Designing at SoFi
What is SoFi? SoFi is a new kind of finance company taking a radical approach to lending and wealth management. From unprecedented products and tools to faster service and open conversations, we’re all about helping our members get ahead and find success. Whether they’re looking to buy a home, save money on student loans, ascend in their careers, or invest in the future, the SoFi community works to empower our members to accomplish the goals they set and achieve financial greatness as a result.
What did I do? Lead designer for the entire SoFi Wealth experience; UX representative and consultant on other SoFi products.
What do my teammates say about me? "Danielle is a unique combination of super talented designer and awesome coworker. She designs amazingly elegant experiences to complex problems for the entire product lifecycle, and always impresses by thoughtfully reconciling stakeholders expectations whether product, engineering or business..." Read more on LinkedIn >
Role: Lead Designer. Concept development, content strategy, wireframing, visual.
Team: Product Manager, Team of 10 Developers
Reviewers/Stakeholders: Business Owner, CEO
I was hired to be the lead designer for SoFi Wealth, with end-to-end design ownership for both internal- and external-facing services (picking up where a previous designer had left off). Business owners and marketers were full steam ahead on Wealth being a goal-oriented wealth management service, despite there being very little proof or user feedback that this is what our members wanted.
Time was a major KPI, and, when I started, we were already behind schedule (the company had just privately secured a $1BN round of funding, and the leadership was anxiously wanting to diversify our products). Wealth was going to be SoFi's first non-lending product.
Problem: Early user testing of a prototype showed users were extremely confused when they reached the Wealth Plan page, which is a section of the product that calculates a series of outcomes based on a user's investment goals and risk tolerance.
Users want to create investment goals.
Users would like to learn how to reach their goals.
Hypothesis: By improving the onboarding and goal-making experience simple, clear and engaging, we will (1) see an increase in completed Wealth Plans, and (2) create more opportunities for SoFi Advisors to share personalized investment advice.
Results: The MVP of Wealth went into beta testing in mid-February 2016. By that time, we had created a wizard to walk users through the initial experience. With the help of the marketing analysts, the team was able to identify a few more pain points throughout the wizard and onboarding experience. Copy tweaks added clarity. Responsive UI patterns expanded and improved usability on mobile phones. Each release pushed us in the right direction. The stable product was opened to all SoFi members in June 2016.
Up Next: Now that we are over the race-to-release, we have gained an additional amount of time to finally find out what our members truly want. Many workflow pain points leading up to the Plan page were still associated with creating goals — a significant portion of users said they did not want to create goals and just wanted to start investing. Another aspect of how Wealth was developed has created a series of architecture problems (How do we share bank account information across all SoFi products? How do users access their documents when they have loans and a Wealth account? etc.). Wealth was also designed using a separate set visual requirements, which are currently being expanded by the entire design team to be used throughout the suite of SoFi products.
SoFi At Work (Employer Contribution Program).
Role: Lead Designer. Wireframing, user flows, content strategy, usability testing.
Team: Product Manager, Designer, Developers
Reviewers/Stakeholders: Head of Business Development, CTO
Timeline: 3 weeks, hard-stop for first release (due to client onboarding)
Problem: SoFi's student loan assistance program was a way for partners to offer a subsidy to their employees who held student debt. The original program required employees to apply for refinancing through SoFi, which stopped a significant portion of those users from taking advantage of the benefit (employees either didn't want to refinance, or didn't qualify for a SoFi loan). How could we build the program, so each partner could equally offer the benefit to its employees?
Employees wanted to receive the benefit.
Employers (SoFi Partners) needed a way to track engagement and manage their programs.
The information needed in order to refinance is a huge ask, and especially confusing when servicers bill differently depending on type of loan.
Invited employees will not necessarily fall into one of the base SoFi user types.
Hypothesis: By developing an application flow that didn't require refinancing, we will allow every invited employee to participate in the benefit and see significant increase in program sign-ups.
Ongoing Results: As the Employer Contribution Program was originally pitched to the product team by the Head of Business Development, the entire BD team has been very interested in the program's success. During our first week of live internal testing (SoFi's own benefit offering, in which SoFi pledged to contribute $200 per month to the the student loan servicer for each full-time employee with outstanding student loans), we saw an enormous rate of conversion through the program (not including the refinancing part). Conversion rates for our first Partner were similarly high.
Next Round Problems: Conversion rates from application to full refinancing were a moving target. As mentioned above, collecting loan servicer information is a tedious and difficult task that usually requires a significant amount of time on the user's side, as well as clean up and review time from the loan officer.
Shameless Promotion: I might be a little biased because I worked on this service (FYI: I'm writing this 6 months after leaving the company), but I highly recommend you to look into a program like SoFi at Work. Employees can suggest the program to their HR team, or employers can take it up themselves. (Let's face it: who would pick a company with a greasy free lunch perk, when other companies make it possible for their employees to pay off student loans much faster than expected by offering a subsidy program? More about the power of student loan assistance is on Harvard Business Review.)
Culture and Management.
During my first six months at SoFi, I was the only product designer. It was insane, exciting, and went by at warp speed. I had the opportunity to dabble a little bit with the company's entire suite of financial services. I collaborated with people throughout the company, from the CEO to new hires on the rapidly growing engineering team. But there was simply too much for one designer to handle (even if late night working sessions came with a company-sponsored beer).
After months of advocating the usefulness of a larger design team, a UX position was posted, and I split my time between my projects and hiring duties. Over the course of about three months (and with the help of an internal recruiter), I was able to successfully grow the team by hiring four designers with strengths in different areas of design: visual, research, mobile, and strategy. I felt that with each new hire, the team's collective skill set advanced and became more complete.
As the most tenured designer on the product side of things, I slipped into a quasi leadership role, with the added responsibilities of training and mentoring the new hires. I loved helping each of the new designers build their product knowledge, interact with directly with engineers, and find a home at SoFi.
Our biggest challenge as a newly-formed product design team was figuring out to help our company understand the power of design. We slowly gained momentum, by adopting a lean design process to quickly solve urgent problems, and by building trust through communicating and asking for feedback on work as we explored solutions to problems of varying size. During my time with the team, we successfully advocated for and started implementing a system-wide style guide with flexible UI components, introduced elements of user testing, and advocated for better user tracking tools with the support of the entire marketing team.