EXCLUSIVE: “Designing for an inclusive future” – Sue Scott in ‘The Paytech Magazine’
Technology doesn’t discriminate; people do. If banking apps and services were built to be used by our grandparents, everyone would benefit, says Sue Scott
“You need to understand how rare it is to ask good questions of old people.”
That’s Muriel. She was 91 when an organisation in the United States called Older Adults Technology Services, or OATS, began asking questions of her and her friends. They weren’t the usual playlist of likes and dislikes asked of focus groups by designers building the sleekest, fastest, most frictionless apps. Because the starting point for OATS giving older adults the motivation to go digital, or to go further with digital, wasn’t about using the technology at all.
Rather, it sought to understand what an individual (and it’s reached 35,000 seniors so far) needed in order to – as founder and executive director Thomas Kamber puts it – ‘age with attitude’. The technology skills, including digital finance ones, were then fitted around the answer. Change is hard at any age, says Kamber. And, if you want someone to change the habits of most of a lifetime, you need to really convince them of the value in doing so.
Defining the relative advantage of adopting a tool or not, is one of the biggest challenges anyone targeting the older demographic faces, especially in financial services where there might be a perceived risk attached. As an organisation, OATS believes that the antidote to ageism is a thoughtful approach to technology design. Sadly, Kamber doubts that he percentage of fintech products tested among older people even reaches into double digits. And, in his view, that means older users don’t feel loved or appreciated by those organisations which might quite like more of them to use their services.
“People need to find things that are aspirational to themselves and feel like their voices are represented,” he says.
According to a report published by The Financial Health Network in the US in 2020,the vast majority of over-50s there clearly haven’t been feeling loved or listened to: “The lack of focus on older users persists in the fintech community,” it said.
And yet, as Age UK’s Age-friendly Banking study had pointed out four years earlier:
“One of the insights of age-friendly banking is that if a bank can provide good service for its oldest customers, it can provide excellent service for all. The young and the middle-aged navigate the same systems as older people, but may have greater resilience in coping with poor design – for example, being able to access bank services through alternative channels. A bank that improves its systems and services to assist its older customers is likely to find the rest of its customers delighted by the improvement.”
Technology doesn’t discriminate; people do. So, if we figure out why fintech finds it so hard to see beyond the big five-o (addressed elsewhere in this special section), in theory, directing digital towards solving age-related issues is easy, right?
Chris Brooks, head of policy at Age UK, which has fought hard for widespread access to cash to be maintained, not least because three million over-75s don’t use online financial services at all, says that many older people would use digital services more, but 80 per cent of them don’t trust their IT skills to be good enough and 40 per cent simply don’t trust the technology.
“Older people are genuinely concerned about scams – a lot of them have been, or know someone who has been, scammed. And, if you do not have the confidence or skills to go online and manage your finances, it’s high risk and people are right to be concerned about doing it,” he says.
Those two broad barriers – perceived or real issues with usability and concerns about security – are the top two challenges that banks of all stripes must address if they are to persuade and inspire silver surfers to fully participate in the digital revolution in financial services. Brooks is in no doubt that ‘there’s lots of scope to use financial technology to develop solutions’. It’s just a shame he hasn’t seen much evidence of it coming from the challengers. In fact, Age UK, the largest campaigning organisation in the country representing older people, hasn’t, to his knowledge, ever been approached by a neobank to help understand older people’s needs.
In the States, Chase Bank has partnered with The Financial Health Network to produce a template for designing fintech for the over-50s. It looked at what tools older users wanted and how to encourage take-up. The starting point was a 2019 survey that showed, despite 77 per cent of over-50s owning a smartphone device and 94 per cent of them using it on a daily basis, only two-thirds had accessed financial apps in the previous three months. They’ll wave happily to their grandchildren over WhatsApp, but will probably send them a cheque for their birthday in the post.
That doesn’t come as a big surprise to Frank McCarthy, business development director at Vizolution, a software-as-a-service provider that helps banks and telcos provide assisted and unassisted digital services. It sees its role as digitising the human and humanising the digital. “If you look at why people do not use digital, it’s not necessarily fear about the technology; it’s frustration,” he says. And while people of any age can identify with that, older users in particular will tend to abandon the service if they can’t pull the help cord inside an app and be connected with a real person. Equally, they don’t want to be patronised.“It’s about choice,” says McCarthy. “Don’t force assistance on me if I don’t need it; but don’t withhold it when I do.”
