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  • Writer's pictureJohn Isaac

User Research - Banking Case Study

Updated: Jul 29, 2018

A follow-on piece to The Value of User Research published on Toptal.

Client: NAB - National Australia Bank

Audience: Micro-small business customers

Overview: Personal case study on the value (& power) of Research to inform business & develop new customer-centric products.

Our Research Brief

"Go & find out what micro-small business customers need."

That was our brief. No documentation. No scope. A team was hand selected internally consisting of a Product Owner & 2 Business Analysts. I was hired as an external Design consultant.

The bank realised they typically moved slowly. They were honest. They were now challenged with new fintech startups & cloud based solutions. These startups seemed lightweight, lean & quick to adapt to their user's changing needs.

Our only directive was to take our time with research but to conceptualise realistic solutions, both digital & offline, which could be implement, or at least validated, quickly.

User Research: Who are our users & what do they look like?

This would form our foundation. We wanted to represent users as best as we could & tell their stories fairly & honestly.

We knew every business owner was different but what we didn't know was:

  • What business or industry they're in - This could also tell us more about trends towards a particular industry based on social needs, technology etc.

  • Why they are in business - What motivated them to start a business?

  • Their daily business routines - What is their role within the business? What tasks are they responsible for?

  • How they started the business - Their origin story. Did they just fall into the business? Did any one help them get started? Did their bank play a role?

  • Their business & life goals - What is their vision for their business? Do they have any targets they want to achieve? Also, what are their personal goals? What are they working towards? Retirement? Trust fund for their children?

  • What they really love doing - We wanted to know about their passions, interests & loves. Why do they get out of bed each morning? Do they love bird watching, tapestry, music, teaching children?

By knowing the above, we believed we would be able to tailor more personalised solutions.

The research would also mean we could bring these business customers to life & present them to the wider business. The opportunity was valuable, as UX Design teams were typically locked away, hidden away & only heard from when they had something shiny to showcase. So, we appreciated that our Research work, if conducted efficiently, could have great impact.

By also learning more about their personal goals, loves & passions, we believed this information could better serve the bank's product marketing teams to develop stronger, more personal advertising campaigns for each industry segment. This was something we would discuss with the marketing team at a later stage when presenting our research.

Interviews & Concept Testing New & Existing Features

We conducted a series of combined user interviews & concept testing sessions with a variety of customers who belonged to other financial institutions.

Participants included:

  • Sole trader whose business was growing slowly;

  • Sole trader who outsourced some tasks so they could spend more time at home with their young family;

  • Small business owner who employed sub-contractors;

  • A small business owner who employed 15-20 staff;

  • A hospitality business owner whose main focus was property development & writing sci-fi screenplays;

During these sessions, customers told us stories about how & why they started a business, they told us about their struggles & how they taught themselves about how to operate a business, about tax, paying staff & using accounting software. If they were fortunate enough to lean on a family member of friend, they were in luck. We could already see potential opportunities.

We also believed the bank could market new products & solutions based on specific industries. For example: Plumbers & Electricians would not only require different products compared to a Software company or a hotel, but would also expect to be communicated to differently, with language & terminology they can understand. But of course, these were just our early assumptions...

Synthesis: How Valuable is Research Data?

Our user research was personal. We wanted to know what made business customers tick. They each had their own stories.

We decided to create multiple personas to fairly represent our users & their stories.

We also split our research synthesis to highlight how businesses of different shapes & sizes behaved & reacted to change. After all, they were all in business for different reasons.

We learned:

  • Certain business owners were comfortable with not growing their business;

  • Certain sole traders were happy to remain that way & not take on new staff;

  • Certain business owners did not know how to grow their business;

  • Certain business owners did not realise they were ready for growth.

From our concept testing, we asked customers to vote green for any feature they liked or found useful, & to vote red for any feature they either disliked, found confusing or unnecessary.

Our insights lead us to have new discussions with the wider business, which we focus on later in this article.

Right: Image of a concept heatmap. Customers discussed features such as privacy, security, confusing 'banking' language & terminology & convenience in regards to paying invoices & reconciling invoices with a 3rd party accounting software.

Our Research Insights - What We Learned

We spent more time listening to customer's stories about how and why they started their business. We noticed a pattern emerging and potential opportunities for NAB.

Female customers:

  1. Taught themselves how to start and operate a business

  2. Went to family or friends for advice/funding

  3. Attended a female business network

All customers:

  1. Felt unsupported by their financial institution

  2. Needed to know how to grow their business instead of being offered funding

Presenting our Research Findings to the Business

We presented our findings to the wider business during a series of workshops.

Internal stakeholders & executives wanted to learn more about our insights & proposed we developed models, scenarios & product concepts.

We eventually developed a model which NAB could use within it's micro/small business customer segment.

Possible scenarios discussed:

  1. Specialist workshops held at NAB Village

  2. Scheduled business banker calls

  3. Personalised business strategy delivered by a business banker

  4. Business starter toolkit and resources available online

  5. Develop powerful resources for a business banker to assist the customer in growing their business using various options

Our Proposed Model

We created keywords which could simply define the needs of our various micro-small business customers. This research would also help us communicate our model effectively to key decision makers.

Our proposed model:

Engage: Simplify digital business banking starting with simple, natural, real-world language and messaging

Educate: Help customers realise business growth by providing relevant tools which fit their business. Provide customers with a credible business network

Enable: Provide controls which allow customers to drive their own business banking experience which does not impact or interfere with the day-to-day business operation

Empower: Provide industry specific advice and resources. Manage financial risks before they occur to allow customers to make informed business decisions

Sustain: Make accounting go away through smarter banking. Help customers keep their personal and business finances separate.

This model was further validation to the needs of the micro-small business customers.

Conclusion - Promoting the Value of Research

Thanks to 3 months of extensive research, the business was now able to explore various products & solutions to meet the needs of a unique customer segment.

These products would be prototyped (as MVP) & tested with small sample groups once developed by specialised product teams.

The value of our research also validated the selection of our experimental team, which behaved similar to a small startup within a larger organisation. Our research lead us to engage with senior banking executives who asked us to prepare small presentations for their own teams.

Our research was then presented to the advanced analytics team, who requested a workshop for the purpose of sharing data which could be mutually beneficial.

Other Research Conducted

  • Workshops with business bankers;

  • Workshops with business customer support teams;

  • Market research & competitor analysis;

  • Moodboards & inspiration;

  • Analysis of social media comments & reviews.

(This post is a follow-on piece to The Value of Research article published on Toptal.


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