This is NOT another article covering such 2021 UI design trends as glassmorphism, neomorphism, 3D elements, vivid colors, brutal fonts, etc. The goal of this article is to go beyond the surface level. Dive deep into the true impact that design has on the financial industry. To do that, the UXDA team has highlighted 10 design trends that demonstrate the evolution of digital financial products and the way financial interfaces are created and perceived by the users.
What makes a great digital banking and finance design? When it comes to a field as specific as finance, the ability to design interface elements accounts for only a minor part of required competence! Truly great financial products are based on great usability in sync with specific user needs inside a well-developed digital ecosystem.
The world is rapidly changing, and so is the financial industry. Customer expectations are growing along with the necessity to satisfy them. In this article, we will demonstrate the power financial design has in shaping the future of banking products.
Delivering dozens of financial UX/UI transformations each year, we decided to show the 10 most significant financial design trends in 2021. These demonstrate the possibilities that financial UX/UI design uncovers for such diverse products as core banking, neobanks, challenger banks, wealth management, corporate finance, retail banking, ATMs, credit scores and even VR/AR mixed-reality banking.
1. From default “bootstrap” to exceptional tailor-made design
Wealth management platform UX design by UXDA
When it comes to creating digital financial products, for the past 20 years, there has been a deep-rooted belief that the role of design is minor. Mostly, design has been perceived as packaging that is nice to have for marketing purposes, while the main emphasis has always been placed on the functionality and features of the products.
This kind of approach explains why it's common practice to use standardized design templates (aka “bootstrap” design) to speed up and facilitate the product development process. Unfortunately, this also explains why many financial services seem so similar─typically plain, boring and user-unfriendly.
A decade ago, the perception of design was disrupted by the emergence of Fintechs. They dared to be different by maximizing the power of design potential to attract customers.
Today, we can witness an even broader paradigm shift. The new players that enter the financial industry deliberately focus on unique and innovative design that communicates and highlights their brand identity.
Most customers are tired of boring and complex financial design, typical of the incumbents.
Tailor-made design is a brand-new idea, providing users with something fresh and invigorating. This marks a new era of tailor-made design as a trend that skyrockets the market advantage of financial companies.
A brilliant example of this is the wealth management platform by Private Wealth Systems. It's a magnificent industry-first product that executes the power of tailor-made design to provide Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNWI) with the kind of luxury experience they expect from every aspect of their sophisticated lives.
The UX transformation of this voluminous, highly complex solution has allowed it to become a unique gem in the industry that eases friction and makes managing complex wealth delightful. It's powerful yet intuitive enough with a touch of luxury and refined design vision so that every Ultra-high-net-worth individual would feel the absolute necessity for it.
This kind of financial UX design turns “nice to have'' into a “must have” and has the power to fundamentally shift the behavior of the most powerful consumer cohort on the planet.
This tailor-made design was tested before its official launch, and the people who tried it were over the moon. The platform excels among others as it aims to solve a myriad of pain points users encounter on a daily basis. It demonstrates that it cares about the wealth of the customers and does its best to assist in managing it.
The advantage of the tailor-made design is used more and more often among different kinds of financial services, as it enhances the emotional connection between the brands and their customers.
The financial institutions (FIs) that dare to break taboos and invest in creating bold and modern designs that stand out know that this will definitely pay off with increased customer loyalty and engagement.
2. From limited mono-functional to upbeat super-app design
Banking super app design concept by UXDA
The industry transition to a mobile-first approach led to the emergence of several Fintechs whose main advantage was the mono-functional approach. In a very simple and understandable manner, they offered to solve a specific user problem. For the customers, this was like a breeze of fresh air compared to the multifunctional but complex and user-unfriendly banking services. Solutions created by Fintech instantly stood out with their pleasant user experience dressed in a modern and uplifting interface design.
Right now, open banking is broadening the range of possibilities to connect external services that allow the increase of functionality in any financial product. We can cite Revolut as a great example here that's constantly scaling its functionality to gradually become a financial super app.
The Fintech mono-functionality design approach seemed simple for the customers, but, as expectations grew, so did the need to present more functions in the same manner. How do you display more than 100 features in a way that's intuitive and pleasant for the user?
