I opened 12 bank accounts and silently benchmarked their UX.

I often wonder which industry, in general, has the best UX. But have you ever considered which industry should have the best UX?

Which industry needs to ooze trust, safety and security? I realised the answer was banking. You work most of your life for money, which you save in a bank, and then access your life-savings through an app. That app needs to be good.

I wanted to see which bank had the best UX, so I started out on a mission: to benchmark the major banks in the UK, and determine which is best.

You see, there are new banks—Monzo, Revolut and Starling—who have built billion-dollar businesses around the perception that they’ve revolutionised banking. They promise a new experience with slogans like “Banking made easy”, “A Radically Better Account” and “Changing banking for good”.

But are they actually any better, or is it all just brilliant marketing? To test this I opened an account with each bank, and then—without them knowing—benchmarked them against each other.

Let’s just focus on one key area: opening an account. Or rather, what is the experience of opening an account like with each bank.

Setting the ground rules

The industry can be pretty misleading at times. Promises of being able to “open an account within minutes” sound great, but don’t reflect what we’d consider to be a ‘real world experience’.

That’s why I set some ground rules. I will only consider an account being ‘active’ when I can do the following.

  1. I can use my card in a shop. This includes receiving my PIN.
  2. I have access to online banking on my mobile. This includes receiving my card reader (if needed).

The track was set, the banks unknowingly congregated at the starting line, and in ceremonial fashion I raised my UX starting pistol in the air…

“On your marks, get set…”

Number of clicks

So I began. Logging every click, text, email and letter—allowing me to finally compare how much effort it really takes to open an account with each bank.

Source: https://builtformars.co.uk/banks/opening/

As you can see, the challenger banks not only required the fewest clicks, but needed significantly fewer than even the best scoring traditional bank.

It took 5x as many clicks to open an account with First Direct, than it did with Revolut.

This is an interesting metric because it provides some comparison of how much effort is required to open an account with each of these banks. It’s not a perfect measure of effort, but it’s as good as we can get.

Number of days to get an active account

But then I had to wait for the cards to arrive. As you can probably imagine, I had a few days of unprecedented levels of post.

Initially it was exciting, but after a few weeks of constantly getting letters from banks, I’m fairly confident my postman thinks I’m a criminal.

All in the name of UX science.

But, the monsoon of post eventually died down, and I could compare how long it actually took each of the banks to set up my accounts.

Here’s how they did:

Source: https://builtformars.co.uk/banks/opening/

All the challenger banks—and to their credit, Barclays, Lloyds and Metro—had sent me active cards within 3 working days.

That’s impressive.

But what’s more notable was how slow some of the traditional banks were. It took Nationwide 22 working days, and HSBC 36.

HSBC employee taking my card to the post office, I imagine.

So the answer is yes; the challenger banks were significantly quicker (in days) and required less effort (in clicks) to get an active account. Maybe not significantly easier than every traditional bank — Barclays and Lloyds were also very good — but they were certainly easier than the average traditional bank.

The challenger banks were significantly quicker (in days) and required less effort (in clicks) to get an active account.

UX tip — Aim for effortless🏝

Design products that are both fast to complete, and require as little input as possible. Aim for something that feels effortless to complete.

If you’re interested to see a the full publication, including more benchmarks, head on over to Built for Mars.