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.
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
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
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…)]