Eko Digital Bank
TL;DR: I worked as a Lead Product Designer alongside a team of PMs, engineers, designers and key stakeholders to develop the first successful 100% digital banking experience in Paraguay.
My role involved leading the design team and the process from conceptualization to prototyping, user testing and handoffs, and acting as the communication hub between designers, devs and key stakeholders.
- More than 100k digital bank accounts created within the first year since launch.
- Average monthly growth rate of 25% in 2022.
- Lead a team formed by 2 visual designers and myself.
From Cash to Digital Payment Methods
In Paraguay, 70% of the adult population remains unbanked, and most people still use cash as their default day-to-day method of payment.
Bringing the unbanked into the financial system remains a challenge not only because of the bureaucracy that comes along with the process of creating a bank account but also -and especially- because it involves a change of habit: from cash to digital payment methods.
Attempts to bring people into the financial system have been made in the past using digital wallets (a somewhat limited version of a bank account aimed at the users that move small amounts of money). These attempts failed because even though they provided an easier way to create an account, they missed to tackle other important challenges such as helping people to switch from using cash to digital transactions.
As a consequence, users who created a digital wallet account used it as a means to receive money, but chased out all of it immediately after the transaction.
The main challenge persisted: people preferred cash. Eko needed to provide an experience that not only made it easy to create a new account, but especially that encouraged its users to make a transition from using cash to digital methods of payment.
An outsourced firm provided us with a summary of the insights that resulted from the discovery phase run by them. Research showed us that unbanked (and underbanked) people mistrusted banks. They saw banks as distant and bureaucratic institutions that would benefit from hidden fees.
How might we facilitate access to financial services in an easy, trustable and 100% digital manner?
Refining the Problem
As the lead designer, I facilitated a series of cross-functional, collaborative workshops with the aim to align the whole team on a unified vision towards the problem and potential solution. We started by listing down all our known assumptions about users and the business. We used the Scope Canvas to bridge the gap between user needs and business goals.
Based on our discovery insights and known assumptions, we created 'proto-personas' in order to identify our potential users and their pain points. Three main user profiles emerged:
- College students and recent graduates
- Young and middle age workers with a low to middle income
- Middle and late-middle age small business owners
The key stakeholders made the decision to focus initial efforts on profiles 1 and 2.
By the end of the alignment process, the team wrote down a refined problem statement:
Eko's goals are:
- To change people's habits from cash to digital money.
- To enable access to financial products to all Paraguayans.
- To create a trustable relationship between users and the bank.
We observed that:
- Some people are reluctant to get into the formal financial system due to a mistrust in banks.
- People are more used to paying with cash rather than digital payment methods.
Which is causing:
Missed opportunities to serve specific market segments:
- College students and recent graduates
- Young and middle age workers with low to middle income.
How might we (challenges):
- Create trust between these people and financial institutions in a way that helps them see the benefits of digital financial services?
- Change people's habits from using cash to digital payment methods?
- Guide people towards better financial habits?
Product Owners and decision makers already had in mind a list of features for Eko. With time and budget constraints in mind, we used a risk/impact matrix to filter out key features for the MVP (Minimum Viable Product). One of my goals as the process facilitator was to help the team find a clear connection between the identified challenges and the initial list of features.
Finally, we turned our assumptions into hypotheses that linked key features, users needs, business goals and suggested metrics.
Designing Key Features
After the alignment process, the Product Design team worked in sprints back and forth with devs, PMs and key stakeholders to define and refine each feature, from idea to prototype, to user testing and hand-off.
For each key define feature, the design process could be summarized as:
- Align the team towards the feature's goal (i.e. why are we building this?) by facilitating organized discussions and creating user journey maps.
- Look for inspiration on existing apps (especially those outside the banking domain).
- Run ideation sessions to come up with multiple initial solutions on paper.
- Run a decision making session with key stakeholders to converge on a final solution.
- Create a high fidelity prototype of that solution using Figma (and sometimes also ProtoPie).
- Conduct user testing sessions.
- Iterate (go back to previous steps if needed).
- Hand-off to devs.
- Back a forth review sessions with devs and PMs.
Eko soft-launched their MVP with a strong focus on:
- Making it extremely easy to create an account (without losing sight on security)
- Moving money around in a more convenient way than cash (sending and receiving money, paying for goods and services, keeping track of spendings).
- More than 100k bank accounts were created within the first year of Eko (2% of the country's total adult population) despite the marketing budget being only a fraction of the competitors’.
- Average monthly growth rate of 25% in 2022, achieving a faster growth rate than any traditional bank in Paraguay.
- Highly organic growth achieved. Users became #ekolovers -a clever hashtag created by the marketing team-, becoming promoters of Eko on social networks.
Funny side note: Competitors though #ekolovers were actually being paid to promote Eko. So, they hired social media influencers as a counter move, but had very limited impact.