Matthew Garvin

UX Research, Design, Strategy

Empathic UI for Poor People

Over the past few years I’ve made a lot of improvements to my financial portfolio, and I used technology to do it. I want to reflect on this experience and explain how I personally benefited from user-centered design.

A few years ago, I was working full-time, spooling wire for a construction/auto industry supply company while I was finishing up my BA in anthropology. As an independent adult with a low paying job, I had next to no money. On top of that, growing up poor, I never had strong financial literacy. I overdrafted often. According to a Forbes article earlier this year, “Americans Paid $34 Billion in Overdraft Fees Last Year.”

Even though my credit union was cheaper, they only charged me $10 compared the the $35/day from Bank of America.

Bank of America actively recruits on college campuses to convince students to open accounts.

Still, when I couldn’t even afford to live on my paycheck, I had to find a way to prevent my financial institution from eating up my future paychecks. Also, being in my 30’s I was interested in saving money back, however minuscule the amount was I could squirrel away, it would be good to save up for a rainy day or unplanned expense.

Perhaps they can thank me for the free advertising, but I ultimately found and fell in love with Simple Bank. (message me for a referral code) Not only does this bank not charge overdraft fees, it features an eye catching and easy to use interface. Some of the tools it empowers users with include Automatic Bill Pay, Goals, Expenses, etc. For example, I set up expenses for all my bills, I set when I need the money by, and when I get my paycheck. Simple does the rest, automatically setting aside only enough money out of each paycheck to have enough money to cover each bill by the date it is due. Simple empowers it’s users with excellent banking and budgeting software, with a UX that seems quite empathetic towards lower income individuals/families or those who simply wish to take control of their finances without having to pay exorbitant fees from an adviser.

During this time I had also found the idea of the $5 investment increment appealing, and I decided to test Acorns, WiseBanyan (referral code here), and Stash. 

While I thought they all had good features, I had a bad experience with both WiseBanyan and Stash, when I accidentally overdrafted my bank account. Not only was I charged from my financial institution, but I got nearly all of the money I had saved up across both of these investment accounts taken away as punishment for overdrafting my checking account. Needless to say, if their ultimate goal was to empower people who aren’t historically known to invest, i.e. lower income people, they failed in understanding the needs of the users they sought to attract. I closed both of those accounts at the time and consolidated to Acorns. Acorns, in contrast, did anticipate my needs and paused it’s auto-roundup feature so as to not offset my tight budget even moreso by eating into the paychecks I hadn’t even earned yet.

However, I did reopen a WiseBanyan account, and through recent improvements they have made to their UI, both visible and invisible, I decided to close my Acorns account and currently invest exclusively through WiseBanyan. I do this because the AI financial adviser nets me a higher return overall on my investment than Acorns. They’ve also implemented overdraft protection, and customizable formulas so I can’t tailor the application to my needs.

You can have the greatest design skills, but I won’t give a hoot if you aren’t empathetic to my situation. Especially when it comes to my money. Who gets into investing in $5 increments? The people who can’t afford to invest more. Charging $15 2x in fees because your lower income user had an unexpected expense that week really defeats the purpose of getting people who historically don’t invest, to invest. Unless of course, you are in the business of taking money from people who don’t have it.

The fact that Acorns had the auto pause on it’s roundups demonstrated an empathy and understanding of it’s users, and I appreciated it greatly. Stash and WiseBanyan had tried to offer a unique service, marketed to lower income investors, but failed to put themselves in a lower income individuals shoes. It would appear that WiseBanyan has learned from it’s errors and corrected course. I’m not sure about Stash, perhaps someone could provide feedback. Because I did like the UI and portfolio options Stash offers, but I’m still not serious enough of an investor to spread my money around to multiple platforms. 

Featured Photo by Myriam Jessier on Unsplash

Mtthwgrvn Avatar

One response to “Empathic UI for Poor People”

  1. Tiff Jam Avatar

    Very cool post with excellent lessons! Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: