Financial Planning App

Holistic Case Study

There are 5 embedded case studies for this product available on the bottom of the page.


Glossary of Terms

The Bank - the entity licensing this product to service their customers
The Investor - the customer of the bank and end user of this product

About the Product

A white-label digital investment advice application licensed to banks. The bank uses the product to streamline their client servicing by automating tasks previously performed by a human. The product helps the investor plan for their financial goals and manages their investment portfolio.

The Problem

For the Investor
The investor
is currently years away from retirement but is worried about not having enough money to last through retirement. They want to know how much to save and how to invest to sustain their current standard of living during retirement.

For the Bank
The bank
wants to capture investors with a net worth below $1M but servicing them is too costly for the firm. They need a way to lower their operating cost by automating certain tasks.

My Role

I was the sole designer on this application for the first release, which spanned about 2 years. I worked with product management to conduct research, define the problems, ideate on the solutions, create storyboards, and prioritized the capabilities. I produced the wireframes and prototypes on my own and I worked with product management to test them on users. We eventually hired more designers as the product grew. At that point, I was both a hands-on designer and oversaw the work of the other designers.

The Process

Step 1: Met with the Banks

Our team met with banks and learned that there was a segment of investors known as mass-affluent (net worth between $250K to $1M) that were under-served when it came to financial advice. Between the client meetings and administrative costs, serving this segment of investors was unprofitable because the amount of money managed was too low to generate substantial revenue, which is a percentage of the amount managed. For example, a person who has $250K in assets under management would pay $2,500 per year in fees if the rate was 1%.

However, the banks did not want to neglect this segment because the investor will eventually have enough money to be profitable and the best way to capture them was to establish a relationship early.

There Was a Big Business Opportunity

The big banks had millions of existing checking and savings account customers that they could cross-sell advisory services to, so a solution that reduced their overhead was very important to their business.

Step 2: Empathized & Defined the Banks' Problems

The problem was that it was too expensive for the banks to service this segment of investors using traditional methods. Interactions between advisors and investors took too much time. Administrative duties were costly and time consuming. Typically, the advisor spent a lot of time interviewing investors and filling out paperwork, which was not an efficient usage of their time.

Banks wanted to outsource or automate the following tasks:

  • Evaluating the investor’s risk tolerance

  • Prescribing an investment portfolio

  • Opening of accounts

  • Collecting suitability requirements

  • Periodic and recurring money transfers

Step 3: Interviewed Potential Investors

Getting a panel of people to interview was difficult. Because the investors were customers of the bank, we didn’t have access to them. I unsuccessfully tried to solicit customers outside of local bank branches. The best we were able to do was understand the persona of the investors the banks were targeting and find proxies. Some of the attributes that we considered for the persona include:

  • Age - they had to be old enough to be thinking about their retirement

  • Net worth - $250K to $1M

  • Not knowledgeable at investing

  • Owned a checking and/or savings account

The PMs and I utilized and friends/family of employees who matched the persona. Some of the questions we asked included: “Have you started saving for retirement? If not, why?” and “Have you ever tried using a robo advisor? If so, what are your impressions of them?”. We interviewed about 15 people and started seeing patterns.

Step 4: Empathized & Defined the Investor's Problems

We recorded all the data and highlighted key findings that were common amongst the investors. Here were some of the things we learned about the investors:

  • Majority under 45 did not know how much money they'll need in retirement and how much they need to save.

  • Majority under 35 had other financial priorities, such as paying off debt, bills, saving for vacations, or a house. They did not have enough money left over to save toward retirement outside of their 401K.

  • Majority felt other digital products out there were too focused on portfolio performance but achieving a certain lifestyle was what they cared about.

  • Some did not trust financial advisors and thought advisors were crooks.

Step 5: Analyzed Competitors

Before the PMs and I started coming up with our own solutions, we looked to see what other digital investment advice products have done. I ran user tests on these products with people that matched our persona to see what their pros and cons were. Selecting the right proxies for testing was extremely important because there were many factors about a person that determined what they wanted out of a product.

In addition, we had to work with subject matter experts to learn which approaches other products took to solve a problem were legally allowed for the big banks. As much as we wanted to take a user-centered approach, legal and compliance had as much influence on a product as the user. What I learned was that different types of firms played by different rules. For example, a big bank played by much stricter rules than a Registered Investment Advisor.

Step 6: Defined Goals & Brainstormed Solutions

The PMs and I used the learnings from our research to define the goals of the product and brainstorm high-level solutions.

Goals of the product include:

  • Automate tedious tasks for the bank and make them legally compliant.

