When building next gen fintech, start with research in Africa

When building next gen fintech, start with research in Africa



The user experience (UX) of emerging FinTech might be considered superior in Africa compared to the United States. In Africa, the utility of cryptocurrencies has been communicated and made known, effectively improving the UX of this emerging technology.

The bold future of UX: How new tech will shape the industry

Part 5  When building next gen fintech, start with research in Africa

The finance industry is changing in massive ways as digital technologies advance. For the next installment of our Bold Future of UX blog series, we look at how the FinTech landscape has changed in recent years, where it is headed, and who is leading the way to build a better UX.

The blurring of lines between the finance and tech worlds has given us the ability to pay for goods and services using banking apps on our phones and watches, or entirely bypass the bank using Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Pay. This is all made possible by the digitization of currency.

I know I personally have very little physical interaction with my cash. Between direct deposit, debit cards, online bill-pay, and peer-to-peer payment apps like Venmo, the old mantra of “Cash is king” is slowly starting to fade away.

Bold Insight Managing Director Gavin Lew recently spoke at the Money 20/20 conference, where he discussed FinTech in Africa, a place where that adage of “Cash is king” has long been considered outdated. Physical cash has become impractical in many parts of Africa. As an example, local currency is tricky to deal with for the average person – Zimbabwe famously unveiled a 100 trillion dollar bill due to the rampant hyperinflation plaguing the country.

And while most African nations don’t experience a cash crunch of quite that magnitude, fluctuations in the value of the local currencies are somewhat commonplace across the continent. These fluctuations are so unpredictable that the idea of carrying around a physical wallet is almost a foreign concept since a meal at McDonald’s or a coffee at Starbucks might require anywhere from a briefcase to a suitcase full of cash. Even having bags full of the aforementioned 100 trillion dollar bills is currently not enough to buy groceries in Zimbabwe.

Enter FinTech. Specifically, cryptocurrencies and digital ledger systems.

Learning from Africa about implementing a usable and useful revolutionary currency system

In the US, the day-to-day use of cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, is limited and still feels like we are at the infancy stage of development. There are online guides to show you where you can pay for goods with Bitcoin, but if you have to search for a guide of where to use your money, it should be taken as a sign that it hasn’t quite hit the mainstream yet. This is, in part, due to the fluctuations of the value of Bitcoin and in part to the somewhat confusing nature of cryptocurrencies and blockchain (how do I store it, how do I spend it, how do I buy/create it, etc.). In terms of utility, we’re now in a space akin to the early days of Apple Pay where people were ready to use their new Apple Watches but the infrastructure at the point-of-sale terminals wasn’t in place quite yet. Except in this case, not only are the sellers lacking the ability to accept cryptocurrency, but the customer is also not equipped (and likely doesn’t have the desire) to make a cryptocurrency payment.

While in the US these limitations might be enough to scare away the average potential user, in parts of Africa, they’re non-issues. Fluctuations in the value of Bitcoin don’t scare people in certain African nations since the national currency fluctuates on a regular basis. It’s also easier to obtain and spend Bitcoin in Africa; South Africa, for example, is set to expand its infrastructure of Bitcoin ATMs and POS systems.

The user experience of emerging FinTech might be considered superior in Africa compared to the United States. While in the US, we are still largely debating the value, legitimacy, and utility of cryptocurrencies, in Africa, they’ve moved past that debate and cryptocurrencies are already being used to buy goods. Not only do users understand Bitcoin and have the necessary tools to make payments with it, but, possibly even more important, the infrastructure for acquiring Bitcoin and exchanging payments are in place. The utility of cryptocurrencies has been communicated and made known, effectively lifting the user experience of this emerging technology.

