The world is not Silicon Valley…or Gen Y or even X. Surprised? Wondering what the hell I’m talking about? Good.

I read about cashless and cardless payment methods. I read about the growth of apps and the need to be well placed in app stores (or else you might as well quit the software game and join the circus).

And I read about mobile-only (non)banks, travel services, and purchase delivery, as if storefront shops and branches died without even leaving fossils; as if desktops and notebooks went the way of the town crier; as if all workers, shoppers, communicators – people – were under 30 and living in a high tech, ultra-high bandwidth part of the world; as if everyone loved and could afford to keep up with the latest tech craze – well, I ain’t one of them.

The Old Man and the App

Okay, full disclosure: I’ve been over 30 for about 20 years and live in the Czech Republic – not quite The Dark Ages and not quite the bleeding edge (do the kids still say that?).

It’s definitely exciting to work on the design of new, trendsetting stuff, be it hardware or the apps that make it come alive – especially financial techonology. Even an old fart, like me, digs that. I’m always happy to work on it. But, the bank I work for has a lot of customers, (baby boomers, if you will) who don’t have a computer or never used a smartphone, believe it or not.

Majorities and Laggards

If you thought the lack of computer or smartphone use is shocking, we deal with many customers who don’t have an ATM card – way old school.

Their typical banking experience involves waiting for business hours to allow them to walk through a door and talk to a rep they can see or touch in person.

Saving and spending involves physical collection of enough cash for the month in order to buy groceries they actually home deliver themselves or choose off-the-rack clothes off actual garment racks.

It seems like I’m describing ancient rituals, like going to the video shop when you were in the mood for something extra spicy to watch (and had to endure the looks of those renting Spaceballs – not that I’d know anything about that, of course) or maybe actually sticking your finger in that rotary thing when “dialing” a phone.

But, dealing with baby boomers who have not adopted current technologies is actually an interesting UX challenge.

Key Observations from the Vault

Early adopters are easy. But, try motivating an older customer to use a computer, let alone a financial technology like a banking application on a tablet.

Surprisingly, in my time working at the bank, I even discovered that bank employees are very nearly the same persona as the customer – baby boomers as well, with very limited or no personal computer use, and generally tech averse. You would assume they would be the key to support for confused customers – this is not the case.

We deal with hundreds of thousands of clients who do all their banking in the branch, which is expensive and time consuming for all parties – the organization, consumer, and UX designer. This means they miss out on many modern opportunities beyond banking.

We, as UX designers, want users to learn. But, even the older population of branch employees only use computers at work and don’t have smartphones. I discovered that although the bank, their employer, gave them smartphones, they were afraid to use them. You could say they were uncomfortable leaving their comfort zone – thinking of the phone as more than a device for just calling and messaging.. There truly was no hope of any enthusiasm affecting a client. Sadly, reinforcing their mutual fear for tech was more likely.

I made a saved a few important observations that could be reverted to for future reference:

  • The client gained nothing new from their experience at the bank. They were still stuck in their current branch-visiting banking habits.
  • The employee felt burdened with the smartphone, a gadget we had hoped would be seen as a fun new toy.
  • Internal stakeholders and bank strategists believed that the employees and personnel older than 40 years of age did not have the aptitude to learn to work with new tech or business or customer service models.

I found that these observations introduced a really interesting UX problem in financial technology: how to motivate, not coerce the more timid branch personnel to embrace changes, such as learning to have fun with smartphones and passing that on to similarly timid clients in hopes of increasing adoption of mobile banking.

Motivating the Hesitant and Fearful to Adopt Financial Technology

I am positive many of us may have had a similar challenge with our parents or grandparents – how to get them to successfully use Skype or IM. Have any of you managed to do so? Well, I have.

What’s the recipe for success?

Pictures, videos and even real time virtual participation in school plays of our eight year old princess (proud daddy speaking here) was the key.

To help break the ice with the smartphone use among branch employees and bank-goers, I designed a Cute Kid contest with online voting. They were free to use paper photos and written URLs for voting. Many suddenly discovered a reason to pick up a smartphone, put away their fears and take, what they found to be, the surprisingly short time to master the necessary skills for posting a picture and advertising it for votes. They were fully able, once they found a personal incentive to do so.

Lessons Learned: The biggest issue among the baby boomers population was not ability or knowledge. It really was about motivation – creating an experience that triggers a hook.

Taking lessons learned from my personal experience, I am now in the middle of a more serious project, with a great team of UX practitioners, to motivate more of the lower tech laggards to adopt a self-serve transaction model within the bank.

An important observation we made early on in our research was that, though there is a large block of customers who don’t ever want to enter a branch at all, there are also many for whom branch visits are an important part of the business relationship. Just as they are friendly with the local butcher and hair stylist, they know their favorite banker and look forward to visiting. So, we needed to find a way to allow meaningful face time.

In-Branch Usability Testing – From Fear to Trust and Joy

We are experimenting now with in-branch online experiences in order to tackle the issues of trust, a factor that many UX designers in Fintech must take into consideration when dealing with any target market.

A customer arrives and is introduced to the devices (we are trying several different models from simple tablets to semi-enclosed kiosks with live video bankers available) by their friendly, favorite personal banker who walks them through the online processes.

We noticed many experience a sort of thrill when they use their password for the first time and they feel a sense of accomplishment when they learn to handle transactions and other basic banking tasks on their own. Remember that a significant minority never even used ATM’s and leapfrogged over them completely.

It’s fun to watch a person, maybe a 45 year old farmer or 70 year old grandmother, handle a meaningful task in a way that to them is still more sci-fi than not.

These banking customers often don’t have any online devices of their own, so, we are building self-serve zones into our branches. They are basically tablets and desktops available for customer use. Assistants are available to guide those who are uncertain and customers can even ask their own banker for help.

But, the in-branch self-serve areas help with the other issue I mentioned – trust. Many people feel it’s safer for them to do their online banking on a device located inside a branch than from home.

Though not directly related to this issue, I think it’s important to mention that we are testing other ways of keeping the face-to-face relationship alive. Shifting the transactions away from the banker’s desk to the customer’s allows time for helping with financial planning and, perhaps, other aspects of life that most people only face infrequently, like legal issues or even launching new businesses.

Moving forward, we expect that with time, we will wean our clients off any reliance on branches for their day-to-day transactions, completely.

Wrapping Up Thoughts

Those who are enthusiastic about tech and have access to it and the necessary infrastructure are by nature motivated. They like trying the new stuff. In those tech-drenched areas of the world like, Palo Alto, even the tech stragglers are early adopters on the global scale.

In articles about UX and financial technology predictions and trends, it’s too easy to forget that a large part of the world catches up at a much slower pace; it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that users, particularly baby boomers, are often afraid of it all and, yet, still represent unique UX challenges and important target market unknowingly eager to become customers.

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