When a 25 minute form is considered a customer-centred success

It is somewhat inevitable that having spent time working at a major financial services company, my best-fit moving agency-side would be on financial services accounts.

I started at Dare with responsibility for creating delightful and innovative digital experiences with Barclays before a small side-step into Barclaycard and thence, last year, to Standard Life. Throughout this time I have had exposure to countless transactional forms, most of which are understandably onerous to the customers, advisors and others that have to use them.

Often the request is to sex-up such interactions. Crudely, our clients want more Apple and less application. Fundamentally though it doesn’t matter how good a student of Wroblewski you are or how much Tumblr you have channelled, it’s still a mortgage/car insurance/SIPP and not an iPad. It may not be entirely the correct analogy, but it is a touch of ‘lipstick on a pig’.

So it is heartening to see ING direct have a crack at reflecting this in their ad campaign running (at least where I have seen it) on The Tube. Broadly, the message reads that they tried to make the application fun but that wasn’t possible so they made it easy. Easy is then reinforced by the assertion that it only takes 25 minutes to complete.

That’s right, twenty five minutes. And that is deemed to be a promotable statement. I would not be happy if I were the CEO of WordPress if we were going to our customers and saying that blogs could be setup in 25 minutes, and blogs can be complex, configurable things. Who in their right mind thinks a 25 minute transactional experience is great?

I don’t blame the IA here, I blame the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and organisational structures that fail to sufficiently-challenge the arcane rules and regulations around such customer-facing forms.

Time and time again work is stymied by regulations on type size, concealment of information and the mindless mantra of ‘clear, fair and not misleading’.

If behavioural theory has taught us anything it is that showing customers all the information they could possibly need to make the decision can never be unequivocally fair and unbiased. In the real world, such an approach leads only to bafflement, confusion and a sense of being overwhelmed. It’s drinking from a firehose. Experience designers have known about this for decades and use progressive disclosure and choice architecture as a strategies for helping and nudging people down a path. Show this to a compliance bod and instantly the fear of an FSA slap for non-disclosure or assumptive selling makes the red ink pour forth.

The IA (who ultimately represents the customer) has no right of reply. Such decisions are largely non-negotiable. Even, dear reader, in the event that we use video footage from user testing where customers bumble and stumble over needlessly complex choices or exasperatedly slump at the sight of swathes of small-print, none of this melts the ice. Rules supposedly there to protect the consumer are, invariably, confounding them.

In such a rigid culture of blind compliance, forms will continue to take 30 minutes to complete. Forms will continue to demonstrate a paralysing paradox of choice. Forms will continue to lead consumers into completing incorrect or inappropriate responses leading them poorly served and out-of-pocket.

In my experience no-one at the major organisations lobbies the FSA for change and no-one at the FSA shows any acknowledgement of the advances in digital interaction and behavioural theory. Both organisations are still heavily influenced by the paper application form and the advised ‘expert ‘ sale via a middleman. Understand this: in a post Retail Distribution Review (RDR) world, the rise of direct to consumer sales will be significant and if financial service companies want to feel more Apple, then they have to think and act with a fundamentally user-centred perspective from product development (including actuarial) and throughout distribution, marketing and customer service.

Perhaps a theoretical example might help. People buy investment products to achieve a certain growth in their wealth. Investment products with higher growth potential tend to be higher risk investments. The safer products (a more guaranteed return) will suit someone with a more cautious attitude to risk. To understand what your attitude to risk is, you can complete a series of straightforward questions. However, try and make a link between the two, such as “you have a cautious approach to savings, you are best suited to investment product A” and that is classed as advice and you cannot do that online. Despite it being helpful to do so. you can only infer, so you might say “Our results suggest you are cautious in your approach to risk. We have products which range from cautious to speculative in terms of risk. Here they are.”

It is laughable. Never mind getting them it to drink it, you can’t even lead this metaphorical horse to water, merely suggest that there might be water in the general vicinity.

I have looked-at and proposed solutions that effectively take a Starbucks coffee at home approach to guiding users toward a suitable financial product. I have considered and suggested that we recommend a product but do not exclude exposure to other nearly-suitable products. I have used FSA-approved approaches to risk questionnaires and terminology but the simple fact remains that a human following a script can advise on the phone or in a face-to-face meeting, but online it is unacceptable.

I would be interested to hear of anyone in the financial services industry, client-side or at the FSA that has heard-of any consultation and user-experience research on the online-advised sales process. Or any kind of dialogue that encourages exploration of consumer psychology to counter the anachronistic approach of this moribund Authority. As the industry comes under the watch of the nascent Consumer Protection and Markets Authority I sincerely hope that the digital post-RDR consumer is given much better consideration.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These views are my own. Neither do they represent Dare‘s opinion nor are they intended as a criticism of any clients past or present. This post must be considered as standalone comment on the financial services industry en masse.

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