It’s clear that the future of currency is digital, whether it’s dollars and cents, Bitcoin, Ripple, Ethereum, or even one of the many copycat currencies (Litecoin, Dogecoin, Garlicoin, etc.). Whatever the currency of the future is, there will obviously be a need to make it easy to store and easy to spend. Perhaps the real innovations will come from the retailers. Maybe Amazon is on to something with its brick and mortar stores where you pay by just walking out the front door…

What are your thoughts on all of this? Comment below and let’s get a dialogue started!

This blog post is part five of a series, The bold future of UX: How new tech will shape the industry, that discusses future technologies and some of the issues and challenges that will face the user and the UX community. Read Part 1 that discussed Singularity and the associated challenges with UX design , Part 2 which provided an overview of focus areas for AI to be successful ,  Part 3 which dug further into the concept of context in AI, and Part 4 which proposed UX design principles for robot design.

Am I satisfied or stuck? The impact of ecosystems on household users

Am I satisfied or stuck? The impact of ecosystems on household users



Manufacturers building an ecosystem of devices and services should design for both a separate, personalized experience and household or shared experience.

The idea of connected devices and a connected home fascinates me – I’m all for anything that makes my life more convenient! I have Alexa in pretty much every room of my house; she’s even in my car. However, as I expand my connected home network, I have struggled with setting up additional devices and services. Powering them on and account linking is generally simple; the hard part is getting everything to work together.

In the case of Amazon devices (e.g., Echo) and services (e.g., Music Unlimited), if you are single or start from one family/shared email address, the connected home ecosystem is pretty simple. You have one account tied to all devices, Prime, and streaming products and services. However, once you introduce one or more additional family members, things get much more complicated.

In my case, my husband and I each had our own Amazon account when we met. Even when we got married, it didn’t make sense to share an account because we liked being able to have personalized recommendations and to keep our purchase history separate. Some years later, I stumbled across Amazon Household that lets you tie separate accounts together so you can share Prime benefits. After linking our accounts, I thought we’d truly have a “household” account that would allow us to share all services and content. Unfortunately, you can’t share everything (i.e, purchased content (video) and certain subscriptions).

Fast forward to my first Echo devices – I was so excited to set them up and try them out! But when I tested out the List functionality (‘Alexa, add milk to the shopping list’), nothing showed up in my app. Why wasn’t this working?! After trying different things (and a little cursing) I realized that I had set up the devices with my husband’s Amazon account since were gifts for him and therefore I had to sign into the Alexa app through his account, not mine. With Amazon Household, I didn’t think it would matter which account the Echos were tied to, but it does.

What is technically easy to set up, actually requires a high cognitive load each time I set up a device or access content because I have to remember which account I used for what. I currently have:

  • Amazon Prime account with my email address which is linked to my husband’s Amazon account (with his email address) so he can get Prime
  • Alexa app on my phone but signed in using my husband’s Amazon account for Echo devices and lists
  • Amazon Music Unlimited account signed in using my husband’s email address
  • Roav VIVA Alexa-enabled device in my car that requires me to sign into my Amazon app with my husband’s email address to get access to Music Unlimited, but to shop and see my recommendations, I must sign back into the Amazon app with my email

One could argue that I should have been more intentional when setting up all these devices and services. But in the moment I was so excited to get these things working that which account to use was the last thing on my mind. I’ve questioned if I should suck it up and start all over with a family account. But what would I gain? Possibly an easier setup process going forward and one account for everything, but lots of effort up front to reset everything. And what would I lose? Personalized recommendations, purchase privacy, and time!

Netflix and Hulu have overcome this multi-account hurdle with their ‘profile’ platform which generates separate watch lists and recommendations. Admittedly, they are much simpler systems with limited components.

There are huge benefits to having an ecosystem of devices and services in a home, whether it’s Amazon, Google, Apple, etc. The consumer benefits by (generally) having a seamless experience of integrating the devices and services and working from a similar interface or set of commands used across multiple devices. For the manufacturer, the benefits of having its ecosystem in a home means more loyal customers since, for the consumer, it can be difficult or impractical to try new devices when the home is entrenched in one ecosystem.

