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User Insight Vol.1 - Brokerage iPhone apps: Examining the Mobile User Experience


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In this study, Corporate Insight's User Research team examined some of the brokerage industry’s most popular mobile apps. CI conducted small-scale usability tests on iPhone apps offered by Charles Schwab, E*TRADE, Fidelity, and Merrill Lynch focusing on design and core features like trade order entry and stock quotes. This slide deck shares the key findings from our mobile usability testing results and also offers advice for financial services firms looking to optimize the mobile user experience on their apps.

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User Insight Vol.1 - Brokerage iPhone apps: Examining the Mobile User Experience

  2. 2. INTRODUCTIONFor over 20 years, Corporate Insight has helped financial services firms improve their customer experience by offeringongoing, objective feedback from the perspective of actual account holders. In that period, the customer website hasemerged as arguably the single most important point of contact between financial institutions and their clients. Weare now in the midst of a paradigm shift, however, as smartphones and tablets become increasingly popular entrypoints to the Web. More and more, customers expect to be able to manage their financial accounts via a mobiledevice, just as they do via the customer website. Financial services firms must meet that expectation if they want toremain competitive in today’s marketplace.As companies develop and refine their mobile-optimized websites and apps, they face a significant challenge –designing a user-friendly experience for a variety of smaller screens and different operating systems. Unlike traditionalwebsites, where general guidelines for effective design have emerged over the past two decades, mobile platformdesign does not yet have a similar set of standards. As a result, it’s essential that financial services companiesunderstand what happens when clients and prospects actually interact with their firm via a mobile device so they candesign a satisfying experience.With that in mind, Corporate Insight developed a usability study to shed light on the importance of mobile platform-focused user testing. Our study reviews the iPhone apps offered by four leading brokerage firms – Charles Schwab,E*TRADE, Fidelity and Merrill Lynch. While our findings highlight issues that users encountered with these particularapps, our real goal is to demonstrate the type of information that can be gained when you observe real usersinteracting with a mobile platform.For each firm, we met with five participants, all with varying levels of experience with the iPhone and brokerageproducts. These individuals worked to complete 10 different tasks that are common to the mobile brokerageexperience. We focused on identifying aspects of each firm’s design that confused, frustrated or inhibited users fromcompleting the task at hand. Some of the issues raised in this report are particular to one firm, while others representcommon problems shared by several firms.This report provides a summary of the key findings from our usability study. For more information regarding our usertesting and user research services, please contact Alan Maginn at 212.832.2002, ext. 116
  3. 3. TABLEOFCONTENTSTable of Contents Why Is User Testing Important? When Should You Test Your Mobile App? Test Design• Our Objective• Tasks• Device• Study Participants• Methodology Detailed Findings• Stock Search Functionality• Stock Quote: Related Actions• E*TRADE’s Stock Alert Interface• Trading Interface: Selecting an Order Type• Trading Interface: Number Entry• Fidelity’s Trading Interface in iOS 6• Customer Service Phone Number Takeaways from This Study Corporate Insight Is Here to Help About the Author3
  4. 4. Why Is User Testing Important?4In an industry as competitive as financial services, userexperience plays an important role in the client’s overallsatisfaction with their firm. Financial institutions may useproducts and pricing to gain new customers, but a user-friendly online experience has become critical to bothretention and engagement. And with the rise of thesmartphone and the tablet, the mobile experience is fastemerging as another key competitive battleground.With so much riding on the quality of your mobilewebsite or apps, it’s imperative that you understand whathappens when real world clients and prospects interactwith your designs. By performing user tests throughoutthe design lifecycle, you can answer the followingquestions: Is it easy for your audience to learn to use yourinterface? How quickly do users complete common tasks? Do users make any errors as they work to completecommon tasks? How satisfied are users with your design?The value of user testing doesn’t stop at improvingclient satisfaction. The following examples from theNielsen Norman Group report Usability Return onInvestment1 demonstrate the impact an improveduser experience can have on your company’ssuccess: In the early 2000s, MasterCard hoped toredesign its business site to increase itsusability and encourage more small businessowners to get business cards. The design teambrought more content to the homepage,presented direct links to common tasks, andprovided targeted content to various groups ofusers. During user testing, customers were300% more likely to be able to find theproducts they were looking for. Insurance provider New York Life changed thelocation of product links and brought morecontent up front on their homepage. Total saleleads per day increased by 213%. In the 1990s, over 2 million pages of IBM’swebsite were separately owned, leading tohuge design and navigational inconsistencies.When the design and architecture of the sitewas unified in 1994, online sales increased by400%.1 Jakob Nielson, J.M. Berger, Shuli Gilutz, and Kathryn Whitenton. Usability Return on Investment (ROI). 4th Ed. (Freemont, CA: Nielsen Norman Group).WHYISUSERTESTINGIMPORTANT?
