Thursday, January 9, 2020

The Lessons of Fintech Apps: Design Matters for Personal Finance​

by Bill Maurer, UCI; Melissa Wrapp, UCI; Chandra L. Middleton, UCI; Vivian Dzokoto, Virginia Commonwealth University; and Jenny Fan, UCI

This research report from Filene's Center of Excellence, the Center of Emerging Technology at UC Irvine provides lessons to credit unions that may help ​improve how their services are​ perceived and that may help ​activate deeper engagement ​with younger members.

Executive Summary
Fintech-based personal financial management (PFM) apps are providing new ways for budgeting and investing. In an effort to attract or retain Gen Z and Millennial members, financial institutions have been quick to adopt products similar to Mint or Acorns. In the race to provide these services, few financial institutions have reviewed and explored the value that such products provide, and how people interact with and feel about budgeting and investing with these new apps.

What Is the Research About?
Filene piloted a study that tested three PFM apps for budgeting (Mint, Wally, and You Need A Budget) and two for investing (Stash and Acorns). Twenty-seven participants between the ages of 18 and 34 used an assigned app for one month. Each participant was interviewed before and after using the app. Focus groups were held to provide additional insights.

We set out to learn three things from this study:
  • How do people use these apps? And how does the design of the apps shape the user experience?
  • What are the apps really teaching users? Are there conflicting messages to “buy” in budgeting apps? And how do users’ behaviors change as a result of using the apps?
  • How effective are the apps at getting people to improve their financial behaviors?
Surprisingly, we learned that traditional financial institutions are still preferred over PFM apps. Although the apps have their benefits, people still want access to actual people in their financial institutions. In terms of design shaping the user experience, good design begets credibility. Poorly functioning or shoddy-looking apps eroded trust in the financial institution.

The apps tended to raise awareness of participants’ budgeting or investing behaviors rather than change behaviors. For some, using the apps reinforced preexisting frustration or stress participants felt about their financial lives. With investment apps, some participants felt that the gamification of the apps promoted addictive behaviors.

Read additional takeaways, download the full report, and view summary slides here:

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