From traditional banks to fintech startups, the financial industry has embraced UX writing. So what is it like to be a UX writer in this field? In this article, we’ll explore the differences between working for long-established banks and neobank newbies. You’ll get a glimpse of the life of a UX writer in finance and some tips on how to land a writing job in a banking UX team.
Why is UX writing so widespread in the financial industry?
In UX Writing Hub’s 2022 salary survey, almost 19% of the respondents said they spend their days in the world of finance. This made it the biggest industry segment by some margin – e-commerce grabbed second place with 11%, and health finished third at just under 7%.
This is perhaps not super surprising.
Without decent UX writing, financial digital products can be complex and confusing with lots of scary jargon and legal terms. UX writers can play a key role in simplifying and clarifying these products, making them more accessible and easy to use.
In an industry where reputation and credibility is critical, UX writing is a way to build trust with customers.
Also, banks are often not exactly poor. They tend to have enough resources to invest in UX.
Writing for an established bank
I spent a year as a UX writer for NatWest, one of the main high-street banks in the UK. It was a brilliant experience – and one worth sharing, because in many ways it was different from what I expected.
It’s easy to assume that traditional banks are a bit old-fashioned and stuffy. This is not necessarily the case.
It’s true that their systems, processes and financial products were created long before UX was a thing – and that can be a challenge.
But they also feel the pressure from neobanks like Starling and Monzo, and they’re working hard to create efficient and friendly user experiences.
It’s also easy to assume that people who work at established banks have more in common with finance geeks in sleek suits than a progressive UX team in a tech environment. But no, that doesn’t fit my experience either.
On the contrary, at NatWest I met an excellent, friendly design team that included four dedicated UX writers and content strategists.
As the bank aims to advance its design maturity, the team is acutely aware of the benefits of integrating writers into the design process.
They’re committed to research and testing. And their tone of voice is not wildly different from the challenger bank Monzo’s (and the reason I know that is that Monzo made their tone of voice publicly available).
So why don’t established banks sound as easy-going as the newer banks?
One thing established banks have in common is that they’ve been around for ages. A long list of complex products and services usually comes with dense legacy copy and a wild acronym jungle.
Even if they’re doing their best to catch up with their new and hip cousins like Starling and Monzo, they’re still built on an old-school foundation.
As UX writers, we need to strike a careful balance between accurate and engaging copy. This can be easier said than done, especially as we may also have to navigate systems that have evolved over time and thorny legal and compliance regulations.
Another difference between old and new banks is the sheer size. The whole of NatWest Group (which includes five brands) employs around 60,000 people. In comparison, Monzo has just reached a staff force of 2,000.
In any corporation with 60,000 peeps, it goes without saying that not everyone will have a well-developed UX mindset.
At large banks and financial institutions, you’ll most definitely meet individuals and departments with a limited understanding of UX writing. Be prepared to do some UX writing advocating!
What do you actually do as a UX writer for a big bank?
At NatWest Business, the UX writers and content strategists are involved in all types of text production – mobile apps and other digital products, conversation design for chatbot flows, public web copy and landing pages, emails and video scripts, even the odd blog article.
I’m sure this is different from bank to bank, although I know that NatWest is not the only bank with this approach – Monzo’s writing team, for example, also deal with all sorts of copy.
This may be surprising to those who see UX writing specifically as in-app product copy creation. Personally I define UX writing not as the type of copy we produce, but as the methods we use to produce any copy.
The important thing is that the writers are part of the full process and collaborate with designers, researchers, and other product peeps.
Neobanks and fintech startups
In the last 10 years or so, fintech startups and neobanks (also known as challenger banks) have disrupted the banking industry.
Unlike traditional banks, fintech startups tend to operate entirely online. Without physical branches, they rely heavily on their digital interface to communicate with users. There is often a strong focus on a transparent experience that promises lower fees, faster transactions, and innovative features.
Acutely aware of the role language can play in building trust, UX writing is a crucial aspect of their mission.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? It is – just be aware that neobanks face their own challenges. They need to build trust and establish a reputation in a competitive marketplace. Expectations from customers may be high, and at the same time they may not have as hefty resources as an established bank.
