Over the years, I have done a lot of customer research in the financial industry. For me it’s one of the most interesting fields of innovation, because banks and insurers have had the luxury to be quite ‘passive’ for decades, as financial customers are among the most loyal of all industries and money generally has been flowing in like water (side note: loyalty in this case, is mainly a defined by high switching efforts, which is very interesting in itself). However, times are changing and those same players now experience competition from unexpected corners: Google, Facebook, dozens of very successful startups and scale-ups, crypto-currency, etc. They start feeling the need to digitalize their offerings, but the battle only just began.

In Mexico, I have been in charge for multiple Discovery phases for client projects, in which we do contextual research, interviews, perform observations and use other qualitative methods. One of the most interesting things I have found during these projects, is the importance of ‘perception of security’, as a direct result of the overall digital maturity of local customers. Whereas European and US penetration of mobile banking is currently over 90%, the overall penetration in Mexico is a bit more than 55%. (Don’t confuse this with overall smartphone penetration, which is over 71%).

As a result, local banks and insurers have a fairly immature digital infrastructure. Moreover, identity theft and fraud are still very common in Mexico (and other LATAM countries), causing people to be more hesitant and anxious in using their smartphones for doing transactions or other financial (sensitive) actions.

Some of the people we’ve interviewed stated ‘they don’t trust the mobile phone signal’ and that you ‘never know who can intercept the transfer’. For desktop use, perception of security is better, as home Wi-Fi is better trusted than public Wi-Fi or 3G/4G networks. Also, a lot of people told us they trust the desktop more because it has ‘a bigger screen’ and feels more solid and safe (talking about the importance of perception!).

Also, a lot of people told us they trust the desktop more because it has ‘a bigger screen’ and feels more solid and safe

One 32-year old lady told us she takes a screenshot of every step in the transaction process (on her desktop), as proof for when fraud would be committed. The fact that she was ‘only’ 32 years old – and she wasn’t the only young interviewee – also demonstrates that this is not a matter of physical age, but really a psychological hurdle across age, gender and socio-economical status.

For designers and innovators, this is an important insight. You cannot ignore the (unjustified) perception of security (or the lack thereof) that a lot of people have. This means that you have to make UX and UI design decisions that cater for this:

  • Keep users continuously up-to-date by being transparent about the transaction process, constantly providing feedback about actions that are happening. Show what’s happening ‘behind the curtains’, in an easy to understand way. Learn from best practices in retailing and shipping, such as amazon or AliBaba.

  • Provide visual cues of the security by iconography and animations that symbolize trust and security

  • Assure users that their data is safe and encrypted, for example by using metaphors like a vault, a closing chain or bridge, or by stating that – although using a public Wi-Fi – all transferred data is packaged and unreadable for third parties
  • Explain two-way verification and why it’s needed (enhancing security). A second identifier will assure people of more safety
  • Provide direct help by showing (other) self-service channels such as live chat or video-help, as ways to improve overall help and ease of mind

These are just some simple tips for UX and UI designers to use. Keep in mind that there is also a large user base that doesn’t have this flawed perception gap; the more digital savvy customers are mostly likely not to face these problems (‘nomads’ and ‘chameleons’ in the digital mobile maturity matrix, found on Wired.com).

What can we learn from this?

What we can take away from this is that you always have to do the research. Assumptions are the mother of all f*ck-ups, and that’s something I can’t emphasize enough. You cannot just assume that a certain demographic, psychological or geographical segment behaves identical the another (e.g. in terms of digital maturity, needs around protection, age range, etc.)

Moreover, this teaches us that mass adoption of mobile banking is dependent on the overall perception of security and safety – regardless of the actual security that has been implemented. Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, security too seems to be in the eye of the beholder, frankly.