We live in an ocean of technology with millions of digital products. They often do not have their own face, without an attractive idea behind them and do not have a story. This makes them both boring and confusing. They are intended to simplify users' lives. However, they often make their lives not only more difficult, but also steal their time and energy. How can we improve this situation? Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic pill to solve this problem. It is more important for us to breathe life into financial services by adding soul to the digital product. Customers deserve humanity, understanding, and careful, human-centered design.
This is an experience-driven world
My friend once bought a beautiful electric tea kettle. He paid five times more than the cost of a standard one. It was difficult to wash, and it was not connected to WiFi. "What is the point,” I asked. “Doesn’t it boil water the same way?" He smiled at me and replied, “You aren’t the first one to ask me this question. I didn’t just want boiled water. I also wanted an experience. This kettle became one of my morning rituals. It sparks joy in me at the beginning of the day and gives me a feeling that I celebrate every single day I live."
People's routines consist of many items as trivial as this kettle, some of them evoking emotions and some not. Тhousands of modifications of the same product have similar functionalities but completely different user experiences. The role of emotions is increasing. Cognitive overload due to global digitalization weighs on all of us, and our inner child longs for something simple, understandable and enjoyable.
The most effective way for a product to stand out from the competition is to provide not only a delightful customer experience, but also a feeling that the product helps you live your best life every day.
Emotional experience, human-centricity and responsible consumption have become a social trend in today's digital world. People deepen the quality of life through mindful living, finding happiness in common things and prioritizing genuineness and authenticity. Therefore, customers want businesses to act sustainably, with inclusiveness and to be socially responsible. Advanced brands use technology to humanize and improve the quality of interaction with the product.
Modern consumers value experiences over things.
But, digital functionality alone is not enough to delight the inner child; it requires nurturing attention, emotional support and engaging entertainment. We often feel frustrated when interacting with digital products. This is not because they do not help us solve our problems, but because we do not feel the human touch behind it, which makes us feel lonely and empty.
Best experiences comes with a soul
“We spent a couple of years and a lot of money on several attempts to improve the design of our new digital product and make it exceptional. But, every time it turned out to be a disaster, some kind of wretched, lifeless excel spreadsheet that could never delight users...” This was how one of the financial brands began its collaboration with the UXDA team. As a result, even before the launch of the project, their potential customers lined up after seeing screenshots of their new service posted on social networks.
How did products manufactured by Apple, Nike, Mastercard or Dove become iconic? What’s their secret? Of course, they have stunning designs and are extremely user friendly and well crafted. However, there is something more that makes them special─something that sets them apart from the crowd of competitors.
Apple unleashes our creativity despite the fear of standing out from the crowd.
Nike unleashes our courage to achieve goals we believe in, despite resistance from the world at large.
Mastercard unleashes our desire for priceless experiences, despite the efforts and money involved.
Dove unleashes our real beauty and self-esteem, despite the pressure of adhering to standard beauty stereotypes.
These brands' messages touch our hearts because they address our human side and inspire us. They perceive customers as humans and treat them in the most humane way possible.
In recent years, the digital industry has been obsessed with improving the functionality, usability and reliability of technological products. Those qualities should be the basis of each product. However, it is not enough. I am talking about something more. It resonates with users, makes them feel cared for and creates a special bond. That is the product's soul.
Products with soul allow us to feel differently, thus creating a completely new quality of customer experience. The only way to reach this level is to establish a deep emotional connection with customers and make them feel special.
The question is whether it is possible to add soul into digital financial products. Some people think that it isn’t. However, this is our answer:
Let me give you a few examples of financial products to which we add soul. Each of these challenges is unique. However, what they have in common is that we designed them by focusing on the users. Our aim was to provide a very special experience that will allow users to say that the product touches their hearts. Only then will we know that we have added soul to it.
How the UXDA team added soul to the ITTI Digital core banking design solution:
How the UXDA team added soul to the Kids Banking App design solution:
How can you add soul to your product?
What makes digital products special? It is when they make us feel special.
You can’t touch the heart of your customers, if your product doesn’t have a soul.
Such an experience does not come just from the use of colors, icons and button placement in the interface. The experience is the result of a design that makes a meaningful statement throughout the customer journey, in accordance with the beliefs of the brand and desires of the clients.
A product's soul is not something mystical as it might appear to be. There are certain criteria that differentiate products with a soul from ones without one.
Unfortunately, digital technology and data-driven services often tend to treat customers like numbers. This should not be allowed, because people feel it. Prove that your business is more than just making a profit. If we take care of our customers, which many financial products do not do, we can move the financial product from the world of numbers to the world of humans.
Giving back to your community and the environment are no-brainers, when it comes to building your brand’s soul.
