ChangEd (pronounced changed) is a mobile-based app determined to chip away at a users' student loan debt. Making additional payments by rounding up everyday transactions, borrowers can effortlessly save thousands of dollars in interest and years off their repayment plan.
Over the course of 4 weeks, my team was tasked with the challenge of incorporating a refinancing feature within the existing app. By evaluating users' current experiences using ChangEd and exploring their behaviors and desires I was able to quickly ideate and test multiple solutions for implementing the refinancing feature.
In 2017, founders Nick and Dan were tired of living with the burden of student loans and from that shared frustration they created ChangEd. Since the app's launch, the company has reported more than $2MM in payments made on behalf of their users to help lower student loan debt. They currently have about 9K active users and are hoping to increase their user base to 63K by the end of 2019.
As a way to increase revenue, ChangEd needed to grow beyond their current B2C base develop B2B relationships. Part of these new relationships included partnerships with student loan refinancing companies like SoFi and LendKey. My team was sought out to integrate refinancing content and options within the existing app.
Based on some early research I began to assume users would have little to no interest in refinancing their student debt. I even wondered if there were more pressing problems users were facing that could help increase the user base in order to meet ChangEd's 2019 goals. With the time limitations on the project it was crucial for the team to align with Nick and Dan's expectation of the project. Upon our first meeting I presented them with a performance continuum: business goals or user needs?
With little hesitation Nick and Dan emphasized user needs.
Before talking to users we needed to determine if refinancing was the best option for ChangEd to pursue. This led us to focus our research in the following areas:
Shortly after reading the brief I downloaded the app and started familiarizing myself with its features. Almost immediately, I began to hit roadblocks. Wondering if I was the only one, I decided to perform a small round of usability tests with non-users of the app. The main focus of this test was to observe the onboarding process and evaluate key pain points that could prevent potential users from completing the process.
Based on the test findings, it became clear that onboarding was a potential barrier to entry for users. While the app had 60K downloads, only 9K became active users. The onboarding process needed to be further evaluated and addressed. Three main barriers were identified and kept as points of interest once it was time to interview users: trust, length and transparency.
Trust — late agreement made users question validity
Transparency — users didn't know why information was needed
Length — users felt process was exhausting
Brent (an informal financial advisor to ChangEd) is a Sr. Manager at CFSI and has a vast knowledge of startups and student loan debt. He was able to provide us with insight into what makes ChangEd so valuable to lenders.
He walked us through the actual refinancing processes and how it applies to student loans:
“They (ChangEd) are able to see users’ spending habits, bills, and even income. They can then identify who would be a good candidate for a refinance.” –Brent
Again I saw trust, length and transparency as being potential blockers for users refinancing their student loan debt.
Of the competitors we looked at, I saw many offering a wide variety of customization options but at the same time were flooded with affiliate links. Because of the nature of partnerships like the ones ChangEd hoped to establish, it was important to identify how users would feel about elements that could easily come across as advertisements.
Before talking to users, my team prioritized the information we hoped to get from our first round of interviews:
In total, nine current users of the app were interviewed. They were all millennials with multiple student loans and considered themselves tech savvy. They all expressed deep frustration towards their loans and a feeling of miseducation around the entire process.
When it came to the current ChangEd app experience, users were extremely enthusiastic. They repeatedly mentioned how much the app is helping them gain control over their student loan debt while not having to change their lifestyle. Disadvantages and opportunities were identified:
I noticed users start to fall into one of two categories: passive or active.
“It hasn’t affected me financially in my everyday life.” – User
From the two categories users fell into we developed two distinct personas to help identify how refinance would look for each:
Users wanted control over their repayment plans and to feel empowered to meet their financial goals. To do this, the app needed to be trustworthy, transparent, and personalized to present refinancing effectively. At the same time, the process shouldn't feel exhausting.
I noticed that in order to make a refinancing feature more effective, there was an advantage to streamlining the onboarding process. Small changes could better earn the user’s trust which could then lead to more user data acquisition in the future. This would provide ChangEd with a better understanding of a user’s goals in order to help present refinancing in a personalized way.
Once I had a clear understanding of our two sets of users, and with the knowledge that trust, length and transparency were indispensable, I asked a series of “how might we” questions. I specifically focused on addressing business needs and user needs to land at refinancing:
As a team we tested 12 concepts with eight users. The goal of these interviews wasn’t just to determine desirability of features, but to further understand users’ current mental models of their student loans and the app. Six concepts that tested well with users were identified:
I found that users expected to input personal information, but didn’t want to spend a ton of time doing so. They even saw benefits if the app could use the information to personalize their experience. Users also showed significant interest and motivation to track and set goals for paying off student loan debt. And though accessing this information as a premium feature was enticing to them, they didn’t like the idea of affiliate links being the first thing they saw. Overall, users really liked the app’s current lighthearted approach to the topic of student loans and were open to new features that kept this in mind.
Keeping all of that in mind, I saw the opportunity to give users a way to visually track their student loans and make refinancing offers feel personalized and unobtrusive. But, in order to gather the information ChangEd currently lacked, the user journey needed to be restructured. As a team, we introduced two new touch points of data acquisition before being able to present personalized refinancing.
Finally, after gaining needed information about a user's finances and goals regarding their student loans, the app is able to present personalized refinancing offers that realistically fit users' lifestyles. This feature is found inside the goal center when users click "see my options".
Since users were aware of how this information could help them, they were more receptive to filling it out in order to get personalized information about their repayment plan.
Users wanted a way to track and visualize all of their loan details with real-time visuals to keep them on track and motivated to work towards their loan. We created the 'goal center' to meet this need.
Based on users responses, ChangEd determines if the user's goal is realistically attainable. If it isn’t the app will suggest a new one.
We implemented an interactive way for users to quickly give the app a little bit more information into their financial habits, income, and potential debt. This way the app maintains its lighthearted nature and doesn't exhaust users.
By catching the users’ attention when they’re most trusting of the app (like a milestone, such as their first $100 payment) users were more likely to provide the app with basic information regarding their loans and financial habits.
During this round of testing, we talked to five users, a mixture of new and existing users to the ChangEd app. These were the key takeaways users had to the new goal center:
Due to the time constraints on the project, there were a few things we didn't have the time to test. If I were to work with ChangEd in the future, these would be areas I’d like to further explore and test:
Nick and Dan were really happy with the solution my team presented. Currently, they’re in the process of implementing the goal center concept into the next iteration of the app.
Our company presented Laura with the UX challenges we were facing on a new feature launch that was critical to our growth. Laura took the lead in understanding our business, our mission, and our customers. While we expressed our vision on this project, Laura identified what was important and provided a balanced approach. When the project was completed our team couldn't wish for a better result. Laura knocked it out of the park!
Listening to the Client
It’s important to remember why a client is approaching you in the first place. Having a clear understanding of their problem helps direct research and better solve for users’ needs.
What Users Don't Say
A lot of times users can say contradicting things. But, only when I understand their frustrations and desires can I find solutions they didn’t even know they needed.
Where to Focus
It’s easy to find other issues to solve for and get off track. Keeping a focal point in mind helped me determine when to let go of directions that wouldn’t solve for the client’s ultimate goal.