Re-Thinking The Business Banking Experience

A Conversation with Narmi Senior Product Designer Hillary Pollak

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have had a tough year. On top of pandemic-related uncertainties about the future, business owners have had to relearn how to run their businesses almost entirely virtually – including banking where they run into poorly designed and clunky digital platforms. 

Poor user experience design has a real & immediate impact on the success of SMBs. This is especially true for businesses where multiple employees need access and control over banking functions.

More time spent frustrated by difficult to use banking tools is less time for them to do what matters most: running the business.

Most users simply crave the same intuitive and easy-to-use digital experience they’ve come to expect from their personal credit union or bank. When designing Narmi’s Business Digital Banking platform, Senior Product Designer Hillary Pollak wanted first to understand the current landscape businesses face. This research led her down a path of design thinking that resulted in features catered to the actual current needs of both small and medium-sized businesses. 

We recently sat down with her to discuss her approach to user experience (UX) design and hear how her background in anthropology influenced an iterative product design process.

Narmi: What has drawn you personally to UX design? 

Hillary: I've always liked fixing things and tend to get frustrated by subpar experiences. UX design allows me to strategically improve experiences, making them easy and intuitive. I also have a background in anthropology and love that UX design is so focused on research and understanding the user.

What do you think are the biggest design challenges facing banks and credit unions at the moment? Where are they missing the mark with their UX design?

With the growth of consumer-focused fintech start-ups that focus on building fast, easy, and mobile-first experiences, banks and credit unions are realizing that good design is now a necessity, not a nice-to-have. Financial institutions have traditionally focused on relationship building and profitability, leaving user design on the back burner.

“For financial institutions, the goal should be to have people love using their app/online banking product.”

Right now, I imagine a lot of people would say that their online banking works well enough but wouldn't rave about the experience or recommend it to a friend. For financial institutions, the goal should be to have people love using their app/online banking product. Users should actually want to use the product, which isn't currently the case for most banking platforms.

How did you approach researching business banking? 

Since I didn't have a ton of knowledge about business banking, my first research goal was to gain a baseline understanding of how business owners use banking tools – looking into things like login behavior, frequency of use, choice of device, most commonly used features, etc. Basically, I was trying to understand why people log in to their bank account, when they do it,  and what frustrates them about their current experiences. 

Once I had a baseline understanding of business banking, I dug into some more specifics that related to features we had on the roadmap, including collaboration with other users, approvals for certain transactions, and possible new features. Since Narmi's product suite is intended to be used by a wide range of businesses, it was important to talk to a diverse group of users, from one-person LLCs to 50+ person organizations. 

Did you have any initial assumptions about business banking that you tested?

I didn't have too many initial assumptions that needed to be tested. Instead, I felt more like I was starting with a clean slate. That said, I did assume that people weren't 100% satisfied with their current banking experience (turned out to be true), used both mobile and desktop (largely true but depended on the user), and wanted to be very careful about giving access to other users (true). 

Business banking UX / UI wireframe sketches depicting part of the user experience design process at Narmi.
Wireframe sketches used to test user flow during the design process.

What feedback surprised you? What did you learn during this process about how people use business banking tools?

One thing that surprised me is how little a number of users actually used their bank account. For some businesses that don't have a ton of incoming/outgoing money, they really don't check it more than a few times a month. Many users also aren't that engaged with their bank account if they have an accountant on staff or hire one. In that situation, they prefer to let the accountant handle most of the money details and just check it once in a while to see the balance. 

“Many users also aren't that engaged with their bank account if they have an accountant on staff or hire one. In that situation, they prefer to let the accountant handle most of the money details and just check it once in a while to see the balance.”

Additionally, almost everyone uses accounting software like Quickbooks so users were less interested in robust feature sets within a banking app. This is quite different from retail banking, where users like easy ways to see analytics, etc. They really just wanted the banking app to be simple and allow them to seamlessly send & receive money. 

Is there something about the way Narmi approaches product design you feel is special and unique? 

A really unique thing about Narmi is that we have to think about how our product will work for various financial institutions. We want the platform to feel integrated into each credit union or bank’s brand, which creates a lot of interesting design challenges. You're trying to build something that needs to work with a dozen color palettes, etc. As a result of that, a big focus of product design is simplicity and adaptability.

Finish mobile app screens designed for Narmi's Digital Business Banking platform.

