Financial Tech

Understanding Barriers to Personal Finance

UX Research| UX Design| Strategic Planning

Undergraduate thesis

Fall 2020


Explore and understand the emotional relationship to finance to create a solution that will help users overcome emotional barriers to confidently handling personal finance


7 Weeks

My Role

UX Researcher
UX Designer

Tools Used

Adobe XD


According to the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, only 49% of Canadians keep a budget but evidence shows that another 1 in 6 (17%) of Canadians would benefit from having one. Background research revealed that this gap is not due to a lack of tools available or knowledge, but rather a key emotional and psychological barrier.


Secondary Research

Goal: Develop a framework of what personal factors impact financial habits and attitudes

💡 Outcome; Target User

Low Conscientiousness, high Extroversion, high Neuroticism, high Openness, high Agreeableness, and external locus of control make someone predisposed to more negative financial attitudes and behaviours

Primary Research Phase 1

Goal: Define user segments and gather participants for phase 2. Assess personality, executive function, locus of control and financial behaviours.


Surveys were distributed with 4 sections, assessing financial habits and competency, personality traits, executive function, and locus of control.


KPIs for financial competency: Budget (& why), emergency fund, prioritizing savings, % of income save per month

💡 Outcome; User Segments

Primary Research Phase 2

Interviews + Diary Study

Goal: Access the current relationship uses have with finances, identify current tools may be ineffective and find opportunities for innovation

Research Questions

What is the relationship between emotions and finances?

What motivations does my primary persona have around personal finance?

What process has my primary persona tried and failed at using?

What parts of the process are the most negative? (triggers)


Understand the motivations, behaviours, pain points, and emotional response to personal finance for my primary persona


6 interviews were conducted with participants who fit into the primary persona category based on the survey. Questions centered around past experiences with financial tools, emotions they experience when thinking about or handling finance, and their motivators.

💡 Outcome; Personas

After the data was analyzed, the primary persona was divided into two and narrowed, based on the key differentiating factors of keeping a budget in their head and spending as little as possible, having some positive motivators and having a weaker tie between finance, emotion and self-worth.

Diary Study

Further understand primary persona's experience using financial tools, pain points, or triggers


To further my understanding of my primary persona’s experience with financial tools, I ran a diary study in which my primary persona used a financial tool (Mint by Intuit) for the first time ever for 6 days and documented their experience.

They filled out a pre and post test survey and a daily log which tracked their emotional response to using the app, based on emotions that had reported previously experiencing with finances.

💡 Outcome; Slow Progress

Overall, using a budgeting tool made slow positive progress for the participant but certain aspects of the process triggered negative emotions.

🔍 Insights

Summarizing findings

Emotional Barriers

The problem I need to target is helping users overcome the emotional barriers that stop them from developing good financial habits, not literacy barriers or barriers in the actual process of handling finances

Window of Tolerance

The window of tolerance is so small for many users that they freeze or avoid finances. They often feel guilt, shame, anxious or overwhelmed when thinking about finances, but if they can actually take action and get on track, these feelings will subside.

Breaking Point

In my test, I asked the participant to create a budget. In reality, they likely never would have until they reached a destructive breaking point

Negative Motivators

My primary persona has only negative motivators associated with their finances which contributes to avoidance behaviour and a lack of objective decision making

Design Proposal

Ideation and development will take place beginning in January 2021

Design a solution that allows users who experience emotional barriers to finance develop positive financial habits, mind-sets and motivators so that eventually they will not need my app or a budgeting app, but rather they will spend and save intuitively.

The goal of my solution is to open the window of tolerance and be a stepping stone to using a more robust financial app, and then to be used in conjunction with those apps with the end goal of the user practicing intuitive spending.

Learnings and Reflection


Create flexible plans

By outlining a research plan and time line I was able to adapt methods and timelines in response to findings and desired outcomes. This allowed me to narrow in on my problem area throughout the process

🌱Growth Area

Recruitment Process

I feel that my initial survey was an effective recruitment plan for further research, however, I did not use a large enough sample to begin with, leaving me with only one participant suitable for a diary study.


Logic & Empathy

This project began with me exploring personal finance and identifying a gap that had no logic explanation. The gap was present due to phycological reasons and empathy was needed to understand why it existed. This taught me the importance of using both strategic, logical thinking and empathy in researc hand design.

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