Creating empathy and identifying user needs for vulnerable customers in Financial Services

User Experience & Usability

The challenge

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) sets standards for consumer protection across financial services, that require firms to put their customers’ needs first. Consumer Duty guidance includes setting a higher standard for the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, who, due to their personal circumstances, are especially susceptible to harm.

Our client wanted to better understand a sub-set of vulnerable customers, to build empathy and identify the crucial user needs to consider for this group, when designing different financial experiences.

What we did

  • The research started with a 7-day diary study, capturing both task-based and spontaneous feedback. Conversing with participants over WhatsApp allowed us to establish an open dialogue, capture ‘in the moment’ thinking, and run digital ethnography activities with a mix of messages, voice notes, photos and video.
  • After consolidating our findings in Miro, we produced an interim report containing participant snapshots, quotes, and key insights, to bring stakeholders closer to the financial circumstances of each individual.

Blurred image of post-it notes on a Miro board

  • Three rounds of 6x follow up interviews, allowed us to uncover further behaviours, perceptions and pain points, whilst exploring six financial topics that were important to our client. We also matured insight on other common themes that we had identified during the diary study.
  • Our findings were communicated in the form of problems, with specific impact examples from participants. These were used to create a set of considerations for how to better support customers with low financial resilience, with different financial products and experiences.


  • Our diary study provided precious insight into the extent to which customers were thinking about and interacting with their finances over the course of a typical week. Understanding these behaviours upfront, allowed us to probe to understand deeper thinking and motivations during the interviews.
  • To deliver the most value back to our client, we aligned the identified considerations with an existing user needs framework, identifying gaps where content needed to be added. This allowed findings to be embedded into the business quickly, and in a format that was already familiar to designers.
  • Our deliverables included soundbite reels from a number of participants, to tell the stories behind their low financial resilience and reinforce what they needed from banks. These received very positive feedback from the client and were asked to be incorporated into training and as standard in our future research.

Quote from a participant saying "Our financial situation should probably be better than it is”

We’re pleased to be continuing our work on this topic for the client, to help them understand and support their vulnerable customers.

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