Making retirement investing accessible
Helping BlackRock—the world's largest asset manager—redesign their FutureAdvisor product.
Team Nick McCurry (PM), Dilip Patharachalam (Engineering Manager)
Role Product Designer
BlackRock's FutureAdvisor mobile product helps people optimize their retirement investments by providing free financial advice and investment management using industry-leading algorithms.
While the underlying tech has always been state-of-the-art, the app needed some work. When using the app, people missed opportunities to improve their investment portfolio, save time, and often struggled to pick the right product.
Through user research, listening in on calls with our financial advisors, and interviewing our free/premium users we discovered that there were 5 points that we could do a better job at helping our users understand to improve the experience and drive conversion.
How well users understood these 5 points became how we would measure the success of the redesign. Our business goal of driving premium conversion, aligned with our UX goal of helping people pick the best product for them—premium investment management outperforms human investors. We also had design goals which included creating FutureAdvisor's first visual system—sticker sheets, guidelines, and the beginning of a parametric system that adapts to the brand of our partners for our B2B2C mobile products.
Designing for Chris
I led ideation sessions and workshops on ways we could incorporate these 5 points into our product, with the FutureAdvisor founders and representatives from our engineering, product, marketing, QA, financial advisors, and client ops teams. With hundreds of concepts in hand, I started designing the end-to-end product experience. To focus on our users and the product we were creating for them, rather than UI elements, Nick, Brittani—FutureAdvisor's customer research manager—and I wrote several drafts of the entire app as a conversation between FutureAdvisor and Chris w/ Kids.
In his 30s, Chris w/ Kids is FutureAdvisor's persona. Chris has been investing since he started working, knowing it was the right thing to do and not a lot more than that. Over the years he's followed the advice that comes with his 401k, what he could glean from other people, and from an online article he once read. Chris knows he could be doing better but doesn't have the time nor the desire to figure out how—it's a back of the head problem, not an active, burning need.
The conversation became the outline of our user flows, and I incorporated many of the ideas we came up with into wireframe sketches. From our discussions with Chris, we realized that we would also need to replace the core “best practices” flow—which explained general investment theory and scored portfolios—with something that provided actionable insights on how to improve.
I combined and narrowed down to three distinct proposals—a chatbot flow, an interactive video flow, and the task list flow. Working with FutureAdvisor's CEO, CPO, and head of product, we decided the task list flow best met the needs of the product, our partners, and our end users.
To build the wireframes for the task list and auxiliary flows—onboarding and premium value props—I moved from sketching to Sketch. With the first sets of wireframes, I created an InVision prototype to share the vision for the new FutureAdvisor mobile user experience. After a few tweaks based on internal feedback, we tested the prototype on usertesting.com.
The task list and task card drill-ins were a hit. People enjoyed the little shortcuts to add reminders to their calendar and other similar features. There was a lot of great feedback, and even better was seeing where they struggled with the UI—they weren't sure if the picture up to the right was a chat or their profile, and had a difficult time with the horizontal scroll of the cards. In later tests, we found out that vertical scrolling cards were much better at conveying the feeling of points 1 and 2: “Wow, there's a lot of work to do, both now and in the future.”
Building on earlier, promising implementations of behavioral design, Nick and I investigated further opportunities to embed behavior economics principles within the app at a weekend workshop with Dan Ariely and the Common Cents Lab so that we could help our users get the very best returns. We reframed the value proposition as preventing loss, rather than incurring gains, created stronger defaults, and embraced effort bias by being radically transparent about the amount of work required and how we would do it.
The task list flow gives actionable advice on how to improve your investment portfolio. The portfolio projection and loss aversion value prop motivate people to act quickly. Every UI element addresses our success metrics and goals.
One time and recurring task cards show how much work there is to do now and in the future. When users drill into the cards, an add-to-calendar feature and side-by-side, step-by-step comparisons of the DIY v. Managed approaches drive the point even further and explain how FutureAdvisor can do the work for them. Furthermore, the conversion CTA makes point 03 clear. The prominent chat feature addresses point 04, allowing users to talk with the FutureAdvisor financial advisor team. Lastly, when we tested the wireframes, we found trust became a non-issue with a consistent UI and appropriate branding—one participant said: “I trust the app, the design is legit and they're a BlackRock company.”
To encourage good investment habits and long-term thinking we omitted the current portfolio value from the task list and used the low discoverability of a hamburger menu as an advantage to minimize opportunities for users to make bad decisions, switch risk preferences and/or investment strategies during market downturns and upturns.
Following sign up, people find themselves in step 2/3 of the new onboarding. There is no step 1. We use a goal-gradient effect—a common behavior economic principle—in our progress indicator to motivate people to get through the flow quickly.
In step 2, we ask for information to help us build their investment profile. As a federal fiduciary, FutureAdvisor must ask people to select a risk profile. Risk profiles protect consumers from predatory firms but often end up diminishing returns because they are difficult to explain and gauge on an individual basis. Previously FutureAdvisor's risk selector defaulted to a “moderate” risk profile and allowed users to switch to “aggressive” or “conservative.” Unsurprisingly, most users selected moderate. After all, moderate sounds like you are getting the best of both strategies. In reality, it's the worst option—you'll lose both more long-term portfolio value and more of your principal. An aggressive risk profile is almost always the best option for long-term investing, and a conservative risk profile can make sense for short-term goals.
In the new risk selector, the default is “aggressive” and users can switch to the relabeled “mediocre” (previously moderate) risk profile or “conservative.” Animated projections and descriptions help users understand what each risk profile means. Step 3 is a cleaned up version of the previous aggregation flow.
Premium Value Prop
A simplified flow highlights the things that people love most about FutureAdvisor's premium investment management product. We introduce users to our team of licensed financial advisors available to them at no extra cost (non-monetary incentive). Animations then highlight 24/7 portfolio monitoring and management, low fees, and that their money stays in their control at a trusted custodian.
The app's new modular structure and visual language system makes it easy to change everything from color to text, to include and omit elements, and adapt to our B2B2C partners' brand parameters—I tested this with partner brand guidelines as well as hypothetical financial institutions based on consumer brands like the ones above.
FutureAdvisor's visual language had grown organically, and an audit revealed that there were over 100 button styles live. To create brand continuity between the app and other products, I started refining the language into a visual system. Creating guidelines, FutureAdvisor's first sticker sheet, and defining new elements including grids, spacing, colors, content, icons, illustrations, drop shadows, status indicators, animations, microinteractions, buttons, cards, forms, empty states, error states, lists, selectors, and tabs.
We shipped the new flows, and in our initial test, premium conversion increased by 104% over the existing app.