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University of Maryland

Finance Master

UX Research

2022

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Advisor Dr. Herra Lee

Our Team

Amanda Sorensen

Amit Gaikwad

Austin Berry

Chia-Jou Lo

Dario Liu

Dinesh Kumar Nanduri

Amanda Sorensen

Discipline

User Experience Research

User Experience Design

Tools

Interviews

Affinity Diagram

Persona

Sensation Board

Wall Walk

Visioning Session

Product Concept

Timeline

6 weeks

My Contributions are:

User Interview

Affinity Diagram

Ideation

Lo-Fi & Hi-Fi Design

Background

Our team worked with Dr. Wayne Phoel (PhD, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Northwestern University), a Visiting Research Engineer at the University of Maryland’s (UMD) Institute for Systems Research (University of Maryland, Institute for Systems Research, n.d.). We helped Dr. Phoel with his research on digital solution for financial literacy among the International student in the U.S. In this project, We used contextual design Principles, qualitative research methods and data consolidation to discover the insights and delivered the solutions.

The Problem

The graduate international students have stress about dealing with local financial situations as they face transition
between countries, schools, and jobs.

How might we use technology to help international students with various financial literacy and goals have easy access to trusted resources and provide them with support?

Brief Project Outline

Semi-structured Interview

Identified Domains

Affinity Diagram &Persona analysis

Key Findings:

1. International students are on different stages of grasping financial literacy, thus their goals differ from each other.

Stress

Trust

Jobs

Financial Literacy

Demographic

2. International students need trusted support that is not only financially relevant, but also emotionally supportive

3. International students need to learn more about finance to make them more confident in dealing with financial issues

Design Concept

We designed the following website (findamental.com), which combines instructional infographic animated videos about financial topics with a community board. We aim for the following system to combine information from trustworthy financial experts who are available to answer questions and the personal experience of the community board.

Gaps in the Early Research

Regaining control of financial health could be supported by the use of technology with a human touch.

According to earlier research presented by Dr. Phoel, nearly 70% of American households struggle with some form of financial strain, with nearly 50% spending as much as they earn or more (Currier et al., 2015; iConsultancy, 2022). Furthermore, a separate research study categorized the financial health of the American population into three categories: healthy, coping, and unhealthy. (Garon et al., 2018).

For the purpose of our research in collaboration with Dr. Phoel, our focus is on international graduating or graduated students and their perspectives on their financial literacy. Gaps in earlier research pertain to:

Not knowing the exact contributors to stress related to financial literacy

Pressing questions that students may have that they wished would have been answered when they most needed it

The extent of influence held by cultural and family background in financial decision-making

The factors that make a source of financial information trustworthy.

Research Goals

What are the main stressors related to finances that international students face when transitioning between countries, schools, and jobs?

Our goals for the study included developing a deeper understanding of the emotions, experiences, and technology usage of international students as they transition to and learn more about finances in the US. Specifically, we aimed to identify what information gaps exist for international students, what information they wished was more accessible, and what sources of financial information they found most trustworthy.

Target Users

What are the main stressors related to finances that international students face when transitioning between countries, schools, and jobs?

The target users for our study are graduating international students who wish to manage their finances well in the US. We had participants with various experience levels of financial literacy.

 

The research team interviewed four participants in total, varying in the programs they attend, age, and experience with managing finance back in their home countries and in the US.

Methods:
Contextual Inquiry

We used semi-structured interview methods to elicit in-depth responses from participants.

We interviewed four participants with various experience levels of financial literacy. They have diverse background in the programs they attend, age, and experience with managing finance back in their home countries and in the US.

