Open Banking UX – Building trust, reaching goals and the importance of user testing

By David Coghlan | Apr 6, 2018 |

Open Banking is a hot topic within the financial services industry, but to the average person in the street, Open Banking could be seen as a scary unknown. This is why the User Experience (UX) is critical to build trust and create an intuitive and simple way for people to share financial information with the businesses they choose.  

Mary Harmon, Lead Product Designer at OpenWrks, shares her views and insight on how to build trust through user experience and the challenges faced whilst building Open Banking consent flows for customers of the UK’s 9 largest banks.     




Tell us a little about yourself, your experience with UX and your role within OpenWrks?

In 2005, I graduated with a degree in culture, media and communications a broad subject but it sparked my interest in theoretical semiotics and visual communication.

It was during my very first job where I began using design as a discipline at a newspaper website. The powers at be weren’t really taking the internet seriously(!) so I had lots of free reign to learn on the job, where I became fluent in HTML and CSS. My design training has always been based on interaction design and creating online experiences rather than graphic and print design.

My role at OpenWrks is very much about interaction design. Everything from User Interface elements, user journeys and most importantly user research and testing.


What’s important in the User Experience and design of Open Banking consent flows?


Trust is massively important.

We mustn’t forget this is a new process. Even though there might be existing journeys where you can draw parallels, sharing your banking information isn’t something that people are familiar with.

Even for things less emotive than banking, people make a snap decision about how a website looks in milliseconds and decide whether or not to trust the business behind it.  


UX has a lot to add in terms of providing information in a way that people can digest without overwhelming them, making sure the information and actions are usable, discoverable and visibly clickable.     


During an Open Banking connection, there is quite a lot of information to get across so design and visual hierarchy are really important to help users achieve their end goal. Guiding people to the most important information first, then leading them into the detail without overwhelming them.


Do you think the lack of common knowledge about Open Banking could cause hesitation when going through an Open Banking consent journey?


It could do, especially in the early days.

How problematic it may be will depend on what the data is being used for and why a business is asking people to connect and share their banking information.  

At OpenWrks we talk a lot about the ‘data value exchange’.

Put into context, a person will go through a thought process of; “If I give my data, what do I get in return?” If that equation looks like a good deal, that makes life easier then people will be more likely to share data.

As this process is so new, people will likely weigh up this equation throughout the Open Banking consent journey, so we’ve got to help them make the decision by telling them what we can and can’t do. Consistently reinforcing to the user that they are in control, they can stop things if they want to and that it’s their data to share if they choose. The more clearly that’s communicated the more comfortable people will be with sharing their financial information.


You’ve been conducting extensive user testing of the OpenWrks consent journey ‘Flow’, what best practice principles are you using to build trust through that Open Banking connection?


It’s a balancing act.

On the one hand, the pace needs to be slow enough for the user to understand what’s going on, digest new information and adapt to it without feeling rushed or pressured.

But then on the flip side, it’s a mechanism to achieve a goal. So there’s this need to get out of the way and let people just get on with it so they can reach their goal sooner. Whether that goal is a personalised loan or a better deal for their mortgage.

Different people will have different needs. Some people will be quite happy just to go through and give their permission, but as mentioned earlier there will be others who keep going through evaluation cycles throughout the process. The information hierarchy is key here to provide balance, providing enough information to assure people without unnecessarily overwhelming them, and all whilst remaining compliant.

Everyone that completes Flow will know what data we access, the reason we’re accessing it, how we access that data and then how that data will be used.  


But for those that want more technical information, one of my guiding principles is discoverable depth. Having the depth there for people that want it but not shoving it in the faces of people that it’s just going to baffle and scare.


There are also some simple steps, like avoiding jargon. Those outside of the industry will be sensitive to terms that we casually throw around in the office. In the context of a user journey, those words take on new meaning and could be negatively associated by users. Words like ‘data’ and ‘third party’ suddenly carry a lot more weight.

Another thing that’s helped in our user testing is emphasising familiar elements. Using co-branding within the journey and making sure OpenWrks relationship to the service provider is clear, ensures a sense of familiarity and maintains trust with the customer.  

Because this connection journey is new, there’s also no existing expectation of what is happening or is about to happen. To overcome this there are several points in Flow where we prime people for the next step, reducing potential shocks and unknowns.


What has the initial reaction been from user testing conducted of Flow? How have people interacted with it?


We learned a lot from our first prototype. If there was ever any doubt about how sensitive the information was then showing that prototype to people just helped underline it. Since then we’ve iterated and tested and we now see 80% of participants complete the journey.    

The more we iterated, the more comfortable people were, going through the journey as they understood what was happening, which overall makes the process faster. They could orientate themselves, figure out what was going on and what action they should take as they’d already been primed for that decision.

Positive friction is another phrase that we like to use in the office.

In the past, slow connections would cause drop-offs between pages. But now, particularly with the rise of mobile, more and more usability tests prove that one thing at a time or smaller digestible bits of information tend to have far better conversion rates. This is what we’ve built into Flow.

Flow presents users with digestible amounts of information, grouping related information together makes it easier to process the information being shown. Keeping a person’s attention means that they can understand these processes and take action quicker with more confidence.     


When going through an Open Banking consent flow, the user will be redirected to their banks’ website and authorisation pages. How are these bankside pages fitting into the users’ experience?


I’ve been quite surprised by the variety we’ve seen from banks. We always thought that there would be some variance between them but some aren’t even taking users directly to their normal online banking login page.

The majority are, which will help users to feel more comfortable and they can just get on with the process, with fewer hurdles to jump over.  


These extra or different login steps have been taken from a security perspective, which I completely understand, but it’s been at the cost of usability. These two things don’t need to be mutually exclusive.


During our user testing, some people wanted reassurance from their bank account provider. Some banks are providing this, but sometimes the execution isn’t particularly user-friendly. It’s been implemented in a really dry way or as a long-winded process.        


Will the banks continue to improve these journeys or are they set in stone?


There’s been a bit of back and forth. But reassuringly, a new work stream has been introduced by the Open Banking Implementation Entity (OBIE), that works with the banks to ensure the efficacy of the bank side customer authentication and authorisation steps. This means that the banks’ user experience will be held to a set of compliant standards which should hopefully make the experience both consistent across all banks but also better for the user.   


How do you think people will take to Open Banking over time? Will it become the norm or will people still be wary?


I hope it becomes the norm because there’s lots to benefit from. When those benefits become clearer, where the use case is appealing enough and there’s a genuine need for the service or tool then I don’t see why it wouldn’t be overwhelmingly successful.

At the moment people don’t know what Open Banking is, so struggle to see how it could benefit them. The idea that it’s your data and you can use it for your own benefit will become more present, and hopefully, the benefits will become increasingly clear.

Interestingly, I was having a discussion with one of our clients about their customers who are facing bankruptcy, receiving court summons, with bailiffs at the door and a lot of mental health issues. The thought of going to their bank and getting 3 months worth of bank statements is horrific to a lot of those people. This is where the value of Open Banking becomes clear, it’s less of a burden and could truly help ensure a person’s financial stability.  

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