  • Convert investors into paying customers for the bank.

  • Help investors achieve a variety of financial goals. Even though retirement assets was the most profitable for the bank, it's the other goals that will attract users to the platform, especially for younger investors.

  • Instill trust into the investor and make them feel comfortable about investing.

At this stage, we came up with the framework for our financial planning product and the key components of the user flow.

Step 7: Created a Storyboard

I created a storyboard that captured the key ideas from our brainstorming and showed the role they played in solving the investor's problem. We used the storyboard as a communication artifact for meetings with other stakeholders to help them understand the full user journey.



Mary knows that saving for retirement at a young age is important, so she has diligently saved $100K in her savings account. She realizes that she eventually needs to invest the money in order to have enough for retirement, but she doesn’t know where to begin. She receives an email from her bank telling her about a product that can help her.

Step 8: Discussed Solutions in Detail & Created a Project Plan

At this stage, more stakeholders became involved, including: senior leadership, more product managers, engineering, and subject matter experts to discuss the problems, use cases, and the solutions. We first discussed solutions for the happy path and later discussed solutions for alternative paths and edge cases. With each passing meeting, more details were defined and a clearer picture of the product emerged, which we captured using user flows, task flows, and block frames. These meetings gave everyone a chance to weigh-in with their concerns. Engineering weighed in on the technical feasibility of the solutions. Compliance weighed in on potential legal implications. Design weighed in on the experience. Advocates for the bank weighed in on whether the bank’s problems were addressed.

After understanding the full scope of work and the broader project plan, I created a project plan for design work, which listed and described all my tasks, the order in which they were to be worked on, and when they were to be worked on.

This is the task flow for the primary use case

Step 9: Created and Tested the User Flows

The PMs and I took the task flow and turned them into a user flow diagram to capture the steps in greater detail and incorporate decision points. We validated it with some test users to make sure that we didn't overlook anything.

Step 10: Defined a Product Roadmap

After all the stakeholders contributed to the solutions, we ended up with more capabilities than what was needed to launch the product. We prioritized the features that were essential for launch and scheduled the remaining features for a later time. We came up with estimates on when features would be available, which the PMs kept track of using a product roadmap. I weighed in on what I thought was a priority for the user, but product management had the final say on the roadmap.

Step 11: Created the Product Info Architecture & Site Map

I created the info architecture for the product and used a site map to show how the pages are organized.

Step 12: Created Individual Product Pages

I followed the project plan previously created and worked on the individual pages in the product. Each project included further research and interviews, competitor analysis, brainstorming ideas, iterating on wireframes, collecting feedback, user testing, prototyping, and delivering high-fidelity mocks to engineers.


High-Fidelity Screens

Pattern Library

Step 13: Worked With Engineers on Implementation

For each project, I answered questions engineers had as they implemented the designs. I reviewed their work along the way to ensure it met our specifications.

Step 14: Ran User Tests After Product Was Developed

After I delivered all the pages to engineering and everything was built, I ran user tests on the live product. As good as user testing a prototype was, it was no substitute for testing on a live product. It was especially important for features that provided a lot of interactivity, such as our income projection page, which gave the user the ability to play around with inputs that affected an output. I kept track of things that were missed from user testing prototypes and added them to our project management road map.

Step 15: Ran UX Benchmarking Tests

For all features released after the initial product release, I ran tests in which the user went through the flow uninterrupted. I checked for key metrics, such as clicks, time to completion, etc. I compared the metrics between pre-release and post-release of a capability to measure the impact it had on the product.

Step 16: Monitored Metrics and Looked For Areas to Improve

After the release of the product, I worked with our data scientist to get traffic metrics. The PMs and I analyzed our data to see what parts of the flow needed attention. We investigated areas with high drop off, explored new solutions, and ran more user tests. The challenge is that sometimes features test well but they don’t perform as well in the wild with real investors. Real users are investing actual money so they are more hesitant to perform certain actions than a tester. For example, we had users who dropped off because they had to consult with their spouse before making a commitment.

The Conclusion

How Did the Product Perform?

Over 12% of users who tried the product opened an investment account. The product launched without some functionality that investors desired, which negatively impacted conversion. For example, certain popular account types were not available, which we think contributed to drop-off.

The product was named the goal-based digital advice platform of the year by in 2020.

What's Next?

One of the issues investors have is not knowing how to prioritize their financial goals. Should they buy a house first? Should they pay off their student debt before saving for retirement? The product can be a more valuable tool for investors if it provided a holistic approach to financial planning by collecting some information about the investor first and provide recommendations on which financial goals to make and how much money to allocate to each.

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