Dave Sherrod
User Experience & Product Design Team Leader

Link by Prudential

Prudential's goal management and tracking platform.

Link by Prudential

Link Context & Challenge

In 2016, for the first time in its 143-year history, Prudential decided to take its insurance and investment products directly to consumers. This would mark a significant change in approach of relying exclusively on Pru's network of financial advisors to interact with and advise clients and prospects about their financial health. Our goal with Link (named Pru Advisor initially) was to devise a compelling and valuable self-service component to complement our robust financial advisory products and services. Our specific task was to creating a self-service digital experience that would support and promote existing means of advisor-client interaction (phone and in-person appointment creation) into a common platform.

My Role

  • Pod Lead (UX/IA, Visual Design, Front-End Dev)
  • End-to-end Visual Lead
  • Contributing UX Designer
  • Contributing Researcher

My Process
Link by Prudential
Prudential's traditional advisor-client consultation process.
Prudential's traditional advisor-client consultation process.

Reaching Out to Customers

Prudential has a long history of taking great care managing advisor-client relationships. For decades they have honed empathizing with clients which greatly benefitted us with respect to the consultative relationship side of advisory. However, we also needed to investigate the opinions, preferences, and attitudes of Prudential customers regarding self-directed aspects of investment. 

We poured through recent articles and studies for insight and  surveyed our Advisory clients via Survey Monkey. Questions were scripted to gain insight about customer financial goal-setting and management, current and future goals, and comfort levels associated with self-directed versus managed account investment.

Abridged examples of guiding survey questions:

  • How comfortable are you in managing your own investments? (0 Not at All - 10 Very Comfortable)
  • What age would you like to retire?
  • Are you confident you will be able to retire per your desired timetable?

Millennials are prudent savers, self-directed, and seek socially-conscious investment. They struggle with debt, are risk-averse, and are mobile first.
Millennials are prudent savers, self-directed, and seek socially-conscious investment. They struggle with debt, are risk-averse, and are mobile first.

Personas: Self-Directed Goal-Seekers

We wanted to identify customers likely motivated by our product's self-directed aspects, while also discerning typical traits of customers seeking those goals. 

This meant evaluating and leveraging existing Advisory Space personas, finding commonality amongst them if possible, and deciding from a hierarchal standpoint what to include in our product and where to place our focus during journey-mapping.

First-tier goals:

  • Retirement
  • Building an Emergency Fund
  • Family Protection (Insurance)

Second-tier goals:

College Savings, Buy a Home, Buy a Car, Get Married, & Custom

Our millennial-aged personas set the tone during ideation and prototyping for our eventual 1.0 (MVP) release.

Link by Prudential

Assessing the Robo Landscape

Circa 2008 the so-named robo-advisory space began to blossom and by 2017 (when our then small innovation team began to prepare for Prudential's incremental entry) the competitive landscape was rife with startups and established companies all vying to plant their flag and grab market share.

Conducting competitive analysis, we assessed the offerings, features, and inherent user experiences of several self-directed investment platforms and products.

With key stakeholders, we established a hierarchy of elements and approaches we felt would be most aligned with Prudential's reputation and relationship-heavy customer focus. Categorically ranking these elements ("must-have", "would-be-nice", and "not needed") provided a loose structure within which we could stay focused and productive. 

Link by Prudential

Brain Droppings

While rallying participants to join one of our brainstorming meetings, I referred to the pending meeting as the "brain droppings session", inadvertently borrowing from the late comedian, George Carlin's book title, "Brain Droppings" (published 1997 and highly recommended for mature, stand-up loving audiences). Given the only semi-structured, free-associating aspect of these sessions, the name resonated and became a fun moniker for such idea exchanges. 

During these ideation sessions, I led my Pod and other key stakeholders in group whiteboard sketching and segmented storyboarding. This was crucial for helping us formulate strategy and direction. We also ran an empathy mapping workshop which allowed us to reexamine tentative product direction decisions to date and provided us opportunity to better characterize target users. This was particularly useful in helping us create our personas as well.

Link by Prudential

Ideas Taking Form

Our research, analysis, and personas provided us focus regarding customers and the goals they care most about. 

Now it was time to rock the designs and get to sketching and storyboarding concepts.

Given our millennial personas, we decided to take the mobile-first approach. Recurring themes of customer goal-achievement and associated timeline became consensus during workshops. We needed to integrate a sort of interview scenario in the app, and it had to be conversational. This would allow us to learn about customers' unique needs so we could offer the right products that would help them reach their goals. We continued to vet, expressing our concept via paper prototyping, card sorting, empathy mapping, and (mostly) wire-framed prototypes that we prepared for usability testing on UserTesting.com.

One of many early concepts user-tested for, amongst other things, the relationship questionnnaire and goal timeline.
One of many early concepts user-tested for, amongst other things, the relationship questionnnaire and goal timeline.

Seeing Our Concepts Through

We created many variations of our concept throughout the Link's design cycle. These concepts were expressed mainly through sketching and wires, with some higher-fidelity one-page composites to better sell to internal stakeholders. Approaches that faired well internally and showed promise during A/B testing were turned into deeper prototypes and tested further. 

