UX Design for Cash Management
Shaahin Mohammadi, Senior UX Designer, BELLIN discusses how a treasurer can optimize a TMS’s user experience design to improve their cash management process.
Treasurers of international organizations exceedingly feel the need for a robust cash management tool. Without global, real-time visibility into the entire group’s financial status, they’re left in the dark. Because only a TMS can afford them constant access to short- and long-term cash positioning, as it allows for accurate and group-wide forecasting. In order to swiftly implement this system to benefit the many users across the organization, its intuitive operability is key. As much as technology is an integral part of every modern treasury department, treasurers should not have to be or to become IT professionals. Much rather, they need to be provided with intuitive tools to take care of their own business – strategic decision-making that benefits their company. So how can that be accomplished? How – to provide a concrete example – can one optimize a TMS’s user experience design to improve their cash management process to make it more efficient, transparent and secure?
Form vs function, user interface vs user flow
Design theory has witnessed many debates on the relationship between form and function. As early as 1852, the US architect Horatio Greenough called for form to follow function. Conversely, his renowned peer Frank Lloyd Wright argued years later that form cannot be viewed independent of function, with both representing a harmonious unit.
This notion was picked up by modern user experience design, a discipline that first came up in the 1980s under the auspices of the behavioral psychologist Don Norman, who was hired by the computer manufacturer Apple to run a novel research division. The latter was called into being to tackle a very specific problem:
Apple was working on a software for filing taxes and was wondering how to deal with the fact that most tax experts knew very little about computers. On the other end of the spectrum, computer experts struggled with tax regulations. A viable compromise was needed for the development of the software, one that would ensure usability of the software while paying heed to tax requirements. User experience design was born.
One of the main characteristics of UX design, as it is understood today, is a focus on user-centered design. This approach no longer distinguishes between form and function but is based on the two categories user interface and user flow, the former driving the latter. Considering the work of a treasurer, two qualities are crucial to the interface structure:
- Treasury is mainly about data, specifically numbers, which calls for a clearly structured typography. Simplicity is key to avoid distraction.
- The same is true for the overall TMS user interface: Echoing the designer and bestseller Golden Krishna and his notion that “the best interface is no interface,” users ideally shouldn’t notice the interface at all. On the contrary, treasurers should be empowered to get their work done with a few simple clicks and no impediments.
Rethinking cash management
This leads us straight to the heart of the second category, the user flow.
Let’s take a simple example: Imagine two machines. The first one requires you to constantly feed it with input that the machine then turns into the desired product. The other machine has these processes automated and only notifies you when something goes wrong, giving you the chance to manually intervene. Meanwhile, you can go about your daily business uninterrupted. Which one of these machines are you more likely to buy?
Making the leap to treasury and the functionality of a TMS, it is all about the degree and type of automation. Cloud-based software was the first step, eliminating the need for time-consuming and inefficient data collation and freeing up capacities for strategic planning. The next step on the path to user flow optimization is the complete automation of all repetitive processes to the point where users only get notified if an issue occurs.
A cash manager needs a daily overview of all balances in order to make investment decisions.
For now, this still means importing account statements, comparing planned and actual cash flows, analyzing these cash flows and making adjustments, for example transferring funds from account A to account B. An optimized user flow would turn this process on its head and drastically simplify it: In this scenario, the cash manager’s work starts with the balance overview and insight into reconciled accounts. They only need to intervene if alerted to a missing account statement or when a reconciliation has not been completed. Such a user flow not only saves resources and time, it also ensures that treasurers do not forget any of the steps they would have to take in a more manual system. This boosts process security enormously.
From a UI design point of view, a clear presentation of informational icons on the balance overview page, aggregated by account groups, makes for transparent and intuitive usability. This means that this type of fully automated system is not an inscrutable black box but follows the user settings, which in turn are determined by a company’s setup and the relevant tasks. In addition, the user has the option to manually check and adjust each of the automated processes. The essential difference is that while treasurers used to have to feed the system, the opposite is now true.
User-centered design – more than a buzzword
This revolutionary approach to automation and user flow is really more in honor of the user than of technological developments. The same priorities applied to the development of our new cash management processes: Before anything was developed, we talked to countless treasurers and scrutinized their daily cash management processes and the way they use the system.
Users were asked to verbalize every single step of their work. This way we could determine what they did as well as what their reasoning behind these steps was. This led us to a clear definition of processes, culminating in the realization that the system could support the user even better than it has in the past. Product managers, UX designers and developers used these insights to come up with a new user flow.
Where does this lead us? One scenario for the future would be a machine that is able to learn, thanks to artificial intelligence: for example, a TMS that reacts to corrections by the users or to repeated manual intervention with additional automation offers. For now, this is still in the future – but we may not have to wait all too long. You might be surprised!