A budgeting and saving app designed for females who are new into personal finance management
I wanted to explore my own way of dealing with unfamiliar problems. At my core, I am interested in technology and curious about finances.
COVID19 has caused more new users to look into using PFM to help them get better control of their finances. The topic became more approachable since I am also personally looking to get into it. So I decided to look into how the current technology could help average people get better control of their finances.
Design a PFM product that people who are new to financial management can stick with.
UX design, UI design, Prototyping, Logo design
Mid November 2020 - late February 2021
The beginning of the project
The issues I experience when I manage my money:
I'm passively managing money with PFM tools and the money is controlling my mood.
My goal using PFM tools was to 'save more money'. I put money into a savings account in a regular base, and tried to stick with my budget plan. After a few months, I could more or less stick with the budget plan and saved more than before, but the feeling of managing money remains rather boring and unfulfilling to me, and I'm not sure how long can I keep it up.
I suspected that the reason was deeper than features.
I have tried other apps like Emma, CLEO, Spendee and while the use case and focus of those apps might be different, the overall experiences are quite similar to Money Dashboard. And I don't think they will bring any meaningful difference. Reaching goals like 'save more money' is not enough to be happy and sustainably manage money long-term.
Assumption: The reasons might surround mindset and relationship to money
Reports, surveys and articles about women managing money revealed that women value financial security highly and that there is an increasing number of women who actively dive into money management. Meanwhile, a survey showed that women are less confident about their money management, less engaged with personal finances and a majority seems to associate negative emotions with PFM.
These findings helped me understand why I feel like I'm not in control even though I reached my goal with the help of PFM products. It could seem like simply using a PFM product won't be enough for the average female user because emotion and mindset play a role too, something which needs to be addressed somehow.
To validate this assumption, I spoke to other women to find out.
To ensure that my solution has meaning and impact, I've narrowed down my audience and made assumptions regarding the unique problem.
Female millennials with a growth mindset who don't understand money very well but want to manage their finances better.
Female millennials with a growth mindset who need a healthier relationship between spending and saving to achieve financially sustainable lifestyle.
Considering the MVA are beginners at using PFM's, more nuanced types of investing are not taken into consideration.
🔸 What I knew in the beginning
About the user
They are willing to learn about PFM
They have tried different ways to manage their finances already
About PFM products
They help users track their bank accounts in one place
They help users calculate money (reduce math/processing required by the user)
🔸 What I didn't know and wanted to find out
What are the real problems that the MVA faces when managing their finances?
There are many PFM products in the market. What do the MVA find to be lacking in these products?
What is her needs? Pain points?
What triggers you to check the PFM product you are using? (time of day, location, event)
What is wrong with the way she is doing it?
How does she currently manage her money?
What product has she used or is she currently using?
What does she like and dislike about them?
Reasons to use one product over another.
(The above thoughts are not exhaustive but rather representative of what I found most important)
This is the structure of how I sought answers:
Uncovering users' problems: What are the real problems the MVA faces when they manage their finances?
I contacted fifteen people who seemed fitting as interviewees. Three out of seven who fit the profile were willing to do the interview.
They were not familiar with personal finance management
They were interested in managing their finances
They had already tried at least one tool to manage their finances
Facetime, Zoom, Descript
🔸 User's high-level needs
Analysing the findings through methods like 'Empathy mapping' and 'Jobs-to-be-done', I have condensed the needs into these four sections:
Get spending under control and still enjoy life
Grow a healthy money management mindset
Grow confident about managing finances
Manage money is not a difficult job. They want it to be easy and understandable.
Social needs/the better version of oneself
Someone who's financially independent and responsible, who doesn't let money control their life but rather uses it to live a better life.
Empathy map helps me to sort the findings into key points
🔸 Problems the MVA faces as they manage money
From the interview, the overall reasons that causes user dissatisfaction towards PFM can be condensed into the following points:
The user doesn't feel motivated enough to manage money consistently.
- The user doesn't feel confident because they don't know how it actually works or how to optimise it, etc.
The user doesn't feel that they are growing any knowledge about money management.
The real problem is lacking the right mindset and real drive to succeed
During the interviews it became apparent that the users don't actually have much of a concept about financial management. They are passively using the PFM product and trying to keep up with their basic goals.