Digital financial solutions are becoming more and more complex, providing better functionality to the customers, but it's not a simple task to design them in such a way that would prove enjoyable to use. This is where close collaboration among UX architects and experienced UI designers plays a major role.
The main design challenge is to provide a friction-free experience by creating an intuitive product architecture and a logical, user-friendly interface layout.
Digital solutions are constantly evolving. More and more well-thought-out multifunctional services are emerging that provide great usability and are able to conquer the UX of mono-functional mobile applications.
This explains why so many financial institutions are striving to create their own neobank or super app. Though it really uncovers a lot of possibilities for the users, it's extremely important to align it with the overall vision of the financial company and its ability to design and execute it.
There needs to be an understanding of how to maintain a balance between user needs and the ability to satisfy them in an effortless and user-friendly way. From our experience, there have been situations in which financial brands aim to include a ton of “modern” functions in their products just because they believe it will make the solution stand out among the competition, while this might actually have an opposite effect, leading to user disappointment because of frustrating design. In such cases, during the UX research phase, these FIs should determine that their customers don't require most of these modern functionalities but are seeking other features important to the specific audience of this brand. As a result, hugely successful financial products are designed based on the specific needs of the brand’s audience that provide extra value to the customers.
A super app approach that's based on a clear vision of the financial product, and the role of UX in it, marks a pathway toward the endless possibilities of scaling the future potential of both the product and the financial brand.
3. From demotivating Excel-like interface to dopamine-rewarding gamification
Core banking solution UX design by UXDA
Many people not connected to the banking industry would probably be shocked to see what most of the banking back-office solutions look like. Working with those could be compared to coding, as the employees have to work with several software programs simultaneously, following instructions and manually entering codes in order to use the required function.
To learn to operate such a system takes a few months. But, even years after working with it, employees still get confused and keep a notebook with the right number and letter combinations by their sides.
It's a fact that these solutions are very complex and data-driven, as there are huge lists of different kinds of data about the customers.
But, in a world that's based on the power of digitalization, how can the beating heart of all banking operations make their employees travel 20 years back in time?
Today, when the user-centered design approach is becoming more and more popular in creating financial products, it can be applied not only to the external banking products but to the internal solutions as well.
To ensure customer-centricity at all levels of the financial organization, the needs of the employees must be considered as well as the client. By creating a better design, we provide them with motivation and tools to offer a better experience for the bank's customers.
One way to significantly increase employee engagement and productivity is to design core banking solutions by using gamification. This kind of design approach allows the transformation of the entire work process by making it more modern, as seen in the case of the innovative banking back-office vendor ITTI Digital.
Their core banking could be compared to a breath of fresh air in a field of banking that hasn't changed for decades. This intuitive, user-centered solution is unlike any other banking back-office product available on the market.
In addition to the huge internal and external value the UX and gamification approach created, this core banking solution was also recognized on a global scale.
It received one of the world's most prestigious design prizes, the IF Design Award, alongside Apple that was awarded for its digital finance service design of the well-known Apple card.
It's an outdated belief that gamification and banking have nothing in common. In fact, they have the power to significantly improve employee productivity and motivation, thus reaching better results overall.
4. From limited functionality to exciting full experience design
Mobile banking app UX design by UXDA
Only five years ago, mobile apps were perceived as additional, alternative banking channels, but today they serve the majority of customer requests. Given this fact, it's surprising that often the mobile channels have very limited functionality and offer a rather poor user experience. For example, to select transactions using filters, customers are forced to use the desktop solution. Why is it still not available in every bank app despite the fact that similar functionality is provided every day when shopping in online stores?
It's even more surprising that several banking services are still only available at branches. The pandemic highlighted the harsh truth of the situation: the financial industry is unprepared to embrace the digital age.
In these circumstances, it seems absurd that there are still cases in which people have to risk their health just to visit a banking branch. What makes this situation even more unfortunate is that all the necessary technologies to avoid such situations are already available for the banks, but, for some reason, they are not utilized to guarantee a completely remote service.
To significantly improve the customer experience of the financial brand, FIs can perform a full design audit of the mobile app to ensure remote users have access to the full range of services and features, and if not, brainstorm a plan to secure it in the near future.