The best way to show people the human side of a company is to run a responsible business. It must be committed to benefiting society, by making a positive impact on technology, people and the planet.
Tesla empowers sustainable living despite the dominating global oil paradigm.
The NY Times empowers the ability to recognize the truth in a medium dominated by fake news.
The Body Shop empowers natural goods fair trade, by enriching community and nature in a world where exploitation has become part of the supply chain.
We value these products for appealing to our humanity and for allowing us to become the best version of ourselves.
Technology can help brands to expand this humanity through global accessibility, instant support and personalization.
Consumers are 17 percentage points more likely to make a purchase or use a service with a human brand and are 22 percentage points more likely to be satisfied overall with a human brand compared to a non-human one. Еmotional indicators, including “responsive,” “friendly” or “thoughtful,” provided some of the strongest drivers to consumers’ perception that a brand was dealing with them in a human way.
Case study: How do we add humanity to financial products?
In everything we do to create digital products in financial services, we relate to human values. From our experience, the only way to ensure this is to empathize with the needs and pain points of end users at each step of the product design process.
For example, in every project we work with, we are implementing the experience mindset that prioritizes serving over selling, emotions over information, solutions over features, disruption over protection and flow over fragmentation. This helps the project teams switch their mindset to put it behind everything that they are doing and believe, thus ensuring that their approach is always human-centered.
Having a purpose is not just a reflection of product values; it's a challenge to improve something─experience, people or even the world.
People love products that strive to be more. Let’s take a look at companies that are disrupting industries. They dedicate their work to creating unique, authentic and meaningful products. The soul is closely related to the purpose and value the product brings to the customers.
In the digital age, things are changing very rapidly. The fastest growing Fintech products have reached millions of customers in just a few years, while traditional financial brands have taken decades to do so.
- Wise delivers money without borders, saving on fees;
- Revolut brings freedom with a sustainable alternative to traditional banks;
- Chime provides accessible banking that makes a profit with customers, not from them;
- Nubank exists to free people from the bureaucracy of the financial system;
- Klarna makes shopping smooth and frictionless for the consumers;
- Finally, our designed BELLA Loves Me is a conversational banking app powered by love in a numbers-driven industry.
We are used to the financial industry being cold and lacking soul. However, the aforementioned disruptors have proven otherwise. They brought higher purpose and care to their customers, thereby finding a place in their hearts.
Challengers are not afraid to show customers who they are and what they stand for. The highest customer-centricity you can strive to achieve in financial services design is a soul-driven financial product─one that really makes the world a better place for living.
Don't be afraid to stand up for something.
- WHY is the center of brand essence that defines the raison d'être (reason for being) of the company.
- HOW are the values that distinguish the company from others, its particular way of functioning.
- WHAT is the result of previous stages that the company delivers to customers—its products and services.
Case Study: How do we help to connect financial products with brand purpose?
According to Mambu and The Financial Times Focus (FT Focus) research, 81% of banking executives strongly agree that replacing outdated mindsets with a progressive social purpose is vital to growth strategy.
To clearly define the main purpose of why the product exists and then implement it on all digital service levels, we need to understand what customer problems the financial company wants to solve, identify its mission and goals and determine why any potential customer should care about it. We need to ensure that the entire FI's team is on the same page to have a successful kickoff.
For example, when designing financial products, we achieve a deeper understanding by reflecting human needs, as described in Maslow's pyramid (physiology, safety, love and belonging esteem and self-actualization) through technology benefits that we mention in UXDA's Value Pyramid (functionality, usability, aesthetics, status, mission). It allows us to create an integrative, holistic product design that clearly answers the question: why does this financial product exist?
In today's highly automated digital world, products with soul have a special appeal. They make emotional connections part of their DNA. By speaking to customers as friends, human-centered services take precedence over ruthless cost optimization (that leads to robotic interactions).
To establish an emotional connection, we need a product to stand out in customers’ hearts. This requires an emotional touch that resonates with customers' values and beliefs.
Get to know your customers as best you can─what they like and what they don't: events, places, brands, TV shows, blogs, services, etc. It is important to understand their surroundings in order to connect on a personal level and understand what is important to them. We need to go beyond general target data and resonate with the audience based on the beliefs you both care about. This is how product ambassadors are born.
“Every financial institution wants a highly satisfied customer, but in today’s competitive environment, that’s no longer enough,” explains Scott Magids, CEO of Motista. “Our research shows that, across all categories, an ”emotionally connected” customer generates 52% more annual value than just a “highly satisfied” one.”
Case study: How we ensure a banking product’s emotional connection with customers.
To make a banking product emotionally attractive, it was important for us to understand exactly what drives and engages the user.
