Pensions, as with many other financial products, can require a good deal of research before users can make a decision on which is right for them, so how easy is it to do this online? 

With the help of user testing videos from whatusersdo, we have been looking at the online user experience provided by two of the largest UK institutions, Barclays and Nationwide.

We asked users to look for products that would act as a nest egg for when they retire. Having very different online personalities, we wanted to see which fared better in their ability to gain people’s trust and understanding of options available.  

First impressions build trust

First impressions are important in any website, but for a financial institution it is vital to make a connection with a user in order to gain their trust.

The Barclays site was found to be a little off-putting at first. Its home page features a large scrolling graphic which attracted users’ attention while they were trying to scan the page for what they were looking for. And there are a lot of links and menus to scan.

Furthermore, users’ experience differed depending on which browser they were using. In IE8 and IE9, the page layout goes haywire with search boxes being obscured and the search ‘Go’ button appearing at the opposite side of the page.  

Needless to say, a page that looks broken does not inspire trust and confidence.

The Barclays visual design was criticised for being too uniform with text, links and titles all in the same shade of blue.

The Nationwide site fared better in positive first impressions, instantly making a connection in its ‘Investments’ page with photo imagery of normal looking ‘typical customers’. 

 Users described this as being more 'friendly' and 'approachable', characteristics missing from the Barclays site, and users didn’t feel as 'bombarded'.

Navigation: a product shelf as well as a way around

In an online clothing store, I know full well there will be some way to navigate to dresses, trousers and accessories whether these options are presented front and centre or not.

However, this is not the same with financial services where only the very experienced will know what products to expect from a site. For this reason it is important to treat a navigation structure as a display for product categories as well as a system for moving about the site.

The primary navigation on the Barclays site is a segmentation of its customers: Personal, Premier, Business, Corporate.

It features no persistent sub navigation segmenting its products in the Personal sector, the navigation path is chosen from the home page. This meant that the range of options wasslightly less obvious than on the Nationwide site, which presents the different product categories in a main set of tabs with sub tabs.

Having the options present constantly in the navigation bar also enables the options to become more familiar to the inexperienced investor.

The lack of persistent navigation on the Barclays site makes it even more important to give users an escape hatch out of the section of the site they are in back to the home page.

The Barclays site includes several sub sites which once in, do not enable navigation back to the originating home page without use of the back button.

For example, clicking on the ‘Corporate’ tab from the home page takes the users to a completely different site, with different navigation and a different home link in the logo.

Product information

Understanding what you are signing your money up for is fundamental in order to avoid financial disasters so information about different products must be clear and comprehensible.  

Users found the terminology on Barclays off-putting, making them instantly think they would need to talk to an advisor. 

The information included many terms and acronyms that had no explanation with figures that make no sense without a knowledge of their meaning.  

The following clip shows a financially experienced user who had a good understanding of the product details but points out that even he doesn’t know what all of them mean:

On seeing the Nationwide pages however people were more confident about their understanding. The presentation of product information on the Nationwide site was seen as far easier to digest.

However it was also guilty of using some confusing terminology:


In this daunting arena where big business rules, Nationwide’s online personality and voice did succeed above Barclays in these tests, to provide reassurance and connect with users.

Barclays could make improvements to its navigation, product explanations and ensure it is coded to ensure that users have the same experience, whichever browser they use. It could also examine its online branding online and whether it is being seen as too cold and removed.   

Investing in your future is a complicated area, involving large sums of money. Whilst Nationwide did fare better than Barclays, it is currently all too easy on both sites to buy into something online having very little idea of how it works and the potential risks.

Perhaps all financial institutions should encourage inexperienced investors to use an advisor service where products can be fully explained. Some things are just more suited to real world communication and with the risks involved, this is one of them.


Published 14 July, 2011 by Kathryn McDonnell

Kathryn McDonell is a User Experience Consultant at and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (1)


Vicky Jones

The decision to invest online can often be an easy one if a clear strategy has been put in place. Investment into online branding and the improvement of the online customer experience is vital in today's world.

over 5 years ago

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