Stress

Trust

Jobs

Financial Literacy

Demographic

The finalized interview questionnaire guideline is therefore generated as:

  1. How Comfortable are you when it comes to finances in the US?

  2. Are you aware of any financial management apps?

  3. Would you feel confident in determining a salary (in the US) and with negotiating for it?

  4. Do you understand the benefits you are looking for in a job research?

  5. Are you currently tracking your finances and are you financially independent?

  6. Do you or have you previously had a job in the US

  7. Are you knowledgeable about tock market investments?

  8. Are there any aspects of finances in the USA that you find intimidating?

  9. How familiar are you with how taxes work in the US?

  10. How familiar were you with taxed in your home country?

Our interviewees: 

P-01

From India

International Student

“I have some stressing factors related to investment”

P-02

From Lebanon

International Student

“I track finance only when I am almost broke”

P-03

From China

International Student

“I could rely on my parents at home but I have to rely on myself now”

P-03

From China

International Student

“I would ask friends first about their customer experience”

Data Consolidation

After analyzing affinity diagram, we identified 7 core insights.

Within our interviews and wall walk sessions, we found a list of challenges, especially stress points, that users experienced and have faced in the past related to financial literacy in the United States. These include general, onboarding, and support concerns, as well as how tough it is to build a trust factor with internet resources while understanding about finances.

“I need financial and emotional support from others”

“I need to feel secure and stable

“I need low stress and more time to feel confident”

“I need to learn about finances in the US as I transition”

“I need trusted tools to organize my finances”

“I know my financial and job situation well but could use some help”

“I need to gradually learn practical financial skills”

Affinity Diagram

Sensation Board

We generated the key words within the sensation board based on our interviews, wherein students described feeling “limited” or “inexperienced,” and expressed their desire for human connection when learning about finances and the importance they placed on security within financial applications.

Based on our pink level sticky note findings from our affinity diagram, we determined six core goals: security, human touch, unlimited, awareness, experience, and hope.

P04-12

“I feel embarrassed sometimes that if I talk with friends with finance, I don't have too much experience of that”

P01-22

“I find tax filing intimidating. Even if I have watched several youtube videos, I still don’t get it. It’s very challenging for me.”

P02-01

“I don't want to put stress on my parents regarding finances.”

P03-22

“It's impossible for international students to find a job in the first 2 semesters."

P02-13

"Handling anomalies in financial planning is very stressful for me."

P03-29

"I don't take my cards with me because I'm worried that some people will see my card info and steal my money."

P04-22

"I will trust that source if there's a reminder that guarantees my information will not be cracked by others, privacy part is important for finances."

P01-19

"When I came here, I didn’t really know the price here. When it comes to grocery, the price varies brand by brand. It was overwhelming at first."

P02-31

"I trust the information as they are proper federal websites."

What Are User's Needs?

Personas help us understand our users’ needs, experiences, and behaviors more deeply.

The insights gained from our affinity diagram allowed us to identify and directly respond to three knowledge levels as well as stages of financial literacy: novice (Timid Ting), intermediate (Eager Edger), and advanced (Specific Sabrina) .

1. Multiple stages, Multiple goals:

International students are on different stages of grasping financial literacy, thus their goals differ from each other.

2. Reliable support and resources:

International students need trusted support that is not only financially relevant, but also emotionally supportive.

3. Ways to learn financial skills:

International students need to learn more about finance to make them more confident in dealing with financial issues.

Novice: Everyday Issues

Intermediate: Workplace

Advanced: Financial Market

How might we use technology to help international students with various financial literacy and goals have easy access to trusted resources and provide them with support?

Financial Resources

Financial Skills

Emotional

Financial Relevance

Feedbacks From Wall Walk

Wall walk sessions helped us discovered more issues and insights.

We had wall walk sessions with our client and the rest of class to collect insights on the issues we did not discover. They are free to leave their sticky notes for any question, suggestions, or ideas for our initial user data analysis.

The received notes from the class and our client provide us the insights and ideas for our ideations development.

What Are The Problems?

Wall walk sessions helped us discovered more issues and insights.

After analyzing the feedback from the wall walk, we discovered 13 unique issues faced by international students in the U.S. These issues can be generally categorized into 4 core issues:

Hard to build a trust factor with internet resources

Most international students are more likely to trust authorized public financial institutions than the internet resources that provide the same trustworthy information.

