An ambitious new portal for end clients
In late 2014, we began to research, design, and prototype a next generation end-client experience for a new consumer-facing wealth management portal – one where financial intermediaries and their clients could monitor investments and personal financial goals.
We had many ambitious goals for the portal. One of our biggest priorities was to create an interactive and immersive experience that was both easy to use and truly engaged clients in their financial well being. In other words, something that made the investing experience more than just about performance returns and benchmarks.
We also realized that the market was rapidly moving towards increasingly faster, convenient and easy-to-understand user experiences, so we planned to build mobile-ready solutions right from the beginning. And, we decided to build the portal on flexible technology, so that we could quickly adapt to future client needs without having to restructure the underlying technology.
A timely tool for intermediaries
We also wanted to meet the needs of our financial intermediary clients and help support their various client engagement models. This wasn’t about copying the latest trends of robo-advisor market, but one around enabling and enriching the human touch in delivering financial advice.
With the shadows of the financial crisis of 2008 still lingering, financial institutions needed new technology and services to help with increased regulatory compliance requirements. Intermediaries also needed to engage with their clients differently, be more transparent, and assert their value proposition clearly, while also being agile, real-time-accessible and mobile friendly.
To accomplish all of this, our platform was designed to be just as simple and easy for wealth management intermediaries as it was for the end-client. It allows intermediary and client to share the user experience, making discussions about the client’s personal financial growth plan easier and clearer.
A user-centered design approach
To ensure our design met the real-life needs of both wealth managers and end-users, we took a user-centered design approach to gain empathy on what users truly wanted. We interviewed and observed users of all types trying to manage their wealth, and we constantly asked questions along the way. We complemented this approach with secondary market research and included both U.S. and U.K clients. Combined with our team’s knowledge, we synthesized the data which informed our core design principles to develop the first prototype.
The Drexel University study
As part of our design thinking approach to product design, we synthesized our learning, generated tons of ideas, and developed several concepts to test. We then combined the best ideas into a prototype which reflected our core design principles that we could use to test if we truly achieved an engaging, interactive, and easy-to-use wealth management experience.
To create the design and testing process, we approached the world-class scientists at Drexel University about conducting a neuro-ergonomics and usability study on the client interface.
“We asked Drexel how we could create a more engaging experience," said Russ Kliman, head of strategic and innovation programs at SEI.
Drexel University’s LeBow’s College Business Neurobusiness Solution Center, and Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering became our partners in creating a truly immersive experience that would allow testers to see first-hand how effective their design was.
With so much importance riding on delivering a great experience for our clients, we decided to test the front-end interface of the platform in a new way — one that provided a window directly into the mind of the user to see how engaging, intuitive and aesthetically pleasing the interface was.
Drexel’s rigorous scientific approach included two key types of data: behavioral self-reported responses (survey responses and behavioral analysis) and neuro-physiological research methodologies (eye tracking and brain imaging).
Data collected during the study was authenticated using a multi-method approach that triangulated across measurements. The test provided a nuanced and highly accurate view of the results. It left little doubt about where the strengths and weaknesses of the interface design were.
To collect the neuro-physiological data, 37 participants — including both clients and researchers — were outfitted with fNIR (functional near-infrared) headbands, and were then asked to perform tasks on the interface. The technology allowed us to see in real-time how the brain reacted to what it was seeing.
The electrodes in the headbands measure brain activity by detecting oxygen consumption by the neurons. By looking for the areas of the brain with higher oxygenation levels, the research team could build a picture of how difficult or easy it is for the participants to recognize the signals the interface design was giving them as they navigated through their accounts and tracked their account balances. We could see when an online activity was easy, difficult, pleasurable or frustrating. The technology has been used for similar studies in aviation, driving and mobile phone apps, among others, but never before for a fintech application.
We were looking for areas that weren’t intuitive. After the first week of testing on the prototype portal, we examined the findings. User tasks showed that some iconography and icon placement were counterintuitive, and that the visual cues guiding users to drop-down menus were unclear. Users didn’t notice that certain charts interactively revealed more data with a mouse roll-over, and they also lacked the dexterity to retrieve additional information from stacked charts.
Our team made changes, some of which were quite subtle. “Instead of a label saying ‘Asset Allocation,’ we used ‘How my money’s invested.’” said Kliman.
Those changes to the next iteration of the prototype proved to meet user needs very well. During the subsequent weeks of testing, the portal performed better on every measure: overall website ratings, neurobehavioral indices, behavioral efficiency, and average saccade length. It made the experience much easier for the users; each test group exerted minimal effort when using the site.
Final analysis: Users like tracking against their goals
After the development iterations and testing were complete, we tallied up the data. We found that users were most engaged when viewing their financial goals. They told us they would return to the site just to view their goals, which was music to our ears. The test had allowed us to achieve our primary goal of getting investors more engaged and invested in their progress toward their goals.
Users were also able to perform task with more than 75% accuracy. They understood the information they were given on the site well, and were able to search and find things on the site easily and quickly.
To fintech and beyond
The iterative structure of the test allowed our team to move forward quickly and confidently toward our goal of creating a truly user-friendly experience for the new — and future applications down the road.
“This type of cognitive computing will impact financial advice going forward,” said Kliman.
Drexel also saw future applications for the techniques used in the study. Said Rajneesh Suri, associate dean of research for Drexel's LeBow College of Business: "This approach to understanding consumers’ behavior leads to rich diagnostic information and greater confidence in actions taken by businesses.”