To do so, we performed user research that helped us understand the context of the end-user’s psychology, expectations, needs and pain points. We used tools, such as user personas, an empathy map and Jobs-To-Be-Done (JTBD). As a result, while product stakeholders felt like they knew their customers very well, our methodology provided valuable insights into our users' lifestyles and context of use. This allowed us to understand jobs they want to hire a product for.
Research based user experience design creates aesthetically pleasing emotional connections between users and a product. However, the power of emotional design could move far beyond pleasant interactions. Design doesn't just make the user experience memorable, it creates new habits that change our world. No one could have imagined how much Ford's cars or Jobs' smartphones would impact the world.
Stories not only entertain us, but also teach us by providing both role models and danger warnings. This helped people survive throughout evolution. Stories include myths, legends, old wives’ tales, Hollywood blockbusters and even the story of that guy next door who got sick after consuming mushrooms.
Our consciousness is constantly trying to organize the chaotic information around us into some kind of easily understandable story.
A Story helps us find the right answer and deliver it in an easy way. For example, Google has the answer to everything─algorithms and data; Apple has design and creativity (“with creativity you can change the world, and we give you tools for this”); Nike's answer lies in the power of personal achievement that encourages us to become the winner in life; Red Bull empowers life with adrenaline, making every moment count. This answer becomes the main value they provide to the customer, and all the communication and products build their story around this.
Once you have defined your brand essence, you can construct a powerful story that ties the brand and product assets together and fills them with human experience and imagination. Such a narrative will direct and support company growth for years, sharing your purpose, values and personality in a clear and emotionally engaging way. Especially during the pandemic, 70% of consumers said brands should boost positivity and share uplifting stories, according to Twitter research, because people live through stories and want to feel the vibe and get more dopamine.
Who is the main character in your product story? This is not about your product. The hero is your customer, and the product is just an ally, like Yoda for Luke Skywalker.
Case study: How can we help kids’ banking tell its story through the product?
To make a family banking app much more meaningful and valuable to the customer, we have treated it as an integral part of the story the financial brand conveys. In order to create such a story, all the dots that were defined at the research stage were connected through a user journey map.
A user journey map showed consistent user flow that matched service features with the user and business' goals at every product touchpoint. This gave an exact picture of what the family expectations are and how our product can meet them to ensure the best possible experience across the entire journey─not only through exact features, but also through overall value and service principles.
To find out how to help parents teach healthy financial habits to their kids, we defined four principles that a banking app should be based on:
To convert it into the story, we used our own storytelling framework modified from Joseph Campbell's monomyth for the Hero's Journey, that he discovered by analyzing archetypal narrative patterns in ancient legends and myths.
A kids' banking story generated through this model looks as follows:
Little Peter's parents are under a lot of stress from raising a child. Peter wastes all his pocket money and demands more. Similar to 49% of parents, they do not know how to talk to Peter about money related issues. Emotions take over, conflicts often arise and they fear that Peter will not be able to adapt to the digital economy, displaying unhealthy attitudes and habits that could ruin his future.
It would be great for Peter's parents to have an ally that can help teach the child the basics of financial management and motivate him to take responsibility and deal with day-to-day family responsibilities. An example of such an ally is a mobile app that guides the parent on how best to educate Peter, gives him access to pocket money and encourages him to help his parents. However, the main obstacle is that Peter does not want to learn all this. He already has a lot of school responsibilities, and at home he wants to play video games.
What if e-wallet, education and a home task manager are combined in an attractive game that transforms a child's first financial experience into an exciting journey? Task manager, reports, community, еverything... is captured and transferred through gamification.
Finally, Peter's parents can enjoy a peaceful and friendly atmosphere at home, a good relationship with Peter and ensure a happy and successful future for their son. They are now positive parents, calm, smart, and responsible, who can love their kid without conflicts and unnecessary stress.
We are under attack by the clones. Thousands of soulless digital products lacking personality create an ocean of sameness around us. To bring a product with personality to life, we need to dig deeper and discover the true essence of a financial brand.
Products that are assembled from functions that are defined from marketing reports about abstract consumers are unlikely to evoke an emotional reaction. Every tiny detail should express the authenticity of the product. Language, design, layout, style, architecture, functions and others should reflect the brand's true identity.
Be different and authentic to transfer personality through stunning product design, which expresses the values of the company.
Iconic brands don’t use boring templates and copy faceless corporate designs. Their products and communications are aesthetically pleasing, unique and consistent with design best practices and trends.
Case study: How we have found a unique identity for luxury banking.
What will customers feel when they interact with the product? Will it feel like they’ve been teleported 30 years back in time to the middle of a “desert” of confusion and complexity? OR will it feel like they’ve entered a place of joy and delight? Emotion-driven product design should unlock the door to a product's unique story, forming the design language.
