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Best practices for CX design in banking and insurance (Part 1)

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Banking and insurance are tasks customers MUST do, not something they WANT to do. But you can still design a great experience for a task (or chore) a customer must do - make it efficient and convenient. There are best practices for designing these experiences such as supporting digital self-service, ensuring form questions are unambiguous, nurturing abandoned applications, and supporting channel cross-over. I've listed these best practices with examples in this post.

(I apologize in advance for the length of this post…but these recommendations are important, and I wanted to do them justice).

In a previous blog post I introduced the idea of the two types of experiences people interact with:

​Experience type


Descriptive words

Things people want to do

Vacations; Dining out; Watching a movie.

Fun; Enjoyable; Delightful; Can’t wait

Things people must do

Paying taxes; Going to the dentist; Banking.

Fast; Easy; Painless; Put-off.

Companies like Disney, The Ritz Carlton, The Fat Duck (if you've never hear of it, check it out) pride themselves on delivering exceptional experiences for things people want to do.

Unfortunately, the companies delivering services we must-do try to create delightful and fun experiences…and it just doesn’t fit. I don’t want to have fun banking – I just want to get in, get out, and get back to doing the things I want to do. Contrary to what this Bank of America TV commercial would have you believe (apparently everyone on their phone at a wedding is banking...I think not)

If you accept this principle – then you will make customers very happy by delivering easy, painless, fast experiences when they try to pay a bill, open an account, file a claim etc.

After two decades working in technology-enabled process improvement and customer experience design in industries like banking, wealth management, insurance and government - I’ve learnt a few ‘best practices’ that can help you deliver on the goal of delivering ‘great’ customer experiences.

I’ve split the best practices in to two groups - this post deals with the first.

1. Experience Design (this post focuses here) – what’s the process the customer goes through to complete a transaction like opening a bank account or filing an insurance claim

2. Visual Design – The visual elements (web or mobile) that will contribute to a successful customer experience. I’m not talking about colors and font kerning – I'm more concerned with layout, information flow etc.

Experience Design

People are impatient, make it fast

This should be obvious – but it surprises me how little attention is paid to this fact and how little effort is invested to give people back time. Microsoft’s Bing browser team researched the impact of web page load times on factors such as click-through, revenue and customer satisfaction. Guess what – the slower the web page, the lower these critical scores.

A 2 second (2000ms) delay resulted in revenue, clicks and satisfaction reducing by around 4% each.

Load Time




















Source: Microsoft Bing browser research

This isn’t just about page load times – you should also critically examine every question you’re asking a customer to complete and reduce, reduce, reduce. I’m not saying they’ll get frustrated and leave because you asked 20 questions as opposed to 19. But, that extra question might be when they’re interrupted by the phone ringing or the dog barking and you lose their attention and lose the customer.

Design difference paths for different purchase experiences

When Amazon launched the concept of One-Click (save your delivery address and preferred payment method so an ecommerce transaction could be completed in one-click), it was so revolutionary that they were granted a patent on the experience in 1999. Companies like Apple paid royalties to Amazon to allow them to enable one-click purchasing in the Apple App Store and iTunes until 2017.

So, with such a revolutionary purchase experience, did Amazon ditch the concept of the Shopping Cart? No! They recognized that there are different purchase paths for different scenarios. If my printer is running low on ink and I need to order refills – that’s a perfect one-click (or Buy Now as they’ve renamed it) purchase experience. But if I’m ordering supplies for a new home office (printer, paper, monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.) then using the Shopping Cart makes perfect sense.

I’ve worked with many businesses that want to design a single consistent experience for all their product/service offerings. But there are different paths for different purchase scenarios. For example:

  • I’m unhappy with my insurance carrier, I want a new insurer for my home, contents, car;

  • I just bought a motorcycle and want to insure it.


  • I want a savings account;

  • I’m thinking about getting a mortgage, but I’m not sure what the monthly repayments will be;

  • I’ve moved states and need a new bank for all my banking needs.

The purchase process is not the time to save money on digital design by standardizing on a single flow – tailor various flows for the customer journey. Be easy to do business with no matter what the customer is looking for.

Design from the ‘customer-in’, not your ‘system/process-out’

As businesses have undergone digital transformation, many of them have taken their internal processes or systems and created a digital front-end. This is fundamentally flawed. The systems or processes used inside a business were designed for staff, not customers. This is an inside-out approach to experience design and simply wrong. The screen shot below from a UK bank’s personal loan application experience is a perfect example:

What if I don’t have an existing account?

Why would you ask if I “need documents in an alternative format” before getting my name, email and phone number?

This is a classic example of looking at the internal systems and creating a digital self-service experience that mimics the internal system. The correct approach to digitization is to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and design from their perspective. The data collected can always be transformed to match internal systems – it doesn’t need to be collected that way.

Ensure questions are easy to answer - your form is like a 'test' to people

What’s your annual salary?

Easy question to answer – right? But is that before tax or after tax? Does that include bonus / commission? What if I get regular overtime? What if I work a job where tips make up a significant portion of my income?

Maybe it’s not that easy after all! If you’re a bank, insurer, government agency – your forms are like a test. People feel they must get them right or it will impact their credit score, risk of being flagged as a fraudster, impact their premium.

Ask yourself – is the question ambiguous? How am I going to use the data?

If, in the example above, it would be satisfactory to get a range for the salary (<$25,000, $25,000 - $50,000, etc.) then simply showing these ranges tells the applicant that you’re not looking for an exact number.

Scrutinize every question and look for potential ambiguity or confusion and address it. Every question should be simple to answer and ideally require zero thinking on the part of the customer.

