was able to pinpoint all the common features, and determined which ones were the most interaction-heavy.

To offer an exceptional user experience in comparison to existing banking apps, 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:

  1. We’re not missing any features that are deemed necessary for day-to-day banking
  2. We meet our goal of offering a frictionless user experience

Using these insights, we also came up with some features that would differentiate us from our competitors, but I’ll get into those later.

Building the MVP

Focusing on core features

With a limited amount of time available for us to ship our MVP to show investors, I focused on testing the features customers would interact with the most.

I decided to run our first tests on the “Move Money” and “Goals” features. I made this decision based on what we knew our API was capable of at this point in-time, and to ensure that the table-stakes features worked as intended.

Signing in

For every feature I tested, I started with the user going through the sign-in flow. This helped ease users into testing by making them feel like they’re testing a real banking app.

Upon logging in, the home screen becomes the entry point for the feature being tested.

Move Money

The tasks pertaining to moving money were some of the most common things people needed to do on the mobile banking app. The goal was to test whether or not these features worked the way users expected them to.

Moving Money proved to be a relatively straightforward process, but wording tended to be confusing in some spots.

Almost everyone we tested with was also 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 yielded much better success.

When paying friends, most people wanted to search for a contact, but didn’t see the search icon. I changed the icon to a search bar to increase visibility.

We also tested our mobile check deposits feature. Without physical branches (yet), we needed to make sure banking needs could be met through the 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.

Savings goals

We didn’t see savings goal as a common feature in other places. Our API supported this feature, so it was easy enough to implement on our end. There was also 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 app.

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. Negative reinforcement only serves to make people feel worse about circumstances that might be out of their control. In almost all cases, people said that they were actually less likely to set goals because they didn’t want to feel guilty.

I took this feedback into account when designing Goals v2, which was much less judgmental.

One point of confusion for everyone was the “Kickstart” screen, where they could add an amount to their goal at the very beginning. 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 goal adding process. Switching the order aided to less confusion, and non-goal-kickstarting.

Paying bills

We learned from talking to our customers that most of them pay their bills from external sources (e.g. they would pay their Chase credit card on the Chase website). Initially, we planned to allow our customers to pay all their bills from our app, but that feature makes more sense down the line when we can start to influence their behaviour.

We changed focus to allow our customers 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?

Some other observations

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.

Visual things

Visual design and illustrations

When I finished the interaction design of the app, I handed it off to our visual designer, who is actually me, and I gave the whole experience some much-needed pizzazz.

Icons that spark joy

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.

Illustrations that delight

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.

Styleguides and components

For the sake of keeping things neat, consistent, easy to update, and easily referencable by engineering, I put together component guides complete with specifications.

Creating further value

Thinking for the future

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.

Instant Apple Pay

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.

Savings leaderboard

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.

Advanced bill pay

Bill pay should be simple, and not require you to manage it from a multitude of external sources and merchants. You should also feel safe paying for things, which is where one-time credit card numbers can come into play.

Push credit

Traditionally, applying for credit requires… an application. You’ll take a hit to your credit score for each hard inquiry, and you’re not even guaranteed the approval. 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.

Adaptive rewards

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.

Financing transactions

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.

Lessons and takeaways

What next?

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.

This MVP helped contribute to us raising a seed round, and provided with us a waiting list of 9,000+ users. Though moving forward our branding, service providers, and overall product have changed, the learnings and insights gained from this MVP will continue to shape the company and product.