Successful Fintechs do not search for excuses, but use a design approach to deliver best-of-class remote experience to the customers.
An inspiring example of this is the mobile banking application by United Arab Bank (UAB). When working with it, UXDA's main challenge was to ease the customer journey throughout all of the daily functionality, making it simple and pleasant. As UAB has a wide range of services available through the application, the UX approach allowed scaling the vision of further development to make the product even more pleasant for the customers.
Optimization of user flow made it easier for users to navigate through the app, exploring new possibilities and encouraging them to use it more often, instead of contacting the bank or visiting the branch.
This led to a rapid increase in customer satisfaction. Only a few months after the release of the new UAB app, their App Store and Google Play rates increased, and customers were eager to share their gratitude for the improvements that were made.
This kind of holistic approach ensures that the customer experience won't be fragmented and disappoint the customers who expect to manage all of their finances right from the mobile app.
5. From legacy incumbents to confident digital outperformers
Online banking UX design by UXDA
More and more traditional banking incumbents are daring to step out of their legacy and challenge themselves to embark on a thorough digital transformation journey.
Inspired by Fintechs, the incumbents empower the potential of UX design to create products that wow their customers and motivate them to stay loyal in the long run.
To do that, they team up with external and internal UX and UI designers who help to integrate the design approach at all levels of the company and the culture of the financial organization. The "fresh blood" of the design-focused teams ensure a successful, user-centered digital transformation that results in customer loyalty. As a result, these kinds of brave incumbents become strong rivals of the Fintech unicorns in the market.
A brilliant example of that is VTB Bank (Georgia) (part of VTB Group). It's a bank trusted by millions that was re-born through an upgraded customer experience and a design that exceeds the standards of the digital age. As a result, a modern online banking UX design was created that embodies trust and stability for its digital customers.
As of now, the customers are sharing that the bank's products correspond to their lifestyle and expectations. Also, the employees have stated that they are proud to be working at a well-established financial brand that lives up to the changing times and takes the best care of its customers.
6. From frustrating fragmentation to an enjoyable digital ecosystem
Mobile banking, desktop and ATM UX design by UXDA
Often, products provided by a single financial institution might differ visually, depending on the digital channel. This kind of fragmented approach is often caused by the fact that the products have been developed by different teams of developers and designers over different periods of time, based on different vendor solutions. This causes high fragmentation within the customer experience as the usability, information architecture and the interface itself differ.
It might not harm the financial institution from the inside but will probably increase the customers’ frustration and digital friction and could result in them switching to another financial company. This is because customers expect the brand experience to be a connected, holistic flow and not separate fragments. Fragmentation breaks the customer experience by causing a lot of struggle and confusion.
Customers expect all of the channels to be equally well designed, communicating the same visual brand language and usability patterns. It shouldn't matter which of the platforms customers use. They all need to be holistically united to ensure consistency across all channels.
A great example here is the remarkable digital ecosystem that banking software vendor CR2 has designed for its white-label products, including a desktop solution, mobile app and even an ATM. It communicates the same visual vibe and usability patterns across all of these different platforms so that the customers wouldn't even notice switching between the channels.
The main challenge when working with CR2 was to design a full-service ecosystem of products that would be able to provide the ultimate customer experience, replacing the need to visit the banking branches.
The attractive white-label mobile app is customizable for any bank. It provides the ultimate way to satisfy user needs and expectations on-the-go, wherever and whenever the customer has a necessity for it. Throughout the experience, the app provides a modern look and inspires joy into the everyday lives of its users.
The desktop solution speaks the same visual language as the app. It's a unique experience for every desktop banking user that's adjustable to the specific needs of any financial brand.
Finally, there's the emotional ATM experience. UXDA's main goal was to create an ATM that could replace the banking branch, offering customers all the needed services without long lines and wasted hours. We made it emotional, bright and user friendly to stand out among the others.
As you can see, all of these different channels are united into a connected flow that makes the user experience smooth, clear and frictionless.
7. From a complex puzzle to an effective design system
In order to create a well-functioning digital ecosystem, it's essential to base it on a proper design system. When it comes to financial services, the design system is especially important to ensure a rapid and consistent digitalization due to the complexity of such products.
