BIMA knowledge-sharing UX

Banks’ online services aren’t meeting customer expectations – time to step up

Posted by June 11, 2013

Banks are behind when it comes to giving their customers a good experience – but why? UX consultant Paul Wheatley has some ideas for them…

Gone are the days when you had to crawl into the local bank manager’s office with cap in hand to ask for a loan or mortgage.

Customers (myself included) are expecting everything they interact with online, including their bank, to be as simple and intuitive as a shopping trip to Amazon. I’m a huge Amazon user: it isn’t because it’s the cheapest and it isn’t because it’s offering me freebies; it’s because purchasing something from Amazon is a pleasure. It’s simple and quick – so why is dealing with my bank so painful?

A few banks are starting to think in terms of what the customer wants – and have begun accommodating that into their future plans. Many banks have mobile apps, some have responsive websites, and a couple have even pushed the boundaries a touch and brought new things to the table, such as mobile payments services.

But while this is all good stuff, they are still missing some of the basics. I am still forced to return to the telephone to make minor adjustments to my accounts. I am expected to wade through pages and pages of questions, tick-boxes, and terms and conditions to apply for simple insurance products – even though I already have a product with that bank.

If I move house, I am expected to update my address on each product I hold individually. Why can’t I tell my online banking that I have changed address in one central account management section, and have it automatically update all my products for me? And, while I’m moaning about online banking, why can’t I see all of my products with a single bank in one place using one login?

Security aside, the reason is simply one of culture. Most banks are still stuck in the thinking that they are in control and know what customers want, without talking to any of them. My experience in this area is that large organisations such as banks don’t really get customer experience; they believe UX professionals are accessibility gurus, graphic designers – or simply a signoff (“Can you user-test this? – oh we are not going to action anything, it’s just the project plan has UX as a signoff”).

Banks need to move to listen to the customers, and shape their products so as to be far more helpful, and designed with the customer at the core.
For example, what if my bank helped me out from time to time with recommendations: “Other people like you spend £X less on car insurance each month, here are the providers they use…”, or: ‘If you moved your savings from a standard savings account to our new ISA product, you would make £X more in interest this year’?

What about providing financial planning help? A few years ago banks started introducing pie charts on your home screen that (provided you’re willing to spend the time telling their services that transactions from Tesco should be categorised as ‘grocery’ and ‘Vue Cinemas’ should be ‘entertainment’) can be quite helpful. But my problem with these kinds of services is that they can only tell you what you have done; they can’t tell you what you are about to do.

What if they could map your average monthly payments over the next few months and overlay some of your social networking data such as upcoming birthdays, event invitations and life events into the projection? That kind of the information could be very beneficial to the customer – and I am sure the banks would appreciate that level of extra data on their customers as well.

Banks are slowly starting to come round to the idea that the customer needs listening to, but they need to do more. I am very keen to find out what the new wave of non-traditional banks can do in this space. The likes of Tesco Bank, Virgin Money and Sainsbury’s Bank have retail and customers at their core. They get customer experience and understand customer behaviour at its very basic level. They understand what must be done to get the basics right and create an incredible customer experience, and potentially (hopefully) can change the way customers deal with and think about banks in the future.

We are currently living in a period of fickle customer attitudes towards banking services.  Banks are being pushed out of their comfort zone in order to attract and keep customers but what can they do to actually help us, the customer? Share your thoughts below.

About the author

Paul is a UX consultant with over 12 years of experience in industries from startup to government and education to financial. You can usually find him podcasting on the British Tech Network with the Gamer and iOS shows, follow him on Twitter @paulwheatley or find him (occasionally) blogging at

Paul was asked to write this post for the BIMA knowledge-sharing blog by Nile, curators of the UX stream.

  1. On June 12th, 2013, Jon Wall said...

    Really interesting read, thanks Paul. It seems the US banks are way ahead of ours largely due to their overall approach to customer service on or offline. Would you agree with that? There’s some really interesting research in this area by the likes of Forrester Research and IND Group that may be interesting if you haven’t seen it already.

