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HSBC: Money Manager
Usability consultancy and behavioural research



Making a product usable doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s useful.

Usability testing with users during development is a good idea.  However, when the real-world needs and behaviours of users aren’t taken into account a project may find itself validating tasks and interactions that users wouldn’t actually engage in.

I called attention to this situation and pitched to have research conducted to determine whether or not users had mental models in-sync with the product. The results indicated that although usability tests might be passing, only a small segment of users shared the values of the app as it was designed to perform. While modest in scope, the research was sufficient to identify an appropriate target audience and their associated needs and behaviours.


The brief

HSBC had been developing a mobile app for money management, intended to encourage users to better track their purchases and spending so that they could have some available cash which could be used for re-investment with the bank; as Stock Trading Accounts, ISA’s or SIPP’s or mortgage products.  During earlier usability testing sessions, I had found that while a fair number of users were achieving good usability with some of the tested functions and tasks they struggled with others.

My suspicion was that users had a different mode of engagement for saving money – one which was not supported by the app, and I encouraged dedicating 50% of the time in the next usability test to making some inquiries with users for the purpose of uncovering their mental models.

My role

Usability testing / behavioural research and consultancy

  • I suggested a hybrid usability / research session
  • drafted a discussion guide and had it approved by stakeholders
  • conducted usability testing / user interviews
  • analysed the results
  • produced and presented findings to stakeholders

The project process

The standard day-long usability testing for HSBC involved hour long interviews with 7 individuals.  This remained the format for the project – however, the session was divided 50/50 with half being dedicated to the usability test, and the other half to behavioural investigation.

A discussion guide was produced for both parts of the session.  For the behavioural research I was interested in uncovering as much of real human behaviour as we might achieve in the short time available:

  • Do you do anything to manage your money? Do you track your spending or keep a budget in any way?
  • What does your budget look like? Does it have any groupings or categories? What are they?
  • How do you work out what do or want to spend? Pen and paper? Software? Other system?Do you share an account with a partner? How does that work?
  •  When do you engage in money management tasks? At a regular time? At irregular times? Triggered by an event?
  • What is your style for managing money? Meticulous? Un-monitered?
  • What level of detail is present in your current money management. Is this sufficient? Is an exact value for the amount you have spent in a category necessary? Why / why not?
  • Do you think there is anything the bank can do to help you manage money? How do you feel about the bank analysing your spending?

Outcomes / results

While the research only included a few participants, there was enough information revealed to indicate how different segments of this audience were currently managing money – and the mental models they had regarding their reasons for such behaviour.  Essentially, these were light-weight personas.


Within these groups, I found that only 13% would use the app as it was currently designed; requiring diligent input and sorting of financial information to categorise and track every penny of spending.

29% were disciplined around their spending, and already had some sort of process or habit to manage their money effectively.

58% were either completely undisciplined or desired more control over their finances.  This was the ‘sweet spot’ in the audience within which the greatest opportunity resided.  Producing experiences within the app that met the needs of these user-types and was sympathetic to their behaviours and mental models was the area in which the app stood to have the greatest degree of success.

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