Many connected device manufacturers have created a great set-up-and-use experience with plug and play devices and simple mobile apps. However, manufacturers should think beyond the experience of a single user. Consider how a couple or family would set up, purchase, use, and add to the ecosystem. Consider couples who come with individual personal accounts and those who create a family account together. Also consider early adopters who have tied accounts to early versions of the system – ensure there is support to improve their experience as devices or new features are added. Some questions to ask include:

  • What content would users want to keep separate: purchase history, recommendations, watch/wish list, etc.
  • What content would users expect to share: purchased content, services, etc.
  • Can established individual accounts be tied together to form a true “household” account?

Ultimately, as the foothold of any ecosystem gets stronger, the user can either feel satisfied and happy or stuck and frustrated. And that feeling (satisfied or stuck) becomes associated with the brand.

Designing your POS so it’s not a POS

Designing your POS so it’s not a POS



Regardless of whether the interface is intended to be used by a customer (novice) or an employee (expert), the key is to ensure that the POS interface is designed for the intended audience. To do this, organizations should engage users throughout the design process.

Point-of-sale (POS) interfaces are increasingly consumer facing. No longer limited to employee use, the customer often places their own order. Or, if the order is entered by the employee, the customer frequently sees a more detailed order summary than has traditionally been presented. On a recent office field trip to a nearby fast food restaurant, we noticed something odd (see the picture below): At the order counter, there was a screen opposite the employee screen. While that was not unusual, what was unusual was that the screen reflected the exact POS the employee uses! This may be an attempt at transparency to show the customer what they’re getting, but for the most part, this just serves to confuse. As a customer, am I supposed to be clicking buttons? What do all these buttons and acronyms mean? And why am I seeing this?

Actual customer-facing screen

By the way, our team could not resist trying to touch this screen (nothing happened).

The customer POS

It goes without saying that all POS interfaces need to be easy to use and efficient, regardless of whether the customer is passively presented with an order summary or is actively inputting information. In the case of the former, the customer should be presented with a visually simple order summary that facilitates quick and easy scanning to ensure the order is accurate, prices are correct, etc. Ideally, the display should be free of jargon that is used internally by the (e.g.) kitchen. For example, the summary should say “Extra pickles” and not just “++PKL.”

While it is good to be transparent and let the customers know exactly what they are ordering, this sense of transparency should not come at the expense of information overload. If the order is being taken for the customer, they do not need to see every possible combination of how a drink could be ordered; they just need to see that they ordered a Large Coke and the associated price.

In this same vein of avoiding information overload, if the customer enters the order, they need to have fewer features. For example, the interface may not have cash available as a payment method, or not having the option to enter promo codes if they can’t do it without manager intervention, and a more step-wise approach to ordering. The customer-facing interface also needs to be far more graphical, visually pleasing, and branded. McDonalds and Panera do this well for their in-store customer order interface; Buffalo Wild Wings and Domino’s are particularly good on the mobile app front.

The employee POS

On the other side of the counter, the employee (or expert) view of the POS interface does not necessarily need an exceptional visual design; functionality and efficiency must be prioritized. The design of an expert user interface needs to prioritize completing the task as quickly and effectively as possible; to this end, many of the flashy design elements are stripped away so that multiple features, both basic and more advanced functions, are at the forefront. It may need several functions a customer would not need if they were inputting their own order – ability to accept cash, enter promotional codes, etc. on a single screen.

If you’re like me and needed manager-intervention during the self-checkout process at the grocery store, then you’ve seen the “employee-view” of the self-checkout system. It looks vastly different than the customer-facing interface. It’s generally stripped of the store’s branding, packed with more features on a single screen, and offers the types of functionality that only an employee would need.

Regardless of whether the interface is intended to be used by a customer or an employee, the key is to ensure that the POS interface is right for the intended audience. The only way to accomplish this is user testing. From early concept testing through final summative testing, collecting user input and implementing this feedback will result in a happy and satisfied user.

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