Vizolution works almost exclusively with well-established financial services providers with vast customer service teams; he doubts whether the challenger model can accommodate such nuanced delivery.
“It’s not that incumbents are by default good and neobanks bad [for older people]. Neobanks are providing great customer service, but they come from a digital-first philosophy,” says McCarthy.Is there anything they can learn, then, that would woo older users?
‘Start with the basics’ is his advice. Vizolution was first asked by TD Bank in Canada to bake accessibility for older and less able people into all its customer journeys, and those same principles are now standard for all clients.“So the screens all automatically adapt for the device you’re working with, for instance, and they all connect with screen-reading software; and, rather than asking the customer to remember a password, we send a code to the mobile,” explains McCarthy.
The Financial Health Network’s Fintech Over 50 report came up with 13 design recommendations across the four stages of the user journey: discovery, onboarding, navigation and use. The striking thing is that – whether you need spectacles to read a screen, struggle to remember what you did yesterday, never mind your six-digit access code, are anxious about security, or not – they’re all simple fixes that make everyone’s experience more comfortable. For the most part, it’s about giving users a reassuring amount of personal control, the ability to escape to a place of safety quickly when trapped in a digital dead-end, or spooked by the frightening ease of transaction processes.
Among the preferred features that might not normally be top of mind for digital natives are easy-to-access navigation tutorials, human touchpoints early in the user journey, the ability to clearly and easily turn off automated processes that move your money, and positive feedback that builds your confidence as a user.While, as one seasoned customer experience designer commented, big banks ‘have always had the customer’s back, they just didn’t join the dots’, McCarthy and Brooks agree that many are now going the extra mile to bring everyone on the digital journey. That is, of course, against a backdrop of record bank branch closures, but it’s true that the pandemic pushed a reset button that has had huge impact on CX design.
McCarthy cites the case of Skipton Building Society, for which it introduced a screen-sharing facility so that customers could see and talk to named staff in branch offices that were closed during lockdown and it’s proved hugely popular ever since. “You’re still talking to Sally in Skipton, but we’re, in effect, humanising the digital service and digitising the human on the other side,” he explains.Given that, time and again, surveys of older users show that they favour face-to-face interaction, it’s an example of blended services that are an easy win for banks – if they have the human resources to support them.
If neobanks don’t voluntarily look to design the needs of mature account holders into their channels and services, change – in the UK at least – might be forced upon them.
Under the new Consumer Duty being introduced by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), all financial services providers will be scrutinised to ensure they present information in a way that doesn’t exploit consumers’ behavioural biases, doesn’t sell products or services that are not fit for purpose, and – crucially – represent poor customer support. The new rules, active later in 2022, will require firms to focus on supporting and empowering customers to make good financial decisions and avoid foreseeable harm at every stage of the customer relationship. The FCA has promised it will use ‘assertive supervision and a new data-led approach to intervene quickly when it identifies practices which do not deliver for consumers’.
That could, Age UK’s Brooks points out, discourage neobanks from attracting older users. “Because they might see it as making it harder to work with that demographic,” he says. “But it’s a step in the right direction by the FCA, which needs to be working with challenger banks and fintech more broadly to make sure they are delivering a service for older people, too.”In talking to over-50s from across the UK and the US, researchers for both The Financial Health Network and Age UK found that, for their apps to be effective, designers and engineers generally assumed everyone enjoyed full physical ability, with good eyesight, hearing and memory.
The reality is that, while an increasingly number of us enjoy a longer, active life, age will eventually catch up. They might be happily drinking with their mates in a dimly lit bar in Shoreditch while simultaneously topping up their Monzo wallet, but those Millennials will be seniors too, one day. “Older people tell us about a range of issues with the design of banking and payment services.
As people begin to experience physical and perceptual limitations, they may run into difficulties with bank cards, ATMs, internet access, call centre routines and passing security. Older people describe how they ‘fail security’ because they cannot recall recent transactions, or slip up using password and code systems,” Age UK reported.“I don’t know, 10 years from now, what the answer to the question ‘what is a senior?’ is going to be, or how to design for seniors,” says Kamber. “But I do know that dialogue is really healthy. We need to think about what the new older identity looks like and embrace that. When we embrace it, we can design awesome experiences.”