Financial Services Sites Too Complicated

I’m what you could consider an “entry level” user when it comes to financial services. I don’t know all the terminology. I don’t know what everything means. I’m not intuitive when it comes to figuring financial things out. What I know is simple stuff - what accounts I have, what I want to do, what I want to see. Very simple.

I used to have an account with a stock brokerage in Portland called “Bidwell & Co.” I liked them. The customer service representatives were friendly, my monthly statement from them was easy to understand (big print, small words, lots of pictures), and when I wanted to do something on their web site, it was easy to figure out. If I wanted to see my portfolio, I clicked the “Portfolio” button. If I wanted to sell stock, I clicked the “Sell” button. Even more key, when I got to my destination (“Portfolio” or “Sell” or what have you), the interface was very simple - I wasn’t overwhelmed with buttons and text boxes and options and words I didn’t understand. For things I didn’t get, there was help all over the page that I could click on and read about the tough stuff.

Bidwell was bought out by Ameritrade recently. My account was transferred over, and now I have to manage my stock via the Ameritrade site.




I don’t get it. Seriously, I don’t. There are far too many options to know which one I need to click to get to where I want to go. Want to see your portfolio? Click a link (hidden in a list of like 50 other links) along the side of the page marked “Positions.” Positions? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Click on that, though, and you see an abbreviated version of your portfolio. Want to see a more detailed view? I did. I wanted to see my portfolio broken out by individual lots of stock. That’s under “Gain/Loss Tracker” - a whole new link along the left of the screen - then you have to select the “Detail” view from a dropdown box, then click the “Update” button. Isn’t that a portfolio thing? Maybe not. It is from the uninitiated perspective. (I actually had to call them to figure this out.)

Got a Capital One credit card? Their site rocks. There are four tabs at the top of the page you can choose from. One gets you a view of your current activity, one gets you your statement, one lets you pay your bill online, and one gets you a list of everything else you can do. Click on one and you know what? You get exactly what you’re expecting. Very simple.

Got a BankOne credit card? Ever try their site? The print is tiny tiny tiny, and they try to cram way too many options onto the page. Do I really need to be able to get from any page to any other page in one click? No. I need the interface to make sense. More mouse clicks is not the problem; being able to find what I want to do and understand what I’m looking at is the problem.

I think financial institutions might want to think about that. My grandparents, for example, who do own stocks and bonds and all that, will never ever be able to manage any of that online because there’s too much going on. Stop listening to these so-called interface rating services. I’ve seen the sites they rate highly; it’s scary what they think is easy to use. Stop ranking things on how many mouse clicks it takes to get somewhere. Instead, think about how things are logically. Sure, you may have the technical ability to enable the most flexible web site ever - offer 2000 ways to transfer money from one account to the next or whatever - but in all honesty, how many do customers really want?

Here’s an idea: Take a page from the search engines and offer two versions of the user interface. One version is the “basic” version - for the 95% of people who want to just get the job done. The other version is the “advanced” version - for the 5% of people who need that ultra flexibility.

Or, better, here’s another idea: Get a beginning banking user (not unlike myself) to help design the interface. Listen to him (or her) when he tells you that the interface is too complicated. Consider the fact that what you’re hearing is probably more important than what you heard from the interface rating institution because if you can’t get a beginning banking user to understand how your product works, they aren’t going to use it. Get grandparents in there to try it out. Get eighth graders in there, fresh out of personal finance class, to try it out. If they can all figure it out, that’s where you need to be.

[Important Note: This is all definitely my personal opinion and absolutely not [necessarily] my employer’s. (Seeing as how I work for a company that makes financial web sites and all…)]