Financial jargon: just SAYE no

by Dave Rolph on 4 March 2011

Many financial organisations are currently investing time trying to present a more human and helpful face, their reputation having been damaged severely during the financial crisis. Often, this investment takes the form of providing new or updated online services for account transactions and portfolio management. Whilst catering for customer needs via the web and making thecomplex world of finance usable by all their clients, there is one issue which I encounter again and again which usually gets overlooked. Jargon.

Financial jargon is a turn-off for everyone. It creeps into financial product literature, like the small print of credit agreements. Very often, organisations will let their corporate communications department control content such as this, so as to avoid the possibility of being sued or having any form of complaint brought against them. This approach, however, ignores the most common complaint of all – a lack of clarity. It would seem that some organisations are more worried about the legal implications of the content on their website rather than whether the general public actually understands what they are trying to sell.

One obvious area for confusion is the over-used acronym. You could be mistaken for thinking that some financial organisations believe these terms are so commonly used they do not need any form of explanation. IBAN, BACS, CHAPS, SWIFT, SAYE, DRIP, CFD, FOREX, EBIT, EBITDA, SERPS just to name a few I’ve come across recently. Other terms which similarly came with no explanation were “partnership contributions”, “sell to cover”, “mutual fund”, “hedge fund”, “endowment” and a particular favourite of mine “balloon payment”.  Given these titbits, I’m less surprised we are still suffering the fall-out of the financial crisis if the general population have little idea what bankers are on about.

Whilst techniques such as card sortingwireframing, A/B testing and others will help improve the overall usability of a website, careful evaluation of the content will help identify and remove potential barriers, improve conversion rates and limit abandonment. No materials are required other than a commitment to plain language and a keen eye for gobbledygook.

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