Re-Thinking The Business Banking Experience

A Conversation with Narmi Senior Product Designer Hillary Pollak

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have had a tough year. On top of pandemic-related uncertainties about the future, business owners have had to relearn how to run their businesses almost entirely virtually – including banking where they run into poorly designed and clunky digital platforms. 

Poor user experience design has a real & immediate impact on the success of SMBs. This is especially true for businesses where multiple employees need access and control over banking functions.

More time spent frustrated by difficult to use banking tools is less time for them to do what matters most: running the business.

Most users simply crave the same intuitive and easy-to-use digital experience they’ve come to expect from their personal credit union or bank. When designing Narmi’s Business Digital Banking platform, Senior Product Designer Hillary Pollak wanted first to understand the current landscape businesses face. This research led her down a path of design thinking that resulted in features catered to the actual current needs of both small and medium-sized businesses. 

We recently sat down with her to discuss her approach to user experience (UX) design and hear how her background in anthropology influenced an iterative product design process.

Narmi: What has drawn you personally to UX design? 

Hillary: I've always liked fixing things and tend to get frustrated by subpar experiences. UX design allows me to strategically improve experiences, making them easy and intuitive. I also have a background in anthropology and love that UX design is so focused on research and understanding the user.

What do you think are the biggest design challenges facing banks and credit unions at the moment? Where are they missing the mark with their UX design?

With the growth of consumer-focused fintech start-ups that focus on building fast, easy, and mobile-first experiences, banks and credit unions are realizing that good design is now a necessity, not a nice-to-have. Financial institutions have traditionally focused on relationship building and profitability, leaving user design on the back burner.

“For financial institutions, the goal should be to have people love using their app/online banking product.”

Right now, I imagine a lot of people would say that their online banking works well enough but wouldn't rave about the experience or recommend it to a friend. For financial institutions, the goal should be to have people love using their app/online banking product. Users should actually want to use the product, which isn't currently the case for most banking platforms.

How did you approach researching business banking? 

Since I didn't have a ton of knowledge about business banking, my first research goal was to gain a baseline understanding of how business owners use banking tools – looking into things like login behavior, frequency of use, choice of device, most commonly used features, etc. Basically, I was trying to understand why people log in to their bank account, when they do it,  and what frustrates them about their current experiences. 

Once I had a baseline understanding of business banking, I dug into some more specifics that related to features we had on the roadmap, including collaboration with other users, approvals for certain transactions, and possible new features. Since Narmi's product suite is intended to be used by a wide range of businesses, it was important to talk to a diverse group of users, from one-person LLCs to 50+ person organizations. 

Did you have any initial assumptions about business banking that you tested?

I didn't have too many initial assumptions that needed to be tested. Instead, I felt more like I was starting with a clean slate. That said, I did assume that people weren't 100% satisfied with their current banking experience (turned out to be true), used both mobile and desktop (largely true but depended on the user), and wanted to be very careful about giving access to other users (true). 

Business banking UX / UI wireframe sketches depicting part of the user experience design process at Narmi.
Wireframe sketches used to test user flow during the design process.

What feedback surprised you? What did you learn during this process about how people use business banking tools?

One thing that surprised me is how little a number of users actually used their bank account. For some businesses that don't have a ton of incoming/outgoing money, they really don't check it more than a few times a month. Many users also aren't that engaged with their bank account if they have an accountant on staff or hire one. In that situation, they prefer to let the accountant handle most of the money details and just check it once in a while to see the balance. 

“Many users also aren't that engaged with their bank account if they have an accountant on staff or hire one. In that situation, they prefer to let the accountant handle most of the money details and just check it once in a while to see the balance.”

Additionally, almost everyone uses accounting software like Quickbooks so users were less interested in robust feature sets within a banking app. This is quite different from retail banking, where users like easy ways to see analytics, etc. They really just wanted the banking app to be simple and allow them to seamlessly send & receive money. 

Is there something about the way Narmi approaches product design you feel is special and unique? 

A really unique thing about Narmi is that we have to think about how our product will work for various financial institutions. We want the platform to feel integrated into each credit union or bank’s brand, which creates a lot of interesting design challenges. You're trying to build something that needs to work with a dozen color palettes, etc. As a result of that, a big focus of product design is simplicity and adaptability.

Finish mobile app screens designed for Narmi's Digital Business Banking platform.