In some cases, design files can be compared to the pieces of a puzzle. If they are not sorted out and arranged, it can get very messy and frustrating to create the “bigger picture.”
When it comes to huge financial digital services that consist of thousands of screens developed by several hundred professionals spread over different continents, a carefully thought-out approach is needed.
How do you maintain the consistency and usability of the design when working on a project that has thousands of puzzle pieces that need to fit at the right place and in the right time?
Contextual Banking Experience (CBX), a corporate banking product by one of the most well-known banking software vendors iGTB, consists of more than 5,000 screens. It's a one-of-a-kind contextual platform that helps any corporation manage thousands of accounts with billions of assets in a user-centered way. It would be impossible to create and develop such a product without a proper design system.
When it comes to products of such a scale, it's crucial to establish standards and frameworks (e.g., flows, storyboards, etc.) for as many UX deliverables as possible. It's extremely important to ensure consistency across different modules and avoid mistakes, as small changes can impact much larger flows. For example, one small change might impact hundreds of screens.
The use of a design system has also allowed iGTB to make all of the processes more efficient for the designers and the developers, so it's useful to componentize features as much as possible to reuse those in the future and save time.
8. From cold- to warm-hearted design
Mobile banking app UX design by UXDA
People are used to perceiving banking and finance as something formal, complex and often gray and boring. It's no wonder as the financial products often communicate such a vibe. However, as we are living in a fast-paced world filled with different kinds of emotional messages on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok, the contrast between finance and the rest of the world seems even more striking.
The role of the media has changed. Previously, it was aimed to please advertisers, but today it's all about providing people with value. In the digital paradigm, technology brings businesses closer to the consumers through transparent, honest and personalized communication.
Why would it be any different when it comes to finance? The new generation of financial services is using this knowledge to their advantage.
It often seems that the banking industry is afraid of emotions as if it would somehow reduce their notability. In fact, it's actually the opposite. Emotions are the language that resonates with people and makes them feel heard, understood and cared about. As stats show, currently, receiving empathy and care from brands is more important than ever.
Emotions allow users to make intuitive and quick decisions. We use cognition to understand and interpret our world, while emotions catalyze decision making.
It's important to remember that these financial products are used by living people, not robots, so the solutions should evoke positive emotions in order to create a bond. This can be achieved in different ways, often in tiny details and nuances that some designers don't find relevant. Examples are color schemes, icons and animated and eye-catching illustrations and interfaces.
Visual effects and microinteractions convey emotions, leading to a greater engagement from the users, than, for example, static elements and plain information.
This kind of emotional and user-friendly design is used by the Simah Saudi Credit Bureau. To make difficult and sometimes even depressing credit scoring rates simple and friendly, they have integrated animated characters.
When it comes to credit, emotions such as stress, frustration and even fear might arise. Often the customers are faced with an informal, impersonal or even cold attitude that seems to exacerbate the situation. The app by Simah Saudi Credit Bureau aims to turn this around and introduced the animated character as a supportive figure to guide the user through the process. It explains the credit score and provides personalized advice, making the user feel safe and cared about.
The main goal of the Simah character is to help the user get his or her financial health in better shape.
Many financial companies fear that, by using informal, emotional designs, they will look frivolous in the eyes of the customers. There is a justification for that because there might be designers who lack understanding of the overall functionality of the product and brand's identity, and come up with a design that doesn't correspond with the financial brand. However, if the product design is based on the business goals and user expectations, it can become a powerful and unique asset of brand identity that creates a remarkable market advantage over financial solutions that lack soul.
9. From mobile-only to progressive VR/AR-ready design
World's First Mixed Reality VR/AR Banking Design Concept by UXDA
There's no doubt that mobile apps dominate the market. It's hard to tell when this situation could change and what would be the new top tech to replace the mobile channel. However, it has become quite clear that the focus should be directed toward VR/AR technologies.
According to Statista, global VR/AR market size in 2020 is about 18.8 billion dollars. In the next seven-year period, the VR sector is expected to grow at an average of 21.6 percent every year according to Grand View Research. One in five US consumers have used VR in 2020 (AR Insider, 2020).
Considering the development of this technology and the possibilities it uncovers for the users, it's already clear that it will appear on the scene─if not completely replacing mobile applications, then as a popular side channel.