  5. 5. When Should You Test Your Mobile App?5There isn’t any one particular time when it makes themost sense to test your mobile app. On the contrary, toensure that your interface is easy to use, you shouldperform user tests throughout the design process, fromconceptual prototypes through the implementation offinal designs.And the testing shouldn’t stop just because you’vereleased your app to the public. As new mobile devicescome to market and mobile operating systems evolve,it’s important to understand how these changes impactthe user experience. Testing your current app is also agreat first step when you plan to update your interfaceor develop a new app for another platform, while testingcompetitor apps may reveal alternative approaches tosome of the design challenges you face.But won’t all of this testing slow down your designprocess, while pushing your project over budget? Notnecessarily. According to leading Web usability expertJakob Nielsen, the vast majority of usability issues canbe discovered in as few as five tests,2 and as wedemonstrate in this report, the tests themselves can beconducted over the course of just a few days.2 “Why You Only Need to Test with 5 Users,” accessed October 15, 2012. &DevelopmentDeploymentValidation &AssessmentUser Testing
  6. 6. Test Design: Our Objective6The purpose of this study was to demonstrate the value of user testing mobile platforms. We testedsome of the investment industry’s most popular apps, focusing on core features like order entry andquote retrieval. While our findings highlight design issues in the apps offered by Charles Schwab,E*TRADE, Fidelity, and Merrill Lynch, our goal was not to critique these particular apps per se. Rather,we wanted to illustrate the kind of insights that can be gleaned from even a small-scale usability test.We hope that the usability problems uncovered in this report inspire you to test your own platformsto understand what happens when real users interact with them.TESTDESIGN
  7. 7. Test Design: Tasks7Our tests centered on 10 tasks. By design, nearly all tasks were possible on all four apps, thoughthere were a few exceptions due to the limitations associated with our accounts or because the firmdid not offer that particular capability through their iPhone app. These exceptions are noted inparentheses in the list below:1. Login to an account2. Retrieve a stock chart for a security without knowing its symbol3. View the most recent news article for a security4. Set up a price alert for a security (Charles Schwab and Fidelity)5. Add a security to a watchlist6. Set up a limit order for the security7. View current market value for the account8. Transfer money from an outside bank account to the brokerage account (Merrill Lynch)9. Review all transactions within the account for the past 90 days or 3 months10. Access the firm’s customer service phone numberTESTDESIGN
  8. 8. Test Design: Device8All of our tests were conducted on an iPhone 4running iOS 6, which was released shortly beforewe began our study. Our decision to perform ourtests on this particular device was based on anumber of factors: The general trend within the financialservices industry has been for firms tolaunch apps for iOS-based devices beforefocusing on other devices. Among the firms we track for our MobileMonitor service, iPhone apps (30) are morewidely available than apps for Android (25)or RIM (12). Although Android phones account for 68%of the smartphone market as of September,2012,3 the uniformity of the iPhone’sdesign makes it a better target for a generaluser test.3 “Worldwide market share for smartphones,” Associated Press, accessed October 15, 2012.
