Podcast interview with Peter Ramsey (Built for Mars)

UX in banking

If you haven’t heard of Peter Ramsey (A.K.A the person behind Built for Mars) and his epic study into the user experience (UX) of banking, it really is time you emerged from the cave you’ve been living in.

Consisting of six chapters (with a potential Tiger King-style follow-up chapter to come), Peter has invested incredible time and attention into reviewing what it’s really like to be a customer of traditional and ‘challenger’ banks in the UK.

How did he do it? Simple, he opened 12 bank accounts.

Here are just some of the headlines to come out of his study:

  • Opening an account with HSBC took 18 times longer than it did with Monzo, a challenger bank
  • Successful payment notifications were sometimes 100 times faster with the challenger banks than the traditional banking brands
  • Of the ten banks that allow customers to ‘freeze’ their card, only three sent a notification when someone attempted to use a ‘frozen’ card
  • Some banks charge almost £30 to send £100 to a USD account when a challenger bank offers the same service for free
  • Revolut, which doesn’t offer telephone support, replied to only one of Peter’s five live chat requests

Why banking?

“What’s the industry with the most money and the least feasible excuse to not invest in UX?” That’s the question Peter asked himself when planning his study into banking.

Prior to the introduction of the so-called challenger banks, the banking industry was stale; “the market position of these incumbent banks got so bad that they literally approached students to say ‘we’ll give you £50 if you sign up with us’…isn’t that crazy?”

With banking, “you use the app, possibly on a daily basis, you’ll probably use the app every day for the rest of your life…and it’s where you save all of your money, so it not breaking is really important.”

Banking, says Peter, is something that touches all of our lives. It’s a point that makes his comparison of challenger and incumbent banks all the more interesting.

So, who does banking better? “Fundamentally, these challenger banks are app-first, the teams know how to build apps and they’ve got no legacy debt. From a pure experience point of view, the challenger banks are considerably better.”

It’s the small things that count

Peter’s approach to reviewing UX is to engage in a forensic analysis of each user journey, identifying and picking out weaknesses at every turn. It’s not just banking where he has applied this approach.

“It’s always the small bits. Take Disney+ as an example…the most interesting things were stuff like the price is different on page 2 and 4.

“The point isn’t that people are interested in typos, it’s that people are fascinated by the fact that these big companies make mistakes.”

It’s a painstaking process, explains Peter, “I’ll spend the best part of a week looking through their process, going through it sometimes hundreds of times on different devices and different browser sizes.

“By actually spending a lot of time to look at something, you find a bunch of problems…what I’m doing isn’t rocket science, it’s just being careful.”

Rattling cages

Peter’s study has undoubtedly uncovered many weaknesses in the offerings of both traditional and challenger banks. Where there’s criticism, there’s usually a defence.

“When I published those articles, a few UX consultants who had built the products I was criticising would get in touch and slag me off and say ‘you’re really wrong about this’, but when you look at the work they’ve done, you’re like; ‘how can you say that you understand user experience because this is terrible?!'”

The key, it seems, to Peter’s approach is to highlight that good UX doesn’t just mean delivering something to an agreed specification, but delivering something that works in the context in which it will be used.

Explaining an example where an app works perfectly well to a user who speaks fluent English can work very differently where the language is more of a challenge; “you take that same app and you give it to someone where English is their second language, the context of what you’re looking at changes and so you would design an app differently.”

It’s a similar story when it comes to the concept of ‘freezing’ your bank card. Challengers and traditional banks have followed, one after another to provide a solution for lost cards; the ability to ‘freeze’ it.

“If you think about the mindset you’d be in when you freeze your card, perhaps you’ve spent the last hour running around the house trying to find it…you’re probably pretty stressed…so to you, you don’t want just one button, you want to know has anybody spent money on my card, what happens now, will you let me know if someone uses my card?

“When you test that feature in the office and you’re like ‘can we technically freeze our card?’…yes, this is absolutely to spec…but then when you use it in the real world in the context of where it should be used, it’s built poorly…Because every bank has developed their own thing, what’s happened is that you haven’t got a general consensus of what it means to freeze or lock a card”

A better experience

You could say that his study has confirmed the obvious, but as Peter explains, “going into it, I knew that the challenger banks would do better than the incumbent banks…I wasn’t expecting the challenger banks to be this much better.

“[The challenger banks] kind of made it acceptable to have another bank account…they made it ok to open multiple bank accounts. These incumbent banks aren’t approachable in that way.”