It's like when you go on a diet and follow a plan. People who succeed in dieting start somewhere, build awareness of what works for them and grow their knowledge around that, enabling them to follow through and stay motivated and happy during their diet.
It is the same for managing money; how much money and energy the user has is relatively limited, so it's important to understand why they do it in the first place, what spending pattern works for them, improve their knowledge and eventually it will accumulated to form a better mindset.
The findings validate my early assumptions: The main difficulty the user faces is the lack of a better money mindset.
Uncovering users' problems: There are many PFM products in the market; what do the MVA find to be lacking in these products?
I have quite a few products on my phone under 'PFM folder' which I use from time to time, but I don't feel that I'm managing money in a meaningful way that makes my life better.
- Celine (interviewee)
🔸 The users are lead by the features of the product but they don't actually know what they want to get out of the product.
The apps in group ① & ② are top choices if the user wants to setup budget and some also have overview of their money. They meet functional needs while also feature bonus features like 'Send insights & reports', 'Save more by rounding up', 'Remind the user about subscriptions', 'Manage membership cards', 'Earn cashback'.
The interviewees want to do a lot with the products they have tried but they end up not really using them. This is a sign that the apps are not satisfying expectations. As a result, the user won't build any loyalty towards the product either, so long-term use will be hard to sustain.
① PFM apps for overview finances, make budget plan and saving plan
Yolt, Money Dashboard, Cleo
② Budget apps
③ Other PFM apps
Emma, Plum, Snoop
④ Other way to manage money
Notebook, Habit apps, Note-taking product like Notion, Trello.
Notion file to record information of competitive products
🔸 The current products are not successful in helping the user develop a better money mindset.
Even if the interviewees have made the attempt and host several apps on their phones, they still don't feel any more confident about managing their money (they're more likely to establish a false sense of reassurance).
Combining their words from the interviews and my own analysis, I've rounded out the following potential explanations for the prevailing problem:
The product didn't succeed in motivating the user: For the relatively new user, managing money is not a fun job because they are not in the right mindset yet. They need encouragement and motivation to stick with the product.
The budget setup didn't guide the user well enough: The interviewees has reported that they didn't feel assured throughout the process. They didn't know where to start, felt it took too much time to setup, or that they are not in control.
The user's knowledge about PFM didn't improve: Even though the app will send weekly reports and tips, the user doesn't learn much. Maybe because they don't know how to react to the advice in the report? There's a high chance they are not even checking it but rather auto-dismissing the notification as a habit.
It becomes all about the money, not about knowing themselves better: Some may lose track of the original purpose for them to try and manage money. They end up caring only about keeping up with the current budget, and if they spend extra money they will feel bad or guilty.
The findings above have lead me to the following problem statement:
🔸 Create an experience that helps the MVA enjoy the journey of managing their money while growing a healthy, sustainable money mindset so that they will have increasingly better control over their finances in the long run.
To make sure I will have a clear user group and their goals in my mind, I have created a persona based on insights from the user research.
Persona with personality sliders and behaviour pattern
🔸 Business goals
For this project, I want to design the product that simulates real-world constraints, so I have set up 'project goals' and used methods like 'Lean canvas' to define the scope.
Set up customer, business goals and technical limits now and use it later for measuring success of the design
Thinking through 'lean canvas' help me define the product's scope better
In this stage, the solutions and features developed for the MVP should be aim at these priority business goal:
Capture and maintain loyal customer
Increase user's engagement
Acquisiton: How much downloads
Retention: How many users are using the product
Activation: How often users use the product
Business value & goal of the product: Ads, market research companies & tips
Considering that the type of product is about budgeting and saving, I won't be dealing with cashback or suggesting any financial products, in which case the business value of the product can be found by following the path of Money Dashboard and Snoop (they're also free to use).
At the beginning, the company can earn money from:
Ads based on insights generated by the user
Providing anonymous data to market research companies
In the future, when the user gains real value from the app:
Sell money-related digital courses, workshops, etc.
Suggest low-risk investment products and earn commissions
🔸 The MVP is focused on helping the user understand their spending pattern, motivate them to save more and improve their knowledge of managing finances.
To form an idea of what features should be in the MVP, I expanded the design opportunity using the 'HMW' method. To build more empathy with the user, the methods 'Customer journey mapping' and 'Experience mapping' came in handy.