  9. 9. Test Design: Study Participants9In keeping with the concept that most usability issues canbe discovered through five tests, we tested five individualsper app for a total of 20 participants. To understand theimpact that prior investing experience had on aparticipant’s ability to complete the assigned tasks, weselected individuals with brokerage accounts as well asthose with limited-to-no investing experience.We were also curious to see how a participant’s familiaritywith the iPhone affected their performance. As a result,we met with individuals in the following categories: Frequent iPhone Users – Individuals who currentlyown an iPhone, regardless of the model, and havebeen using the phone for at least six months. Occasional iPhone Users – Individuals who havesome experience with an iOS device, typically gainedthrough the use of a friend or family member’sdevice. Although they are familiar with iOS, they donot own an iPhone. Novice iPhone Users – Individuals who have had noexposure to, or nominal experience with, iOSdevices.When designing a usability test, Corporate Insightcan work with your firm to recruit study participantsbased on your target audience or such other factorsas: Age Experience with financial products Trading style or frequency Net worth Vision issuesTESTDESIGN
  10. 10. Test Design: Methodology10Participant meetings were conducted in CorporateInsight’s usability lab, located at our offices in MidtownManhattan. All sessions were recorded usingTechsmith’s Morae usability software. Users interactedwith the brokerage apps through an iPhone 4 attachedto a specialized user testing “sled.” This sled (picturedat right) features a webcam mounted at the top of thedevice to capture participant’s activity within the apps;a second webcam is used to capture the participant’sfacial expression.Test sessions were moderated by a trained usabilityprofessional who guided the participants through theten tasks, offered clarification when necessary andconducted an interview once the test was complete. Asecond analyst monitored the session and logged notesfrom an observation room, separated from the testingroom by a one-way mirror.As participants worked to complete the tasks, theywere encouraged to “think aloud” so that we wouldgain more insight into their decision making process.Mobile User Testing SledSnapshot from Morae RecordingTESTDESIGN
  11. 11. Stock Search Functionality11When it comes to stock search tools, all four apps tested in thisstudy provide dynamic search results. That means the user canview results as they input a symbol or company name into thesearch field. Some apps displayed these results more quickly thanothers, but the availability of this functionality is an industry bestpractice.While dynamic search results can make it easier for users to lookup a company name or stock symbol, our testing uncovered arelated usability issue that was present in all four apps. Ratherthan select the company name from the list of dynamic results,many study participants clicked the search button once theyfinished typing the company name. When this occurred, the appsstated that there were no related results, which confused users.This example drives home an important point. Although yourcompany may intend to create user-friendly interfaces, you can’tknow what really happens when users interact with thesefeatures unless you test them. By understanding the needs andexpectations of your audience, you can design more effectiveinterfaces.E*TRADE Dynamic Search ResultsE*TRADE Stock Search ResultsDETAILEDFINDINGS
  12. 12. Stock Quote: Related Actions12Many of the tasks we asked users to perform were related to aparticular stock – Celgene Corporation (CELG). After askingindividuals to find information on the company, we had themperform a number of actions, including set up a limit order, addCelgene to a watchlist and set a price alert for the stock. Althoughsome users relied on the main menu to perform these actions, studyparticipants overwhelmingly expected to find links to relatedactions from the stock quote page, regardless of their priorexperience with brokerage products.In terms of trading, our users were correct; all four firms provide alink to their trading interface from the stock quote page. On theother hand, links to alerts and watchlists (when available throughthe app) were not always present, which meant users were forced tonavigate through the main menu in order to locate these features.But it’s not enough just to make these links available. Our testdemonstrates that the location and appearance of those links is alsovery important.Both Schwab and E*TRADE use green buttons to highlight theirtrading functionality. The color is especially effective on Schwab’sinterface because most other content on the page is blue or black.On the other hand, E*TRADE’s Set Alert button features a gray designthat was overlooked by some users. In both instances, the buttonsappear within the body of the page, which means the buttons are nolonger visible if the user scrolls down the page.Charles Schwab Trade ButtonE*TRADE Trade and Alert ButtonsDETAILEDFINDINGS
