Author: Jerry Mulle
With all that the digital age has to offer in terms of customisation, why are financial services options so rigid?
Most of the banking industry operates by selling a small number of products to a few large groups of people who are bundled together according to their wealth and their progress on life’s financial journey.
Online and mobile banking interfaces tend to follow the same logic – the thinking goes that if everyone’s following the same, linear path: a savings account at 13, a credit card at 18, a mortgage, ISA and pension savings plan at 40… then everyone will be happy with the same product and the same interface, right?
We live in an age of infinite customisation and this kind of product design would have been familiar to Henry Ford: “you can have any colour so long as it’s black.”
Banking products don’t need tools, jigs and production lines – they’re ones and zeros.
Tailor-made banking technology
Technology gives us the perfect opportunity to tailor products, apps and websites to our customers’ needs and preferences, and enable them more control over their money, the way they manage it, and the company that looks after it for them.
Before we rush off to give our customers infinitely customisable products though, there are a few lessons from history we need to hear loud and clear.
Do you remember iGoogle? It was Google’s version of a customisable interface that allowed users to place any number of widgets on their Google page, change the colours, photos, and make the entire Google start-point entirely individual and personal to them.
Personalisation rather than customisation
Others followed Google’s lead and websites started to play with the idea of infinite customisation and letting users’ decide.
You’ll have noticed that those websites have all but gone now and the reason is that users seem to prefer personalization over customisation.
Customisation relies on users deciding what’s important to them and personalisation relies on a computer knowing enough about users to second-guess what they want.
iGoogle was a fore-runner in customisation that suffered from ‘over-choice’. It was great for the very few people who really wanted to spend ages rearranging their search interface but for most of us it just wasn’t useful – it was unnecessary and it overcomplicated something simple.
Consumers welcome choice, just not too much of it
A study in 2009 by Turkish and American HCI researchers revealed that only 3% of users considered customisation to be the most important feature.
Jakob Nielsen was particularly scathing about personalisation back in 1998 : Web personalization is much over-rated and mainly used as a poor excuse for not designing a navigable website.
Personalisation has fared somewhat better over time though, with Amazon’s ‘Recommended for you’ feature being a good example.
The ecommerce giant used its huge trove of user data to create something unique and useful that made it easier for users to do what they came to do (although even Amazon get it wrong sometimes).
You can now see personalisation at work, rearranging interfaces and menus in Android and Windows and invisibly sifting and sorting vast lists of content into something readable on services like Netflix and Spotify.
Research has proven that consumers welcome a degree of choice, but when it suddenly becomes too much, we shrink back into our shells. If we’re faced with a supermarket aisle offering a choice of five shampoos we’re comfortable but show us a choice of 40 different brands and we’ll either pick the cheapest or stick with what we know.
Customisation in online financial services
Nobody wants to buy a ‘Model T’ any more – users expect choice and tailoring but we still have to do the heavy lifting.
Automated personalisation and user-driven customisation are useful tools but they need to be focussed ruthlessly on the things that really matter. We can’t just pass the responsibility for designing products and interfaces on to our users and expect them to thank us.
The good news is that digital products are far easier to change than physical ones and customers can be given a surprising amount of flexibility with a small number of options.
For example, it would be easy to offer customers a ‘build your own credit card’ facility that allowed them to pick a unique balance of rewards vs card fees. The customer would get a credit card that’s tailored precisely to their preferences, their options are relevant and easy to explain and the business logic would be simple and easy to configure.
Offering easy and flexible solutions
At Intelligent Environments we’ve been focussing on events because we know that it’s something our users really care about – they want to know when something important happens to their account and they’ll invest time in customisation to get the alerts they care about.
We also know that some users will spend a little time on customisation now if it saves them time later on – it’s why we offer mobile users the option of seeing their balance without logging in.
Some prefer the increased privacy and security of logging in, some prefer the convenience of seeing their balance at a glance and everyone likes to be given the choice.