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December 15, 2016
by Kelly Valade

How Our Customers Help Us Build a More Human Product

To build products like Shared Accounts, Simple needs to understand how our customers manage their money, and who they share it with. Senior Director of User Research Kelly Valade is here to explain what we’re learning about finances and relationships, and how our customers are helping us grow.
Kelly Valade from the Simple user research team

Simple was founded on the idea that people should feel more confident about their money. To achieve this mission, we’ve always sought to understand people—what they know about their finances, what they’d like to know, and what products they need to feel confident about their money. In the early days, understanding our customers was easy. Why? Because we didn’t have as many.

For the first few years, we made decisions about our product in a few different ways. We tried to improve on our own personal banking experiences, drew from conversations our agents had with our customers, and made assumptions about what problems our customers were trying to solve for when they requested a particular feature. We trusted our gut when we had to decide what was right for our customers… but we were building the product for ourselves. We assumed that our customers were just like us, because our employees are customers of Simple. But the truth is, because we build Simple, we’ve never experienced our product in the same way as everyday customers.

As we’ve grown over the years, so has our need to understand our growing number of customers. At the beginning of this year, I joined Simple to build out a user research team whose sole purpose was to understand the needs of our customers.

The craft of research

The user research team at Simple is an incredible group of empathetic humans who are compelled to truly understand problems our customers experience and translating the cause of these problems (not just the symptom) to Product and Engineering teams. Good research is based on identifying problems, and communicating them to the people who need answers and can effect change.

User research teams aren’t a staple in all technology companies. Instead, it’s not uncommon to see product managers and designers conducting their own research. But the deep product knowledge developed by product managers, designers, and engineers often generates bias. Bias can be very subtle and woven into who is chosen to give feedback, the methodology used, the way questions are asked, or how a user test is conducted. Objectivity provided by researchers is critical in ensuring that product decisions enable us do right by our customers.

Our designers at Simple are incredible solution-makers. And they partner with Simple researchers for a true and deep understanding of the experiences customers have. Once our designers have the depth of information provided by user research, they are free to focus on their craft—creating the product that delights our customers and solves their financial problems.

Kelly Valade from the Simple user research team talks to her team during a meeting

How research informs product design

The user research team at Simple is a close partner with product and design throughout the entire development of a product. We test product concepts and help create a solid definition of the product we want to build.

As work begins to build that product, we continually research the concept to ensure it’s meeting the needs of our customers. Does it solve their problem? Is it clear? Is it easy to use? Is it delightful? Throughout this process, we often identify new problems to be solved for—before they impact our customers.

Our researchers also take an active role in beta programs—like the Shared Accounts beta currently underway—to connect with customers and gather their feedback as they move through various stages of the product. Understanding the impact our beta product has means we can prioritize bug fixes and ensure we meet the needs of our customers.

User research shifts us away from being reactive to issues and toward proactively preventing bad experiences for our customers. Shared is a prime example of how research touches every aspect of the product cycle—from early interviews to prioritizing bug fixes.

Talking through the sharing process

As part of the initial push to create Shared Accounts, the user research team sat down with couples to talk about their finances—one of the most personal and sensitive topics. Because finances in relationships can be such a taboo subject, I anticipated a lot of resistance in getting research participants to talk to me and open up. But I didn’t account for Simple’s secret user research weapon—our customers.

Simple customers rarely ever stand me up for a scheduled meeting, are never short of opinions, and are honest and open about their relationships, aspirations, fears, and even shame. They were happy to share intimate stories about how their finances have impacted their lives, positively and negatively, which was an incredibly heartening experience for the user research team.

After many user research studies, we were able to come away with a few key themes:

1. One size does not fit all

Sharing money is incredibly complex, and these days, people share money in all kinds of situations that span beyond what joint accounts have traditionally serviced: married couples. Unmarried couples share money to pay for everyday expenses, or save for shared aspirations, but aren’t eligible for traditional joint accounts. Meanwhile, what about parents who need to share money with their children? Or roommates who need to share money to pay shared expenses? Findings from our research show how much of a need there is for accounts that look past what traditional joint accounts offer, and how desperately our customers desire something new.

2. Visibility and privacy needs differ

Unsurprisingly, the balancing act of what should be public and what should remain private varies greatly across these different types of people and relationships. Parents want to see transactions, balances, and Goals in their child’s account, but don’t always want their children to see theirs, while roommates don’t want to expose their personal finance details with one another at all. As for romantic relationships, we were delighted to discover that while the visibility and privacy preferences varied from couple to couple, they were pretty consistent within the relationships themselves.

For example, in a private conversation with one partner, I heard them say they would rather keep some of their transactions private. When I asked the other partner about their needs, they echoed that same preference. Listening to two people have such consistency and mutual respect was incredibly sweet.

3. Learning (and re-learning) trust is hard

One couple we spoke to told me about baggage they had each brought into their marriage from previous marriages. Both had been financially burned by their exes, and they were working hard on building trust with each other so they could share money again. They were open about their shortcomings and successes—one partner admitted to being terrible with finances, having never learned from his parents, while the other was proud to tell us about using Simple’s Goals to create an emergency fund for the first time. They both discussed how they hoped Simple would help them get into a better financial state, and learn to trust one another enough to share their finances. Don’t you just love love?

4. Terminology is important

Our research also reemphasized the importance of the words we use. It’s not easy to describe the structure of our Shared Accounts in a clear and concise manner—each Shared account has two partners, three accounts, and four cards—so being deliberate was key. Outside of these descriptors, we also learned that by using non-heteronormative language, we were able to effectively convey that our Shared Accounts are different to traditional joint accounts. Inclusive language is hugely important to people outside of traditional husband-and-wife relationships, and we learned in our interviews that words like “partner” make many people feel included for the first time in the banking world.

We’re building Shared together

Sitting down with our customers helps Simple as a company learn more about our customers’ experiences well beyond simplistic bug reports. Having real conversations with people helps us as a company empathize with our customers better, while inspiring us to build products that will help them solve problems in their daily lives.

I suspect our customers’ willingness to open up to us is because they know Simple is comprised of real people who share their feelings about finances, and finding ways to share money in a way that makes sense for modern relationships. It’s great to know that our customers feel truly invested in our mission to help people feel more confident about their money, and we’re proud that they have faith in us. Faith is a huge honor, but it’s also a responsibility—one that spurs us on to build something that can solve problems, while motivating us to always do better by you.

Join the conversation

We love speaking with customers who are willing to open up to us and help us build the products they need. We conduct research studies regularly about a variety of topics. If you’re interested in potentially being contacted in the future to take part in Simple research, follow the link below to opt-in.

I want to participate


Disclaimer: Hey! Welcome to our disclaimer. Here’s what you need to know to safely consume this blog post: Any outbound links in this post will take you away from Simple.com, to external sites in the wilds of the internet; neither Simple nor our partner banks, The Bancorp Bank and BBVA Compass, endorse any linked-to websites; and we didn’t pay/barter with/bribe anyone to appear in this post. And as much as we wish we could control the cost of things, any prices in this article are just estimates. Actual prices are up to retailers, manufacturers, and other people who’ve been granted magical powers over digits and dollar signs.