  13. 13. Stock Quote: Related Actions13Merrill Lynch provides three related action buttons– Trade, Alert and Add to Watchlist – from the stockquote page. Unlike Schwab and E*TRADE, though,these buttons are positioned in a static frame atthe bottom of the page. With Merrill’s design, thebuttons are always visible, regardless of where theuser navigates within the page. Although the firmdoesn’t use color to draw attention to the buttons,users had the most success with this design.Fidelity offers a unique solution to the relatedaction issue – Apple’s native “related actions”button. The button, which looks like an email“forward” icon, is featured in other native iPhoneapps like Photos. As a result, study participantswith significant iOS device experience found thebutton and its underlying actions very intuitive. Onthe other hand, iOS novices were either confusedby the button or overlooked it entirely.Merrill Lynch Action ButtonsFidelity’s Use of Native iPhone Related Action ButtonDETAILEDFINDINGS
  14. 14. E*TRADE’s Stock Alert Interface14Setting a stock alert on E*TRADE’s iPhone app provedproblematic for many participants. Although thefeature is accessible from the stock quote page, two ofthe five participants failed to complete the taskbecause they could not find the set alerts page. Theseindividuals were confused by the Alerts tab in the mainmenu, which allows users to view alerts but providesno option to modify or set alerts.The remaining participants successfully located theset alert interface but found the inputs verycumbersome. At first, users tried to set the alert priceby using the main slider. Unfortunately, thefunctionality of this feature was limited; users couldmove the price a few points but then it would lock inplace.After becoming frustrated with the slider, participantstried to adjust the price with the +/- buttons, only tofind that this was either very time consuming or, in thecase of those users who held the button down for anextended period, that the interface kept moving wellafter they’d taken their finger off the phone. In theend, most participants questioned why they couldn’tinput a number manually.DETAILEDFINDINGSE*TRADE’s Set Alerts Interface
  15. 15. Trading Interface: Selecting an Order Type15To test the usability of each app’s stock/ETF trading interface, we asked participants to set up a limitorder to buy one share of Celgene stock, good for one day. While all users were eventually successful,some interfaces caused problems due to issues related to design consistency and link affordance, orthe visual cue that something can be clicked or interacted with.Entering the order type proved problematic for several firms. Although it’s the first input in all four apps,participants overlooked the order type buttons on the Schwab, Fidelity and Merrill Lynch apps. Whenwe probed to understand why, users explained that they thought the buttons were labels due to theirgray-on-gray color. Schwab’s design proved least problematic of the three, due to the fact that the inputfields feature a bold heading and are offset from the other inputs on the page.E*TRADE, on the other hand, utilizes dropdown menus for its order inputs, which is consistent with theother selection inputs on the page. Users experienced no problems with this interface.DETAILEDFINDINGS
  16. 16. Trading Interface: Number Entry16Another aspect of the trading interface that affected usabilitywere the number input fields. Again, none of the designs keptusers from completing the order entry process but it was clear thatparticipants found certain interfaces easier to use than others.The biggest factor that affected usability was the entry keypad.E*TRADE and Fidelity utilize a 12-button number keypad whileMerrill Lynch and Schwab utilize the full 31-button number andsymbol keypad. Beyond the irrelevance of symbols in a numberentry field, the 12-button keypad is preferable because itsnumbers are larger targets for the user’s fingers.Another feature that affected usability was the input fieldsthemselves. E*TRADE and Schwab utilize pop-up windows thatfocus the user’s attention on the task at hand. Fidelity and MerrillLynch, on the other hand, have the user input numbers directly onthe trading screen. As a result, other input fields remain visible,which can lead to some confusion.E*TRADE Input Field & KeypadMerrill Lynch Input Field & KeypadDETAILEDFINDINGS
  17. 17. Fidelity’s Trading Interface in iOS 617In addition to the basic issues regarding keypads and input fields, we also encountered what appearsto be a glitch in Fidelity’s app and we believe it is related to Apple’s recent iOS 6 software update.During testing, users complained that the field for inputting the Limit Price was hidden by thekeypad. We tried to replicate the issue on an iPhone 4S running iOS 5 but were unsuccessful.Although it is not a critical issue, this glitch highlights the need for companies to continually test theirapps, especially when new hardware comes to market or operating system software is updated.Fidelity app viewed on iPhone4S, iOS 5Fidelity app viewed on iPhone 4,iOS 6Input for Limit Priceshifts to top of page,enabling user to viewfield as they type.Input for LimitPrice is hiddenbelow keypad.DETAILEDFINDINGS
