Creating good user interfaces is the name of the game when crafting projects and platforms that stick. But as much as we’ve studied this discipline, it’s still difficult to quantify exactly what parameters, appearances, and features work together to make a solid UI that people actually want to use.
Rather than studying general rules, for which there will always be exceptions, it’s often better to study existing products that have high rates or adoption and proof of staying power. One such example is Betterment, an automated advisor service for new and experienced investors.
What is Betterment and Why Does it Work?
Betterment is one of a new generation of “robo advisors” – companies that manage clients’ money and put it into profitable investments. Most robo advisors invest their clients’ funds into index funds, which include all the stocks from a specific sector or market, like the S&P 500.
Including all of the assets represented in the market means that the ETF will grow with the market. Human managers who pick out stocks one by one often fail to “beat the market”, meaning that the client would be better served with the index fund. Index funds need little management, so they’re much cheaper than human managers, who do a lot of brute force stock picking, often with less than stellar results.
Once a user deposits funds, they’re automatically distributed into index funds that represent assets and asset classes all over the world. From here, Betterment does the rest – buying and selling as needed and maximizing each account’s tax avoidance potential.
So that’s what Betterment does, but if you know anything about the robo advisor industry, you know that many companies do essentially the same thing. Why is Betterment the first robo advisor to hit the $10 Billion managed funds watermark?
This is because of their great UI. Starting an account with Betterment is as easy as opening a Facebook account. The single most difficult aspect is linking your bank account, and anyone who has ever made a financial account of any kind should be able to figure out how to do this in seconds. Even those without experience don’t find it troubling in most cases.
Once an account is made, users can clearly see how their funds are likely to grow in a variety of market circumstances. They can also look to see how Betterment portfolios performed in months and years past, to get an idea about possible future performance.
There are few pages to navigate to on the Betterment website (fewer on the Betterment app). This keeps users from getting confused or asking questions which Betterment exists to keep them from having to worry about. Betterment says it’s truly a “set it and forget it” investment experience, and you really feel how that is true when you use the site.
Finally, Betterment understands that even when a UI seems sleek and idiot-proof, there will still be problems. Unlike a competitor like Wealthfront, with almost identical services, Betterment offers instant chat assistance. Wealthfront doesn’t have any customer support. This is comforting for non-investors who are taking the plunge and trying the automated service they heard was so good, and which they were assured they could handle on their own.
As you can see, there’s a strong relationship between design and human interaction in the ongoing success of Betterment. If the service was simply easy to set up, people might still feel like the success of their portfolio depended too much on their own decisions. With real human support, it feels like you’re in good hands.
Betterment is just one of many great User Interfaces and successful financial platforms, but it’s ongoing longevity proves that design and support are key aspects of what makes a winner in a sea of similar competition.