It’s not just the habit of saving. It’s the habits surrounding savings. I’d like to work on that combination.

In 2002, I opened an account with a futuristic, Internet-only bank launched by Zurich. “Only for people comfortable with using the Internet,” warned The Guardian newspaper.

It was an easy sell. An in-credit interest rate guaranteed to be 0.5% below the Bank of England base rate, ‘for life’ – quite a deal back at the beginning of the century with the base rate standing at an exhilarating 4%, if you ask me.

It wasn’t just the table-topping interest rate that got me excited. The feature I wanted more than any other was the facility to save money into multiple sub-accounts.

I could switch money between them, withdraw money from them, and manage my overall balance and sub-balances.

I was finally going to save money. This was life-changing.

Well, it wasn’t until Zurich’s strategy abruptly changed and the bank was shut down when things turned downhill. That short-lived experience left me with a taste for saving into envelopes, jam jars or whatever receptacle I could think of.

Has another bank ever delivered on the promise to which Zurich hinted? Not to my knowledge.

My proper bank doesn’t, although my Credit Union account does, but the downside here is that I have to call and ask them to create the sub-accounts.

Definitely not the great experience I had 14 years ago with Zurich.

Let’s fast forward to 2016.

Today, I work as a service designer in a bank. I spend my time researching people’s banking habits and, frankly, it’s utterly fascinating to talk to people about their experiences of money management, particularly, savings.

Here’s some feedback I’ve received from people on their saving habits:

  • They tell me about unique saving habits: popping money in jars, jugs, envelopes, pots, pans, mugs, cups, and bowls.
  • They tell me about goals they’ve set for holidays with their kids, for new cars, to feel free of obligations to work, or a reliance on short-term loans and overdrafts.
  • They tell me about their workarounds to achieve saving goals – opening multiple current accounts, multiple savings accounts in different banks, losing track of where their money is, remembering multiple sets of security details.
  • They tell me about their workarounds to keep track of their money via spreadsheets, backs of envelopes, notes to themselves, and fallible memories.
  • They tell me how they regularly start saving, but sometimes don’t manage to keep it going consistently toward their goal.
  • They tell me of their personal frustration with themselves.

I wonder, why can’t it be easier for them? Why couldn’t it be easier for me?

Oh, how I wish Zurich hadn’t shut down that bank!

Designing the Experience to Support Habits in Financial Saving

So, what’s the trick to designing a compelling user experience that’s aligned with establishing and supporting behaviors that deliver a positive, habitual saving experience?

I subscribe to Professor BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model. He proposes that Behavior is the sum of Motivation, Ability, and a Trigger.

habit behavior modelImage Source: BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model

Fogg’s Behavioral Model (FBM) allows designers to identify what prevents users from performing the behaviors designers look for. The model is crucial for use in understanding how to align user-centered design, feature design, and functional design with a pattern of behavior.

It’s the pattern of a behavior that we should be interested in, not just a snap-shot of a habit when motivation is at its most powerful and inspiring.

As the graph above shows, we need to design for all of the phases of motivation and ability with equal wit and verve – and that’s hard.

It is hard because everyday behaviors are subtle, unexciting to the observer and difficult for the owner of the behavior to reflect on. So, user research, in all its guises, is the key to unlocking and mapping the pattern of a behavior.

Taking the observations of saving behavior as a use case, we can use the FMB as problem solving checklist.

1. Motivation

BJ Fogg presents three sub-components under one of his core components – motivation:

  • Sensation – pleasure & pain
  • Anticipation – hope & fear
  • Belonging – social acceptance & rejection

From my conversations, I believe that many people are already motivated to save out of Fogg’s second motivation subcomponent – anticipation. Their motivation to save out of hope or fear is stronger than other motivations, Fogg presents.

They are strictly driven by the fact that if they save, they can hope to anticipate that something good or bad will happen:

  1. If I save, I will have enough money to take my family on an epic vacation.
  2. If I don’t save, I will eventually have to take out another loan and be charged for overdraft fees.

What they lack is the ability and the continuing triggers that can turn that motivation into an everyday occurrence.

2. Ability

Ability depends on whether or not the task at hand is easy to do.

While observations show that people are highly motivated to save, their ability to do so is low.

As a UX designer, you have to understand the problems that people face every day that prevent them from saving and commit to helping solve those problems.

How can you make their life easier by making their ability to save easier?

  • Design to allow saving in identifiable chunks

We know that people like to manage savings by dividing money up into identifiable chunks – that’s no secret.

  • Design to allow for achievement of incremental goals

The motivation to save is boosted when incremental goals are achieved. Again, that’s no secret.

  • Design for pleasant customer experience

Provide a delightful user experience to help engagement with solutions to these user problem themes.

  • Design for mainstream users first

You’ll receive a great deal of feedback from people with expertise because they’re typically vocal about their wants. They’ll list reams of features and functions that support their expert usage.

Most people aren’t experts, though. They are happy to start with the basics done right. So, design to support mainstreamers needs not experts wants.

But, what about turning good intentions into consistent, habitual actions?

3. Trigger

Without the trigger, a behavior change leading to habitual saving will not occur, even if a user’s motivation and ability are high.

For example, a regular, monthly bank statement is a record of what has happened in a consumer’s bank account. For many people, particularly the mainstreamers, the monthly statement (the trigger) is produced when there’s no money left to save. A person must rely on their future intention to save being strong enough to make it past payday and the monthly bills. That doesn’t happen as often as it should.

So, when should we present a trigger in order to support that behavioral change in saving habits? How many times should we provide the trigger? How frequently should a trigger be provided?

In the old days, well 2008, we’d settle for intelligent defaults to provide an answer to these questions.

For example, can you confidently guess what a customer would want based on other user preferences? Or, do you know enough about that specific customer’s habits to make a prediction that has positive or at worse benign effects? Eight years later, ubiquitous mobile phones, artificial intelligence, and real-time banking promise us the power and potential to solve complex problems, like predicting and forecasting when to prompt a person with a trigger.

Smart phones provide the medium for presenting the trigger, real-time banking provides the data to categorize what triggers should be sent. Machine Intelligence provides the power to understand what the person is doing and then predict and optimise the type of trigger that is sent.

With today’s progress of financial technologies, our ability as UX designers to set defaults becomes truly intelligent and contextual. When we know a person has bought a coffee or a paper, for example, then we can safely predict that now is a great time to trigger an action. In this case, perhaps we can set up a trigger to save just a fraction of the cost of that last payment.

UX designers must thoughtfully piece the puzzle together in order to designing for habits.


1. First, understand the user problem.
2. Empathize with the users’ motivations.
3. Put into practice simple, potential solution to provide the ability to achieve the goal
4. Finally, enable the evolution of that everyday behavior to become habitual based on triggers.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to deliver that great saving experience that Zurich offered in 2002, underpinned by a solid user experience design aligned to habits? We could really do that!

Featured Image Source: Flickr

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