To find the right mood and design vision for the luxury banking product, we collected different mood boards to explore ideas and move out of the usual banking perception:
In this way, we create the inspiration to move out of the box and experiment in the search for an authentic and visually stunning solution.
Everyone in the industry is under the pressure of existing rules, stereotypes and patterns that are copied and pasted from product to product. To create something fresh and unique, we need courage to act from the first principle and question the fundamentals.
Only when it feels like the product was developed by humans, do humans react to it emotionally. Such products enrich the user's identity and become part of their lifestyle. People will protect them and encourage others to use them because products with personality evoke love.
In every business, there are pitfalls that destroy the motivation of a team. In the most successful digital startups, we see that the founders had such a powerful and engaging vision for the product that it made the entire team passionate and motivated about it despite the obstacles. Steve Jobs said, "People with passion can change the world for the better."
If we look closely, we can find a simple formula: the product vision must be so inspiring as to sustain the passion of the entire team.
Today, many are striving to understand what users will like and create a product for them. This is right, but only after you have started with yourself. When you make a product for yourself, at least one person is already excited─you! In the human community, any movement always starts with one passionate visionary.
It doesn't matter who you are—an employee of a Fintech startup or a bank product owner—your attitude toward the product is critical. If the owner does not passionately believe in the product, no one will believe it. You need to align the external customer experience with the internal passion. You can put your soul into the product and bring it to life. However, you need your team to believe and sync with this passion to keep and expand this life.
It is not easy to bring such a passion to life. Despite the fact that digital is performed as a data-driven business, users evaluate everything through emotions.
Case study: How we usually help with this.
To feel the power of a banking super app, even without its launch, and ignite passion into the team, we delivered an inspiring visual prototype that communicates the value behind the product and the soul it has inside. At this epic milestone, the feeling of our clients who see the design concept of their future product for the first time that they had previously only dreamed of, is usually amazing.
The first banking super app prototype made the entire team extremely excited to see and touch the first screen of the product they've been working so hard on for weeks. These emotions generated by the design of the product invigorate a financial product's team energy and motivation to bring the product to life.
In one of our recent projects, after seeing the product, the entire client team was seized with a passion to convey this value to users, despite the fact that most of the employees were located in different countries and worked remotely.
Sometimes we see how the actions of the company do not correspond to its statements. This is very frustrating for customers. For example, in a beautiful ad, a company talks about caring. However, its mobile app is terrible, its support team is arrogant and its managers are indifferent. Talking about the soul and establishing an emotional connection is meaningless in this case.
To create the best product with a soul, it's extremely important to ensure consistency in everything you do according to purpose.
All elements of your service, both external (communications, product design, visual style, user interface, support, etc.) and internal (business processes, employees, back-office software, operating principles, etc.) must be focused on a singular purpose.
Case study: How we ensure product consistency according to focus.
To ensure service consistency, we need to deliver connected and positive user experiences across the entire user journey. The company often silos and losing customer focus becomes the main issue for businesses. Therefore, the user journey helps to keep every company department focused on the user.
Digital product consistency can be ensured by a design system that includes a UX design guide, documentation and UI deliverables. The design system serves as a roadmap to keep the whole team on the same page about the product and provide a consistent user experience across all product modules and versions.
Customers pay more for the best experience
- Decreased customer retention (60%)
- Decreased sales (57%)
- Loss of company revenue (57%)
- Poor brand image (50%)
Everyone sees that moving to meet customer needs has a high potential for business performance, especially in the long term:
- 80% of customers now consider the experience a company provides to be as important as its products and services.
- 66% of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.
- 65% of U.S. customers find a positive experience with a brand to be more influential than advertising.
- 42% of customers would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience.
- 32% of all customers would stop doing business with a brand they loved after one bad experience.
As Rishad Tobaccowala author of, “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data,” said:
The UXDA team believes that soul is the vital force that gives a digital product and a financial brand a powerful vibe. We can perceive product soul as energy that makes customers feel better, makes the product team feel passionate and creates purpose and addresses our emotions. This energy cannot often be articulated precisely. However, it connects and attracts people on an emotional level, creating the basis for a long-term competitive advantage.
Designing for purpose, value and user experience doesn't stop at finding the shortest service route or the least cluttered interface design. As digital consumers are constantly on the lookout for new experiences, competition grows exponentially. Over 3 million apps worldwide are trying to seduce them, and the number is growing hourly.
There's absolutely no way to win this game by tampering with only rational parameters. Only soul-driven digital products that provide both problem-solving features and an exceptional user experience are up to creating an emotional connection with customers and succeeding in the long term.
Get UXDA research-based white paper "How to win the hearts of digital customers":
If you are seeking your financial product SOUL and also 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.