Who is financial services technology for?

Thu 14 Jul 2011

Even though it was billed as a report about financial advisers' satisfaction with investment platforms in the UK, we think that last week's Defaqto report delivers a very clear message to any business which makes a living building technology services for financial advice professionals: usability matters more than features.

As Money Marketing is reporting today - and AT8's Mark Loosmore mentioned in tweets last week - of the top ten considerations which influence an adviser's decision to use one piece of kit over another, only one really relates to the functional features of the investment platform.

The remaining nine revolve around user experience of the technology (and five of those are, we think, about the people behind the technology).

So advisers are looking for a combination of software and service that suit the way they work, that doesn't get in their way and - most importantly - doesn't risk their hard-won reputation with their clients.

To mash up a well-known saying…to a user, it's not the size of your software that counts, it's what you're easily able to do with it.

But here's the problem…

The trouble is, unless technology brands are willing or able to invest most of their effort in intuitive interaction design for their users (and that means designing interaction beyond the technology platform itself into to real-world support) more features always carry the risk of creating more work for your users; so technology creates more cost, and not less.

The Defaqto findings hit a nerve with us at Moneyscope, because we recently completed a questionnaire that's used to evaluate a potential star-rating for our web application.

As we worked through the questions, though, we were struck by the implicit assumption that the fewer features Moneyscope featured, the less likely it was to attract formal plaudits.

Which is ironic because, if you were to ask users of our application what they think about Moneyscope, they're pretty clear about how they feel about it.

So - and don't forget the findings of the Defaqto top ten here - Moneyscope effectively gets marked down for the things that users value the most.

That's just nuts isn't it?

So here's an idea

What if the organisations behind official ratings and surveys of software set out to balance the rewards that greater complexity attracts (i.e. the number of features packed into software) with rewards for simplicity (i.e. the ease with which you can use it).

But, rather than rely on technology type experts judging it, why not gauge sentiment by asking the people who have to use the software everyday to score each feature against two simple measures: 'How useful is it?' and 'How usable is it?'.

By gathering and publishing the findings, it would soon become clear how valuable and useful the presence of each feature really is.

The reason we think this is because we wonder - and we're only thinking out loud here - whether  one of the unintended consequences of existing criteria for rating software is that it needlessly encourages investment in more complex software and services that users don't necessarily want.

It's only a hunch but we wonder if - in order to keep pace with the competition and maintain ratings - stuff's being added to software whether or not there's an apparent demand for it from users?

What do you think?

Are we barking up the wrong tree?

At Moneyscope, we apply a simple principle: forget competitors, only users matter. In practice, that means four things:

  1. Being distracted by what the competition are up to doesn't help your users
  2. It doesn't matter if we think our application is 'better' than all the alternatives, it matters that our users like using Moneyscope more
  3. We don't expect loyalty from our users, we expect it to be the other way around: our users expect us to be loyal to them and their needs
  4. Our application doesn't save time or money, it's a tool that has the potential to help its users save time or money.

We're pretty clear about what our software will and won't do - now and in the future - and the addition of new features (like the recent addition of a scenario planning tool) is exceptional rather than typical.

That's because, when we built Moneyscope, we took a leaf out of 37Signals' founder Jason Fried's book for building web applications: 'Build Less'.

We won't, for instance, add more features to our software because a minority of subscribers' want more stuff. If advisers want more features than Moneyscope is able to offer, we'll point them in the direction of the really clever technology out there that does more than Moneyscope.

Our job is to make sure that what works for our users, works.

Based on the Defaqto findings, it seems that we're not the only ones who need to work harder to fulfil that ambition.

Or are we barking up the wrong tree?

July 2011