  18. 18. Customer Service Phone Number18For their final task, participants were asked to locate acustomer service phone number. In this instance,usability was related to the intuitiveness of the app’sinformation architecture, not any functionality. As aresult, we didn’t expect there would be muchdifference between the apps, but our test resultssuggest otherwise.Across the board, participants looked to the mainmenu for a customer service number. Thoseindividuals working with the Schwab app located thenumber the fastest, as the firm’s menu features anoption labeled “Call Schwab.” Merrill Lynch alsoprovides access to a “Contact Merrill Lynch” featurevia a fixed frame at the bottom of its main menu butdue to the color and position on the page, severalparticipants overlooked the feature at first.E*TRADE houses its customer service informationwithin a Help tab. Although not as readily accessible asSchwab or Merrill, the location was intuitive to users.DETAILEDFINDINGS
  19. 19. Customer Service Phone Number19Fidelity’s app, on the other hand, houses its customerservice number under a tab labeled “Settings.”Although most users eventually located the number, itwas often after an exhaustive search through variousareas of the app. Participants commented that it was“the last place” they expected to find theinformation. To make matters worse, the number ispositioned below the fold on the Settings page.So how can you avoid a situation where your users areunable to find important information or features?Aside from testing your interface with usersthroughout the design process, you can ensure yourinformation architecture is intuitive by involvingusers in the design process through card sortingexercises. In these exercises, users organize thecontent of your website either under predeterminedheadings (closed card sort) or under headings theymake themselves (open card sorting).SCREENFOLDFidelity’s Settings PageDETAILEDFINDINGS
  20. 20. Takeaways from This Study20We hope that this usability study sheds some light on the value of user testing, particularly theimportance of testing your mobile platform – and competitor platforms – given this rapidly evolvingspace. Although our study focused specifically on brokerage mobile apps, there are a number oftakeaways that apply to the broader financial services industry: Dynamic search is a helpful feature but it can confuse users if they do not have access totraditional search results Action buttons should have the affordance, or look and feel, of a button Numeric keypads should be used for numeric input fields Contact information should be easy to find Apps should be tested to ensure that operating system upgrades do not negatively affectfunctionalityTAKEAWAYSFROMTHISSTUDY
  21. 21. Corporate Insight Is Here to Help21User testing is a powerful research tool that should be incorporated into your broader design process.It can help you: Understand the needs of your clients Prioritize improvements to your interface Discover design flaws Improve customer satisfactionCorporate Insight is here to help with all of your user testing needs. We can: Collaborate with you to design a study that tests the key features of your mobile app or website, or theplatforms offered by competitors Recruit participants that represent your target audience Provide you with a detailed analysis of test sessions Assist you with your existing usability efforts, moderating tests that you have designed or hosting tests atour facility, conveniently located above Grand Central Station in Midtown ManhattanIn addition to our user testing services, we also offer Expert Reviews, assessing your interface basedon established design principles and industry best practices. We also perform in-depth WebsiteAudits, benchmarking your customer website against peer sites in terms of design, functionality,navigation and usability and offering precise, actionable recommendations to improve it.CORPORATEINSIGHTISHERETOHELP
  22. 22. Upcoming Usability Research from Corporate Insight22UPCOMINGRESEARCHIn the coming months, Corporate Insight will be conducting a series of usability studies focusing onvarious segments of the financial services industry. Our next study, due to be published in June 2013,will address the usability of banking websites and iPad apps, with a strong focus on transactioninterfaces. If you would like to be notified when this new study becomes available or if you areinterested to learn more about Corporate Insight’s User Research Services, contact Alan Maginn,Director, User Research at 212.832.2002, ext. 116 or
  23. 23. About the Author23Alan Maginn is the Director, User Research on CorporateInsight’s Consulting Services team and has been with thefirm since 2004. He received his Certified UsabilityAnalyst accreditation from Human Factors Internationalin 2011 and has since led the development of CorporateInsight’s new User Research services. In addition to hiswork regarding usability, Alan has also led CI’s socialmedia research since 2008. Prior to that, he was SeniorAnalyst for Corporate Insight’s Mutual Fund Monitor-Advisor service.Alan Maginn, CUASenior Analyst, Consulting Services212.832.2002, ext.