This process brought into discovery a few themes that would persist through the greater process and into the live product

At a high level, the product journey would consist of customers answering questions pertaining to money, life stage, and goals. Based on questionnaire answers, goals would populate a timeline in real time and would indicate allocated dollar amounts and estimated goal completion date. Time and required allocation amount could then be improved by adding more detail to the goals. Goals and underlying goal details would then populate a shopping cart of sorts where suggested Prudential products and services could be used to model and adjust goal achievement time estimates.

Mobile-first Riffs

We experimented with the duration, sequence, and flow location of our questionnaire trying varied approaches with respect to UI facilitation. We tried a traditional multi-question questionnaire form, a one-question-per-screen sequence, and a more conversational interactive "texting style" (potentially AI) approach. See example above.

Flow Mapping & Varying Fidelity Wire Frames

Through site mapping and wire frames, we established a structure for our product that consisted of a beginning (questionnaire), middle (timeline/goal editing), and end (where we give solutions and how to get those solutions going). Our approach would be gather feedback and entered user data, then itemize it all with accompanying solutions in a "shopping cart".  Customers would be able to edit their cart or submit. Submit meant  that after agreeing to disclosures, customers would apply for or get a call back on the various products that backed their goal-achieving solutions. There was also big integration of Prudential's advisory services, and customers would be able to plan a phone consultation with a financial advisor in their area.

Link by Prudential

Higher Fidelity Composites & Prototypes

We had a solid product flow and a good set of working wires. We continued to fine-tune them and add to them, representing the three stages of our product flow and select use cases. I then used these polished screens to create an InVision prototype for user testing.

Link by Prudential
Testing for goal-populating timeline in early version 1.0
Testing for goal-populating timeline in early version 1.0

Testing Feedback

We tested our three-stage concept with persona-targeted test subjects using usertesting.com. Most users found the flow and UI of the product to be easy to navigate and understand but some felt the experience was too lengthy. Users wanted the time to completion to be quicker and wanted more reward for doing so. For time spent, some users suggested upping the product's value with things like customized, goal-supporting insight. 

We knew personalization was important and that we needed to do a better job remedying what came across in testing as too generic of solutions. We learned that tone and narrative adjustment was warranted and that our product experience needed to provide more guidance. We consulted our Advisory Service internal partners during a workshop and follow-up survey and this helped inform us about some of their time-tested approaches with advisory client interaction. We also experimented with shortening the duration of the initial questionnaire sequence, shifting some of the required content to a latter stage (goal editing in the cart).

Link by Prudential®, a responsive, WCAG 2.0 accessible goals-achievement platform.
Link by Prudential®, a responsive, WCAG 2.0 accessible goals-achievement platform.

More User Testing

Shortly after we went live with 1.0 (the MVP named with a tagline but no product name: "Your Future. Visualized") we were very excited to open the Prudential usability lab. I attended many testing sessions in our new lab and, along with feedback gained via usertesting.com, gained important insight. We archived video of most of our moderated lab tests which was very helpful for when I could not attend sessions in person and/or future review and reference.

Our research team ran moderated and unmoderated tests leading up to the releases of v1.0 and v2.0 (internally named Advice 2.0, but eventually named LINK by Prudential). 

With every round of tests we learned and gained valuable insight which we translated into UI and product flow improvements.

Questionnaire triggers goals appearing on Link's timeline. Goal icons display and animate progress of achievement.

Questionnaire triggers goals appearing on Link's timeline. Goal icons display and animate progress of achievement.

Visual & Interaction Consideration

As Link's Visual Design Director, I steered the platform's visual design strategy and defined it's end-to-end look and feel. This included definition and documentation of foundational design system elements, UI interactions and transitions, and iconography.


What I learned from this project

Link's prospective user base was an interesting mix of debt-conscious millennials and older, more financially established customers. All had diverse views of self-directed investing and unique advise-seeking proclivities. This guided the thinking of our design in interesting ways.

One powerful theme that resurfaced during much of the testing was that usability does not always indicate value. Throughout our discovery and usability testing, session  participants expressed that they liked the flexibility, task-supporting flow, and educational overtones inherent in the platform.  Most also expressed likability for the look and feel and felt it helped support the "add/edit goals" task inherent in the task flow. Some of the same customers however also commented that reaching a completed state of the personal goals profile and associated goals timeline required too lengthy a time requirement. Participants expressed that for the time invested (to get through the demo), the quality of the reward (light investment advice) could be improved. Some felt the solutions provided for the goals leaned generic and could have been more personalized.

As of early 2019, Link had some maturing to do. I feel the platform is viable and a creative way to allow prospects to test the waters of advisory services by getting a visualization of their financial future while being introduced to potentially helpful products and services. Our teams hit the mark in impressive ways with Link regarding usability. However while initial intrigue and usability are essential ingredients to Link's success equation, overall enduring value must be based on continued attention and care regarding user's motivation and quality of reward. With more personalization, value-adding features (such as outside account balances importation ability), better integrated advisory aspects, and enhancement of the consultative feel, the Link experience could become an important tool for Prudential. Continued improvement to the tool could mean Prudential customers means maintain better financial health and keep their eye on the prize of reaching their financial goals.