Many fintech products aim for a refreshingly simple and informal approach to copy creation. Their mission to be clear often extends to complex legal copy like privacy policies and terms and conditions.
Others target a specific audience and adapt the language accordingly. The American app Cleo, for example, is built for a young audience that appreciates a sense of humor. Their famous ‘roast’ mode uses sarcasm to highlight their users’ spending habits.
Few financial products take such a radical approach, but it’s becoming mainstream to create simple, conversational copy.
Writing for a fintech startup
My very first UX writing project, back in 2019, was for a fintech startup called Doconomy. Like many other fintech newbies, they were guided by a specific purpose. Their mission is to have a positive impact on the climate, and one of their early initiatives was to develop a fintech mobile app.
The idea was to raise awareness of how spending habits can affect climate change and give everyone a chance to improve their carbon footprint.
Compared to an established bank, the organizational structure of Doconomy couldn’t be more different. The whole team consisted of around 25 people, many of which were external consultants (developers, designers and two writers plus a project manager and a strategist).
A great thing about new fintech products is that most likely, they’ve been built on a solid UX foundation.
One reason neobanks exist is that they want to offer a more transparent and efficient banking experience. They deliberately want to disrupt the industry. And they’re not burdened by generations of complex systems and old-fashioned legacy copy.
This makes the life of UX writers and content designers a bit easier.
(Lack of) UX writing processes
On the other hand, it’s not a given that neobanks have a good understanding of UX writing. Just because they hire UX writers and content designers doesn’t mean that they have a clear process in place for you. You may very well take an active part in shaping your role.
Is there a voice and tone, or will you create it? Are there any resources available for research and testing?
Any statistics you can tap into?
Also, the designers and developers may not have worked with a writer before. If so, you’ll need a framework for collaboration. Who will do what and when?
In the case of Doconomy, the designers used Sketch, which meant that the writers didn’t have access to the wireframes.
So we worked on the copy in spreadsheets. Needless to say, this was not ideal and after a few months of discussion, we swapped from Sketch to Figma. Once Figma was in place, the work became much easier for everyone.
Another challenge was to agree on a good process with the legal team, who had a lot to say about the copy. Legal representatives often have a completely different perspective to UX writers, and this can be a tricky part of the job. All fintech institutions are heavily regulated and often highly risk averse.
Whilst it’s true that you may wear many hats for a startup, they’re also likely to have a smaller set of products and features. So as far as the writing goes, the work may be less varied. Good for focus, less good if you enjoy different types of writing!
Hot topics in the financial UX writing space
Whether you’re aiming to write for a financial giant or a fintech startup, you can expect discussions on some specific topics.
As mentioned above, it’s not just neobanks that aim for an informal, simple, human tone of voice.
These days, nobody wants to sound like a bank, not even banks themselves. So what does conversational writing mean in practice? If there’s a style guide and tone of voice, that’s where to look for guidance. If not, you’ll likely get involved in developing one.
Accessibility and inclusion
Increasing awareness and upcoming regulatory changes have led to a bigger focus on accessible design.
As UX writers, we can contribute a great deal to a more inclusive experience. Make sure you’re aware of readability scores, good linking practices, scannable text structure and layout.
Take an interest in tools you can use to check your copy to make sure it meets accessibility standards.
The role of AI
Most writers have already adopted AI tools to some extent (Grammarly, Hemingway Editor, Wordtune etc). As you can imagine, an important topic is now to figure out what to do with recent developments – what tools can help writers become more effective and how do you actually use them?
A new era has begun!
Learn more about AI and the relevance for UX writing.
For natural reasons, all financial institutions have a big focus on security. People’s and business’ money is at stake, so it’s vital that any new features are safe. UX writers can contribute by making sure any explanatory copy and instructions are clear and easy to understand.
In research sessions with customers, I’ve often heard a wish for personally customized interfaces and communications. Whether it’s using customers’ name or tweaking copy for specific target groups, you may spend a lot of time liaising with developers and researchers to come up with truly customer-centric copy.
Large corporations are often keen to demonstrate their social responsibility, and banks are no exception. Expect a lot of discussion around climate-friendly initiatives (and how to avoid green-washing!).