Poor feedbacks on their learning progress

International students felt that their current financial knowledge is always low and wanted to learn more to be resilient in the market.

Support Concerns

International students were concerned about discussing their financial experiences that did not go as planned because they felt alone, embarrassed, and thought they were the only ones who encountered the challenges.

Lengthy and Confused Documentations to Read

Users are irritated and tired of reading big volumes of text about financial information on the federal website.

Visioning &Ideations

We created an ideal narrative story to describe a situation of how a user uses a product to increase their financial literacy.

We began with the notion of turning boring into interesting and then expanded on it by including emotions of trust and support. We drew inspiration from current engaging platforms people use and pondered ways to make studying finances exciting while keeping the topic's sensitivity and importance in mind.

Created a trusted Platform

A platform run by financial experts working on behalf of UMD's Financial Resource team. The experts would be highly visible and have the ability to put out educational content as well as engage with the community directly.

Aware of learning progress

Categorize the US financial system and display video based on the current level of user’s financial literacy - Novice, intermediate or Expert.

Support Concerns

International students were concerned about discussing their financial experiences that did not go as planned because they felt alone, embarrassed, and thought they were the only ones who encountered the challenges.

Lengthy and Confused Documentations to Read

Users are irritated and tired of reading big volumes of text about financial information on the federal website.

Competitor Analysis

Product Concept

After analyzing all the Issues and Hot Ideas, we devised the product concept individually, analyzed each concept, and integrated each insightful idea into our final concept of creating a multi-functional video platform.

Why Video Platform?

We chose videos, because our data showed that users need both tools and knowledge to support them in making important financial decisions and handle any future important challenges independently. Based on our interviews, we found that international students might not know what questions to ask and how their home state influences their local taxes. Our goal is to let students self-identify their current financial knowledge level to help them easily find financial information to resolve their current financial inquiries.

 

 

Personalization

Login/Sign In Page

Only verified creators can upload videos and provide verified answers.

Welcome Page for new users

Allows users to self-identify their knowledge level regards to finances

Welcome Page for new users

After picking a knowledge level, users can pick what topics they are most interested in learning about.

Guidance

Multi-Function Search Bar

The video page provides a multifunction search box that can help users not only review their “recent searches”, but also show users suggested and popular videos and recommended, certified resources

Trust

Trusted Resources on

video Page

Our interviews also stressed that international students want information from trustworthy sources. We designed the video page to include who authored the content and allow only verified professionals to upload content. 

Each video includes a title describing the lesson and which verified user uploaded each video, which responds to interviewees concerns about trusted sources

Trusted Source on Playing Video Page

In addition to the video, this page includes a video description, a link to contact the verified content creator, and links to external resources associated with the video topic. For example, this tax video would link to IRS documents the content contributor mentioned. 

This page features a comment section to ask questions of the content contributor and links on the right side to related classes and the current video series, in this case, “Taxes 101.”

Trusted Sources from Community Board

In addition, on our community pages, we screen responses and displayed answers from certified professional contributors at the top, ensuring that our users can quickly locate reliable information and advice.

Reflections and Personal Thoughts

This project illustrates a comprehensive process of collecting insights from user research by conducting interviews, consolidating and analyzing the user’s data, and generating solutions to tackle the international student’s financial challenge in the U.S. 

Collaborating with my teammates allowed me to see different perspectives as they analyzed the problem and generated solutions. We debated for a long time to finalize our solution to build a video platform that includes all the bright sides of an individual’s idea. 

Although this solution could improve international students’ financial literacy, it still takes time for international students to understand the local economic system comprehensively. The international student would still face instant financial problems in their learning progress from the video. Therefore, the mobile App associated with the financial toolbox is recommended so international students can use it to resolve instant financial problems in their learning progress. 

My Lovely Team

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