Brainstorming ideas by 'HMW' method
Looking for design opportunities in the process of how people do budget and save money
🔸 Defined solutions that solve the user's core needs
I have spotted the opportunities in 'budgeting' and 'saving' processes, associated with 'Build a healthy money mindset' and 'have control of their money' into the following solutions. These are also the focus of the MVP:
Guide and engage the user with budget/saving set up: This helps the user's setup process be quick and understandable. The guidance will lead them and the engagement will make them feel that they are still in control of the setup. This focus can help users feel more confident and included in the process.
Integrate relevant content and insights: This will increase the user's chances to interact with the PFM tips, motivations, and other content by prompting them effectively. The user can improve their PFM knowledge, get to know the app better and adapt to a better mindset.
Motivate and help the user figure out their real goal in PFM: The user should understand managing money is not about money but rather it's about themselves. It will motivate them and consolidate their drive to follow the PFM plan.
🔸 The MVP features I chose for this stage
Review net worth and individual bank account
Link bank account for automation
Feeds for contents, insights, tips, etc
Budget setup with guide
Inspiring cards display for goals
Saving setup with goals
03 Ideate & design
I have created 'objectives' to lead the design and put myself in a simulated real project environment.
Create a mobile app that can:
Delivery the brand voice: Confident, uplifting, genuine
Have more user 'link their bank accounts'
Guide the user through the process and make them feel they are in control
Increase the user's engagement
Increase interaction with guidance and tips, leading to more ad click-throughs
🔸 Start with the feature 'budget setup' and define success metrics
I start with designing the feature 'budget setup', it's designing for the relatively-new female user and it is aiming at:
Easy to understand
Give the user overview
Quick to set up with ability to modify and engage
Include guidance with ability to interact with
These are the metrics to measure which is the best design from all the attempts.
🔸 Create new flow and structure for budget setup
There were two tasks led me through the ideation phase to find the best solution for the budget setup.
① Analysis the competitors' budget setup feature
I have analysis the competitors's budget setup in details here, and used the above metrics to measure how success they are.
From the analysis, I had a more clear idea of what I can learn from the competitors, things like show the user both incoming and spending ('Money Dashboard'), clean layout and visual hierarchy (Yolt, Money Dashboard), a gathered place for feeds and insights (Spendee).
More detailed analysis of competitors' budget feature
② Explore and design the frame of budget setup
Consider these products don't offer a simple and quick budget setup, I decided to design the structure from the ground.
The initial setup could look something like:
Set up manually
The user sets up the budget amount, categories one after another.
The user pick a plan for budget or have default setting and ability to modify when they want.
Set up a goal first, it can be a saving goal or keep essential spending under a certain amount.
Answer questions so the system can suggest a compatible plan.
Select the type of spending personality and the system will suggest a plan for the user.
These two plans will require more implementation effort and the value for customer won't be significant, so they were not be considerate in the sketching phase.
The strategies above on the left-side make more sense, so I put them into context, exploring the frame and steps of budget setup, layouts and tried not to obsess over little details. I want to move fast so I could start building the real thing and iterate more.
After deciding the direction, I began refining the design in grayscale. Covering all use cases was not realistic so went with what a new user would see in 'budget'.
Part of the sketches of ideas regarding 'set up budget'
More refined budget setup layout possibilities
Possibilities of spending display
🔸 The main difficulty I experienced during the ideate and design
How to optimise design with clear direction and move forward fast?
These are my approach to this difficulty:
The task flow lead the design
Keep assessing is the design matching with the user's needs
I focus on single line of user journey at a time and used story-telling and annotations to fill the gap of user journey. It helps me develop more ideas without being distracted. I found this shorthand task flow created by Ryan from Basecamp helped me make change to the task flow quick while I exploring the design.
To validate the design, I kept going back to check the success metrics of the budget setup and user's needs to make sure the design is valuable to the user.
Simple and quick-to-adapt task flow created by Ryan from Bootcamp
After trying out different structure of the setup, this the user flow of the budget setup:
Part of the user flow for the new users
User flow of the app
To design the app with clear goals in mind, I have combined the business goals and the analysis from user research and made the 'objectives' below.