Skills UX writers need in banking and fintech
What do you need to succeed as a UX writer in finance?
Ace writing skills
It goes without saying that UX writers need to have excellent writing skills. with a keen eye for detail, strong grammar, and the ability to write in a clear and concise style.
Solid understanding of UX methods and principles
Just as important as writing skills, UX writers need to understand user-centered design principles. This includes some knowledge about UX research and testing – ideally through hands-on experience. As a minimum, it’s a smart move to read up on different content research methods and think about how they can be used to inform copy decisions.
Collaboration and communication skills
Finally, strong collaboration and communication skills are essential for UX writers, as we work closely with UX designers, developers, data analysts, and other stakeholders to create effective and engaging user experiences.
What about knowledge of finance and economics?
In my experience, you do *not* need specialist knowledge of finance and economics. Of course it doesn’t hurt, and it might make it easier when you’re a new writer in finance. But at the same time, not having specialist knowledge can be an advantage – because most of the people you’ll write for do not have finance degrees. So if you’re new to finance, you may be able to empathize with the customers more.
Having said that, you do need to be prepared for a steep learning curve.
Landing a job as a UX writer or content designer in banking and fintech
Here are a few tips if you’re looking for writing gigs in finance.
Portfolio and writing samples
Not all employers demand a UX writing portfolio, but many do. And in any case, building a portfolio is a great exercise in itself. You’ll learn a lot just by working on it!
We have lots of portfolio resources that will help you get started:
9 Beginner UX Writing Portfolio Examples (article)
The Confident Portfolio with the Case Study Club (online event recording)
UX Writing to Boost your Career (podcast episode)
Many job adverts demand previous experience. What can you do if you’re still trying to land your first UX writing gig? Here are a few suggestions:
- Sign up with employment agencies, because it can be an easy way to get a foot in. This is because when companies need agency support, they usually need it fast. So you may bypass the lengthy recruitment process. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and I’m sure different agencies provide different experiences. Personally I’ve had mostly very positive experiences with agencies.
- Do you have any friends or acquaintances in need of UX writing? Offer your services! It can be awkward to agree on a price with people you know, but it could be worth thinking about. Perhaps they’ve got skills they can offer you in return?
- If you have a few hours to spare every week, you could look for volunteering projects or internships. I see such projects advertised fairly regularly on LinkedIn, so keep your eyes open! A Google search can also help to guide you to current volunteering projects.
- Identify a UX writing problem on any website, platform or app and use it as a base for a portfolio case study. You can create alternative versions of key screens, just remember to explain your thought process and your thinking. You can also conduct some basic UX research with the help of the free version offered on sites such as useberry.com.
Networking with other professionals can provide invaluable insights both about the industry in general and about new opportunities. Attend online events, meetups and conferences and join online communities and forums on Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media.
Take a UX writing course
Finally, some people learn best when they follow a course with set assignments – if you’re one of them, you’re in the right place!
➡️ Check out our courses ⬅️
Summary – finance UX writing in a nutshell
What can we make of all this?
- UX writing is going strong in all types of financial organizations.
- As UX writers use language to solve problems and build trust, they play an important role to ensure a smooth user experience.
- Some common challenges for writers in fintech include navigating strict legal regulations and explaining financial terminology.
- There are many differences between established banks and neobanks:
- As established banks have been around much longer, they tend to a) be a lot bigger and b) use older systems. As a result, established banks may have more products with more complex features. With tens of thousands of employees, it’s unlikely that every staff member has a well-developed UX mindset.
- At small fintech startups, you’ll probably be part of a tiny team that needs help setting up UX writing processes and frameworks.
- The tone of voice is not necessarily very different between an established bank and a neobank. Still, some fintech startups use language that deliberately targets a specific audience (teenagers, for example).
- Hot topics in the financial UX writing space include conversational writing, accessibility and inclusion, the role of AI, security, customization, and the climate.
- As a UX writer in fintech, you don’t necessarily need a background in or knowledge of finance. But you do need to be prepared to learn what you need to know (expect a steep learning curve).
Interested in becoming a UX writer?
You’re in the right place! You’ll find tons of resources on this site, including a free introductory course.