Invitations and Offer Codes can create FOMO

The US is particularly fond of offer codes or invitation codes for pre-selected or pre-approved customers – I can buy lists of people in particular cities with particular credit scores and target them with offers. And very often, the offer-code is the first thing that applicant is asked to provide, if they have one. Which makes sense – as the offer-code can be used to prefill details like name, address, etc.

The problem is FOMO – fear of missing out. What if I go to apply for a product like a bank account or credit card, see a field asking for an offer-code and I don’t have one? Why didn’t I get an offer code? Would I get a better deal? Perhaps I’ll search for an offer-code on the web!

Here’s an example of what happened when I did that. Looking at the Bank of America SafeBalance bank account – the 2nd question was “I have an offer code” and I didn’t. So I Googled “bank of America offer code” and the first result was an add from 1ST Bank of Colorado offering a $300 bonus to open a checking account.

My recommendation is to use a vanity URL for any customer that is applying based on an offer. Tell them to go to and on this version of the application form, ask for their offer-code. For everyone else, hide the field. Don’t create FOMO.

Nurture leads, because life gets in the way

We all believe our business, our products and our services are really important. So when someone sits down to apply for our products/services, of course it’s the most important thing they’ll do that day…so they’ll finish it…right?


I worked with a bank who designed their personal loan application experience so they captured Name, Email and Phone number as the first fields on the form and saved them as a ‘lead’. That way, if the customer didn’t complete the loan application, the bank could follow-up and see if they were still interested in applying.

They did this – the call center was given a list of partially complete loan applications and asked to call the prospective borrower and ask:

  1. If the person was still interested in applying (40% were).

  2. If the person could help them improve by explaining why they didn’t complete the loan application (there were a bunch of reasons – “I lost internet/power”, “my phone rang”, “my child vomited, and I had to deal with that”).

Basically – ‘life got in the way’ of the consumer completing the loan application. A sick child is more urgent to deal with than a loan application. However, 40% of the customers who had abandoned intended to finish and were happy to take the call and finish the loan app over the phone with the banker. That’s a conversion rate any bank would gladly accept!

Support channel/device cross-over

Concepts like Click & Collect or Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store (BPOIS) are common place in retail. But so many service providers like Insurance and Banking still operate their channels as silos. The branch, call center and digital channels operate their own P&Ls.

The problem is, when a customer engages with a brand – they do just that. They engage with a single brand. They don’t care that there are separate silos for channels. They see one bank, one insurer. And in other interactions like groceries, clothing, electronics – they have become accustomed to ordering online, picking up or returning in store. We all love the instant gratification! I can see if the product is available in store without leaving the sofa, order it and pick it up within an hour. What’s not to love.

But in banking, if I start an application for a product online and then go to a branch to talk to someone and finish the application…I can’t. I have to start over. Or if I start in a branch and realize I don’t have a piece of information like my wife’s SSN – I can’t go home and finish. I have to go home, get that information and come back to the branch to complete my application. Massively inconvenient!

I worked with a bank that enabled clients to begin loan applications with a banker and then complete at home. Their completion rate increased 420%. Yes…4X!

Break down the channel silos and support channel cross-over. It’s what consumers expect.

Do something, as opposed to nothing

The task of digitization can seem daunting for certain industries. There are hundreds or thousands of transactions. Core systems like banking or ERP may be old mainframe technologies that were not designed for digital self-service or mobile app integration. There are lots of stories of failed multi-million-dollar projects – and besides, if it’s worked for decades as-is, why change?

The problem is, the world HAS changed and people have changed. And being left behind is a real risk. And that risk significantly increased during the 2020 COVID pandemic. Businesses that were not equipped to function in the digital era disappeared.

So, if you can’t deliver a completely digital experience for your account opening, loan application or claim lodgment – at least digitize the customer experience. Allow the customer (online or on mobile) to complete the application and submit it to you for processing, and then manually process the request using existing staff and workflows. I have numerous examples of this from my work.

Business scenario



Account servicing forms at a large bank

550 paper forms were digitized to eliminate paper form processing.

Re-work caused by incorrect information, missing information or illegible handwriting was eliminated.

Digital Loan application at a regional bank

Personal loan application was digitized with manual processing of the submitted loan application.

Loan volumes doubled by making the application process available online and on mobile.

Insurance claim

A digital claim form was created to supplement the call center during peak volumes such as after a natural disaster.

Customer satisfaction increased significantly during peak claim periods as an alternate option was available to file a claim when the call center was inundated.

Small business banking

A digital application was created to replace 5 paper forms.

Time to complete was reduced by 69% and the average number of products per customer increased from 1.5 products/customer to 4.5.

Below is a screenshot from a bank offering a student bank account that can only be applied for in a branch – I’m not sure this bank really understands their target customer (this is a great example of 'doing nothing' in digital).

Do something to improve the customer experience, even if it’s not perfect…it’s better than doing nothing.

Don’t declare victory too soon, use data to continuously improve

Most digital transformation or customer experience projects focus on a go-live date. The budget, the timeline and the team are aligned to the go-live and then move on to the next project.

This assumes that the first release of the solution is perfect – which is never the case. Simple analytics tools can be deployed to provide insight into customer behavior. You can identify which questions are causing the most abandonment. You can see which fields generate the most error messages.

When an initiative allows time for iterations, based on this data, the results can be significant. Not only are they significant, but the process of continuous improvement becomes addictive for the management and the team.

The next post will deal with more of the visual aspects of CX design.

Thanks for reading!


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