Portfolio Checkup App

Holistic Case Study

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Glossary of Terms

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

About the Product

A digital investment advice application we licensed to our client, a celebrity life coach and his financial advisory firm. The life coach wrote a book that taught money management and this product supplemented the book. The book raised awareness of things to look out for when managing your own investments, such as hidden fees. Readers (investors) were directed to our product to perform a portfolio checkup on their own investments. Investors had the option to invest in a portfolio managed by the client.

The Problem

For the Investor
The investor is currently managing their own investment portfolio for retirement. They are reading a book by a celebrity life coach that teaches money management, which talks about red flags commonly found in portfolios. The investor is concerned that there might be hidden dangers in their portfolio that could be eating away at their money and wants to know if their portfolio is the right one for them.

For the Client
The client 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 for this application. I worked with the VP of Product and our client (a celebrity life coach and his financial advisory firm) 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 worked with the VP of Product to test them on users. I also worked with engineers on implementation and monitored traffic data post-launch.

The Process

Step 1: Met with the Client

Senior leadership and I met with the client and learned that they wanted to provide financial advisory services to a segment of investors known as mass-affluent (net worth between $250K to $1M) because they were underserved in the market. The financial advisory services was a supplemental service that came along with a book that the life coach was writing to teach people how to manage their money.

Between the meetings and administrative work involved, advisors typically lost money on this segment of investors because they were billed based on the amount of money that was managed and these investors didn't have enough money to turn a profit for the advisor. For example, a person who had $250K in assets under management would pay $2,500 per year in fees if the rate was 1%.

The client wanted to capture this segment because the investor would eventually have enough money to graduate to a higher tier of service and be more profitable. The best way to capture them was to establish a relationship early.

There Was a Big Business Opportunity

The celebrity life coach had 2.5 million followers on Twitter (as of 2014) and the net worth of his followers were typically above $250K. He heavily promoted the book in his seminars, social media, and television. A significant percentage of his followers were expected to use this product. Average mutual fund expense ratios were 120 basis points higher than the recommended managed portfolio (in 2014). This meant that the portfolio managed by the firm was expected to outperform the average investor's portfolio by a wide margin over the long term.

Step 2: Defined the Client's Problems

The problem was that it was too expensive for the client 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, filling out paperwork, and so forth.

The client 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

We learned about potential investors in two ways. First, the client passed along information that they learned through their own exhaustive research. Second, we interviewed followers of the celebrity life coach who received an advanced copy of the book.

We reached out to about 20 people who have read the book. Some of the questions we asked included: “What are some of the things that concern you about investing?” and “What are things that you look for in a financial advisor?”.

Step 4: Empathized & Defined the Investor's Problems

We recorded all the learnings from the client and our own user research. We highlighted key findings that were common amongst the investors. Here are some of the top things we learned about the investors:

  • Some withdrew their money during the 2008 stock market crash and have not gotten back in due to fear. Those who were managing an investment portfolio were concerned about another stock market crash.

  • Majority were concerned that they were overpaying in fees and the impact it had on their returns.

  • Some were not willing to invest in a managed portfolio unless it was backed by the celebrity life coach.

Step 5: Analyzed Competitors

The client gave us examples of features from other competing products that they are expecting from the product we are building. I also looked up products that are in the market. Some of the areas we focused on were account opening and how portfolio metrics were presented. I ran user tests on these products with potential investors to validate their effectiveness on our target segment.

In the financial industry, there are many factors that influence the product decisions we make. As much as we want to take a user-centered approach, legal and compliance has as much influence on a product as the user. Some products in the market used approaches to solve a problem or made claims that our client’s compliance team were not comfortable with. We had to learn what was ok and what wasn’t.

Step 6: Defined Goals & Brainstormed Solutions

The VP of Product and I used the learnings from our research to define the goals of the product and brainstormed high level solutions.

Goals of the product include:

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

  • Convert investors into paying customers for the client.

  • Provide investors the portfolio analysis they came to the product for, including fees and performance.

  • Instill trust into the investor and make them feel comfortable about investing by leveraging their existing trust in the life coach.

At this stage, we came up with the framework for our portfolio checkup 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.



Jane has been diligently saving and investing for retirement. She self-manages her own investment portfolio using an IRA. She’s a big fan of a celebrity life coach that gives advice on money, career, and other topics. She started reading a book written by him that teaches money management. The book recommends a website that can analyze your portfolio and tell you if it’s right for you.

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

At this stage, more stakeholders became involved, including: senior leadership, engineering, the client, and compliance to discuss the problems, use cases, and the solutions. We started discussing 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. The client weighed in on whether all their concerns are 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 Flow

The VP of Product 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 stakeholders agreed on the solution to build, the VP of Product worked with the client and senior leadership to create a product roadmap. After all the stakeholders got their chance to weigh-in, we ended up with more features 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 had a hard deadline to deliver the product and there were massive implications if we missed it. The celebrity life coach had a release date for his book and had tours scheduled to advertise the book. A missed deadline meant that a supplemental product promised in the book would not have been available.

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

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 the portfolio analysis 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: Monitored Metrics, Ran Surveys, and Looked For Areas to Improve

After the release of the product, I monitored the traffic data. I looked at our numbers to see where drop off was higher than expected and explored new solutions. The challenge is that sometimes features test well but they don’t perform as well in the wild with real investors. Real investors are investing actual money so they are more hesitant to perform certain actions than a tester. For example, some investors did not convert because they weren't comfortable investing the minimum amount. To address this, we implemented a survey that got triggered when users were about to leave the application. Through the survey, we learned from real investors why they were leaving.

The Conclusion

How Did the Product Perform?

The product was very successful. The celebrity life coach brought in hundreds of thousands of investors in the first few weeks and 22% of them opened an investment account.

What's Next?

There were investors who came into the product with no interest in investing for retirement and were disappointed that the product focused only on retirement. The product could have attracted a lot more customers if we expanded it to other types of financial goals. Some of the most requested goals included emergency savings and education expenses.

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