This article is part of a VB Lab Insights series paid for by Capital One.

Who doesn’t love one-click purchasing? Today, we no longer need to fumble around for our wallet or check our phone for where our credit card number is saved at the online check-out page. We don’t need to parse our delivery address from our billing address. Gone are the days of friction-laden online shopping.

Digital wallets and similar payment technologies have just about eliminated the need for deep stacks of cards and bills stuffed into pockets and purses. Indeed, they have taken the world by storm: digital wallet payment volume is expected to grow by nearly 40% by 2024, at which point it will account for about 41% of all e-commerce payments.

But when it’s easier to spend, we tend to spend more. And that’s not always a good thing when we’re unsure of where our money is going. The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that when consumers first started to use mobile wallets, we completed 23.5% more transactions, most of which were on low-cost items; as a result, our overall spending jumped by 2.4%.  

So, while digital wallets eliminate friction and enable more spending, it has come at a cost: uncertainty, confusion and a lack of confidence that we really know what we’re spending our money on. Have you counted how many streaming services and auto-refill products you’re now paying for? The advent of one-click spending has created its own set of challenges. Caring for the whole customer’s wellbeing will be the next frontier for brands looking to create differentiated value. 

With a human-centered approach to experience design in digital spending, there’s incredible potential to rethink how to give consumers more confidence and control of their finances while preserving simplicity and driving business results.

How great experience design can help achieve customers’ core needs

Human-centered designers approach every problem from the perspective of the human user. We start by taking into account what they need (and sometimes, what they don’t know they need) from any given experience. When I think of great design in consumer finance, it’s not just transactional. I think of experiences that enable customers to achieve their goals and aspirations. In essence, if my team and I understand what our customers’ spend is in service of, we can help them achieve that through experience design.

Here’s a framework of core design considerations we’ve come up with, based on what customers want and need today:

  • Clarity: Find and eliminate the invisible inefficiencies in customers’ spending experience. Many of us are making payments across multiple accounts, payment plans, apps and merchants. It’s no wonder that it can be easy to lose track. Design should illuminate and help users navigate these invisible culprits or design them OUT of the experience altogether.
  • Confidence: Remove the mental/emotional load that can come with spending by helping people distinguish between the spending they have to do, need to do, and want to do. Many of us are constantly faced with the tension of navigating expenses around things that just have to get done (bills and unexpected home repairs); things that need to be spent on (saving for a child’s college fund); and things we choose to spend on (a night out on the town, a fancy new coffee maker). Give users insights during the moments that really matter so they can prioritize their spending accordingly.
  • Control: Ensure a customer’s spending matches the rules they set for it.  Enabling users to have control over their spending is perhaps the most challenging part to deliver, for two reasons: 1) the rules, guardrails, and mental models people apply to their spending are idiosyncratic based on their personal financial situations and values; and 2) consumers typically resist investing time and energy into controlling their money. A user interface that delivers interconnected assistance powered by data and machine learning can be more helpful than a suite of disparate tools and features.

Let’s take a few hypothetical examples of what this could look like — all of which are areas we’re exploring at Capital One.  What if it were possible to provide customers greater visibility into upcoming subscription renewals, and — with just a tap or two — the ability to block renewals from happening automatically without their authorization?

Or what if the customer could easily see all bills and subscriptions that are coming due before being charged — and make any necessary changes before charges hit? This could help customers save time and the hassle of managing subscriptions by tracking them and housing that information all in one place.

How experience becomes a competitive lever

Most companies today have access to sophisticated technology. But how brands design and deliver experiences can be a true differentiator. The experience of spending one’s hard-earned dollars with a particular brand is one of the most intimate and important ways that a company engages with its customers. It requires deep trust on the part of the customer — especially when they’re selecting which brand to do business with. In today’s world, trust is at a premium.  

Empathetic and human-centered design can communicate and deliver on the brand’s value and choices — signaling to the customer that they’re both understood and in good hands. While many brands may not want their customers to examine their spending too deeply, we see a big opportunity to bring more humanity, confidence, and control for the wellbeing of customers and the companies they entrust.

Jason Ferrell is managing vice president and head of design for Card & Consumer Bank at Capital One.

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