  2. On June 12th, 2013, Ryan Hall said...

    Really interesting article Paul.

    From our experience working with financial services providers at Nice Agency, we’ve also observed that the specific departments within customer facing banks do have a true appetite to become more customer-centric and innovate.

    Unfortunately, most of these banking brands still operate with a restrictive IT infrastructure which slows down the ability to offer the types of services you talk about, but also means their ability to quickly innovate is reduced. It’s also worth noting that the newer, non-traditional banks, with no pre-disposed IT infrastructure, are appearing more agile, ‘different’ and innovative in the market, rapidly changing and evolving their services, which is really inspiring to see.

  3. On June 13th, 2013, ed riseman said...

    Really interesting article Paul and all your comments make sense, but it does not consider the bank viewpoint – for good reason there is a total paranoia about offering customers anything that could be misunderstood, used incorrectly or have security issues. It’s not an excuse for avoiding innovation but given a bank customer base can be from 9 to 90 the playing field for all customers needs to be very robust and easily understood by all types not just the digerati. Instant debit payments though? that could get really creative …

  4. On June 13th, 2013, paul.wheatley said...

    Thanks for your comments everybody, glad you like the article.

    Yes i would agree that US banks are quite a bit ahead of us in terms of their approach to customer experience. The likes of the ‘Quick Balance’ feature from Bank of the West where a customer can swipe a panel away to peek at their balance underneath in an unauthenticated state on their mobile app this is a superb feature and a great benefit to the customer. Others like Simple with their ‘Safe to Spend’ concept and another bank (whose name escapes me as i write this) has the ability to check forward in your spending habits and direct debits to see if you can afford that big purchase (TV, iPad, etc…) you have been considering. There are loads of great customer centric features emerging in this space, it just needs to happen quicker.

    You are spot on there, I have also seen alot of desire in the banking space to do more customer focused and innovative things to really help the customer but the banks infrastructure is still stuck in the punch card days to be able to accomodate that. What if traditional banks saw themselves more as the plumbing or the infrastructure to banking and opened up APIs to smaller, leaner companies to innovate for them. As an example a startup could then build an amazing customer centric front end experience and just plug into a rock solid time tested backend to deal with the ‘Banking’ part of the bank. I would love to see that.

    Yes i agree, banks are dealing with a wide demographic and everything has to be weighed up in terms of risk and if the proposed idea could confuse or even reduce the banks reputation in the eyes of their customers. However (as you correctly point out with instant debit payments) there are masses of basic things that could be done for example; If i have a savings account with my bank with £100 in it and a current account with £50, if a direct debit comes in for £55 take £5 out my savings instead of charging me £20+ for going overdrawn.

  5. On June 17th, 2013, Tim loo said...

    Hi Paul – thanks for your article. I totally agree with your position on enterprise IT and culture being the killers of useful, relevant and joined up digital customer experiences at banks. I’d like to hear your take on the role of the experience design industry in affect change at these organisations. I’m of the view that the UX industry loves being right but is stuck alone in the corner because it doesn’t actually care enough about fixing these underlying problems in the business. “We told them the design answer but their organisation didn’t care enough or IT killed it”. The UX industry seems pretty disinterested in customer experience KPIs and their relationship to business KPIs. Getting enterprise IT and the overall business culture to shift because the headline business measures relate to customer outcomes and expectations could be a role for UX. Some of us need to care more about measurement and incentives because that’s how we might make banks better.

  6. On June 18th, 2013, Steve Penfold said...

    Great post Paul – it really does seem to be clear that banks aren’t interested in solving their customers’ problems, but instead seem to focus on solving their own problems. My suggestion would be for a forward thinking bank to either buy or develop their own version of which would really help them to understand and address the problems their customers are facing on a day to day basis.

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