Digital Banking: The Secret Art of Unobtrusive Alerts

Written on 22 June 2016 by Dorota Boisdron

Another call from your bank offering you a credit card for the fifth time in 6 months? Text messages about that amazing mortgage deal when you’re actually still sharing a flat and struggle to make ends meet? Why banks get it so wrong and what can they do to make their services more relevant and personal, more user and human-centred?

I recently bought a flat, got a mortgage and to my surprise just before my repayments kicked off, I received a package from my bank. Suspicious but intrigued I opened it to find that they actually decided to treat me with a hamper basket! They also attached a message congratulating me on climbing up the property ladder. I loved it. Unexpected, personal, tasteful and timely.

And what about marketing messages and promotional notifications? How does our bank know what we need now or what we might need in the future? How can they learn from our behaviour and tailor their offer to our needs? How can they make that information useful and make us act on it? Where is that “sweet spot” where our needs meet the goals of the banks, where business will benefit from our behaviour?

We all like to be informed. Some of us want have our hands held, but most people prefer to feel in control. We make decisions and act on them because we want to. Why should we use this service or buy this product? Out of necessity, habit or because we trust our bank? As Heather Cox, Citi’s Chief Client Experience, Digital, and Marketing Officer told the audience at IBM InterConnect 2015, “People need banking, but they don’t necessarily need banks.”

A bank’s business model relies on revenue based on interest rates and fees. However, if that’s the only message we take away from our digital banking experience on a website or application, then financial institutions are in trouble. We will use their services and buy their products when we have to, but we will switch bank as soon as someone offers us something more attractive.

As customers we don’t make banks’ life easy when they try and communicate with us – we don’t like to be bothered, we don’t like to make upfront decisions based on assumptions. We are already overwhelmed with the huge amount of information bombarding us from every direction, why would we want more? When we log into our digital banking either on our laptop, tablet or mobile we have a goal in mind. There is a task at hand – “I need to check my current balance.” We want to do it as quickly and easily as possible. The context of action is crucial. Therefore, the idea of asking a customer to choose from numerous options and to personalise alerts when they are trying to do something completely different is doomed to fail.

But what if I’m sending some money to my family in France and while I am finalising the transfer, a message appears telling me that I can be notified every time a pound to euro exchange rate rises from 1 to 1.30? I might actually sign up for this.
We appreciate smart, useful notifications that appear timely and feel relevant and personal.

Banking brands are no longer just about saving, spending, and borrowing, they need to go above and beyond. They help us find the closest GP when we’re in China, arrange a plumber to fix our leaking sink, they also can and should help people managing their finances. As research by the Financial Inclusion Commission has found, around two million adults in the UK don’t currently have a bank account. 60% of those did previously have one but it was forcibly closed due to debt problems or other financial challenges.

New players, like Mondo, offer access to real-time updates on balance, track your spending and promise a flawless experience. The founder and CEO, Tom Blomfield said “Everyone in the UK, and probably pretty soon in the world, needs a bank account to live their lives and frankly they’re dreadful. They’re really very bad compared to your Facebook or your WhatsApp account or Gmail.”

There is still a long way for banks to go to change customers’ perception, build trust and create a strong relationship but Mondo and others are showing that smart, user and human-centred design experience is where most banks should head to keep up with their customers in the digital banking era of today.

About the Author


Dorota Boisdron

Dorota Boisdron

User Experience Researcher at Tobias and Tobias

Dorota works as a user experience researcher at the Tobias & Tobias office in London. She is passionate about insight-led experience innovation and studying people’s behaviours, thinking patterns and underlying needs. Dorota has been trained by the Nielsen Norman Group in various research methods.

Linkedin Profile

More from the blog