It's essential for financial companies to follow the development of the future “must-have” products in order to be prepared when it enters the mass market. VR/AR requires a different design approach, and this development has the potential to become a serious industry challenge if not explored in time.
First, it emphasizes the need to ensure simplicity. This is because, compared to the mobile experience, VR/AR design is not limited by the screen size, and it could be tempting to want to display all of the possible information at once. However, this could cause cognitive overload and frustration for the user.
The second principle is consistency because properly structured VR design should reduce the painful effect of a mismatch caused by the difference between the eyes’ tracked movement in virtual reality and the feeling we perceive from physical reality through our other senses.
The third principle is depth. One of the most significant challenges of VR/AR banking design is user interface transition from two-dimensional (2D) to three-dimensional (3D) interactions. This requires deep adaptation of UX/UI design principles and methods for the depth of volumed space.
In the near future, we will see Bank 4.0, the experience era of banking, as financial influencer and founder of Moven, Brett King, puts it. A banking experience will be embedded in the real world through digital technology.
It will probably take several years for the technology to be properly developed; however, when it's done and it becomes easily available to everyone, we can expect the market to be shaken with the same impact as it was with touchscreen devices only decades ago.
10. From package to ideology that makes an impact
In the past, design teams in financial companies were considered the creators of packaging and advertising materials. Their work usually started when the product had already been created, and there was a need to sell it. The modern design approach is antipodal to that.
In the world in which we live, design itself is an approach that creates an experience based on user expectations and needs. As this experience is directly dependent on products and customer service, design becomes an integral part of the business processes. We can integrate a design approach at all levels of the financial company.
If we look at it from an even greater depth, it's possible to turn the design into the company's ideology, a cornerstone of the business DNA, as Apple did. Their specific design philosophy reflects the principles of their world view and identifies authentic ways to convey this ideology through their products, ads and bonding with the customers. This explains why Apple has established such a global impact with its products, deservedly becoming the world's first trillion-dollar company.
Challenger companies have demonstrated the ability to scale design to the level of the company philosophy. In this case, design defines the essence of the financial business.
The company cannot be separated and exist without design. This is when the design reaches its maximum impact, defining the business advantage through a unique strategy and implementation.
Within such a business philosophy, a product or a service primarily becomes a representation of the company's world view. This greatly increases the value that the customer receives and, at the same time, requires much more responsibility from the company. Not every entrepreneur dares to take this kind of risk because, in this case, design is directly related to the company's reputation.
A bright example of design as an ideology is the brand-new conversational bank BELLA Loves Me. It's powered by the idea that banking can be designed with love, truly caring about each of their customers. This ideology is embodied in their app, website and even the media appearances and statements by their executives. This is demonstrated on a regular basis through action, and not only words, thus building a tribe of followers around the idea.
Here are a few examples. The BELLA Loves Me team decided not to spend a million dollars on marketing, but instead to gift this amount of money to their customers through a random cashback. Another example of this is the karma account, intended to result in random acts of kindness. Users can transfer money to this account, which will then be used to randomly pay it forward for other BELLA Loves Me customer purchases. Although it is completely anonymous, both customers can see each other's first name in their feed. This creates an emotional connection to both the anonymous donor and also to BELLA Loves Me, and hopefully encourages the recipient to continue this act of kindness.
There's no wonder that BELLA Loves Me has already become one of the hottest topics in the finance industry. They are building a community around their mission and values, and design plays a major role in it.
Building future through the impact of design
For a long time, design has been perceived as the surface, while, in reality, it's the very depth. The world is changing at the speed of light. Brand-new technology is constantly emerging, opportunities are broadened, and communication becomes more transparent, brave and emotional. When such possibilities open up, it comes with a great responsibility and a pressure to utilize them.
We hope that this article serves as a supportive guide for any CEO, product owner, UX architect, UI designer or anyone else inspired to create a long-lasting positive impact through the power of financial design.
In the digital world, design, not money, becomes the decisive factor for success.
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If you are seeking an exceptional competitive advantage in the digital age, contact us! With the power of financial UX design, we can help you turn your business into a beloved financial brand that has a strong emotional connection with your clients, resulting in success, demand and long-term customer loyalty.