The power of technology and the persistence of paper: An analysis of advances in digital finance UX

David Hutchful

Snapshot 5: How can advances in UX and other emerging digital attributes help meet user needs and enhance user engagement and satisfaction?" is one of 16 Snapshots designed to address a range of questions within the digital finance space. Covering a number of client, institution, ecosystem, and impact level topics, the Snapshots give a current view of “What we (in the digital finance community) Know” about the topic in question, highlight “Notable New Learnings,” and call attention to “Implications” for future research and investment.

Why we wrote this Snapshot

Digital finance fundamentally changes the dynamics of how low-income individuals interact with their finances. Previously defined by face-to-face interactions—from transacting through a banking clerk, to sending money via a bus driver, or requesting store credit from a local merchant—in the digital era, financial transactions have lost their "social" aspect.

User experience designers working across digital finance platforms have a tough act to follow. Stripping out personal interactions and age-old customs and replacing them with unfamiliar, confusing, and often mistrusted technological interfaces creates a number of access and usage challenges. While USSD transactions and menus mimic existing airtime top-up behaviors, these challenges are amplified across more sophisticated, complex technology channels, such as smartphone apps and other web-based services. Even for some users of USSD-based services, tangible, paper-based confirmation of transactions are still important.

Smartphone penetration, however, is on the rise, and will undeniably be the channel of engagement for future digital finance users. Therefore, while advances in digital finance UX must continue to improve USSD applications, and play to the persistence of paper, the UX opportunities brought on by more advanced technology channels are worth noting. In this Snapshot we discuss how advances in UX—both at the USSD and smartphone level—are helping to meet financial needs, improve customer experience, and drive the uptake and usage of digital financial services. We also discuss these advances in light of dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, such as gender and literacy.

What we found

Improved user experience and user interface design, and therefore ease of use of digital finance applications, can persuade customers to transact more frequently, build trust through transparency, and drive positive financial behaviors. Although USSD poses many design challenges—such as poor discoverability and navigation—its familiarity has driven its continued popularity. Therefore advances at this level must still be implemented. Smartphone and other advanced technology channels bring more opportunities for improved customer experience and engagement. Beyond graphical improvements at the interface level, UX is expanding beyond interface with the introduction of “digital attributes” from chatbots to gamification. These advanced attributes are being used to break down barriers to entry, and ultimately (we hope) to guide customers on the journey towards meaningful financial inclusion.

However, we mustn’t run before we can walk. While technical innovations provide exciting opportunities, we must ensure customers feel comfortable and protected during their "shift to digital." Key to success will be a focus on responsible, human-centered design as providers work through their UX strategy and engagement.

Read Snapshot 5 for more details of our findings, and a list of the top-10 reads in the space this year.