The Federal Government Does User Testing Right

One of my favorite government agencies is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It’s an agency that was created by the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010. The CFPB’s mission, according to their website is to “make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans”. Essentially, their job is to protect banking consumers and to make sure that they are clear on the terms of any financial instrument they may want to buy.

As many of you know, this agency has been a political football for Republicans and Democrats since its creation but that’s not what this post is about. What I like about the CFPB is that their mission involves looking out for the users of financial products.  That means that part of their mission to make various financial documents easy to read.

But it doesn’t start with the documents. It starts with their website. Just look at it.

Clean. Elegant. Easy to read with a large point typeface. Good use of white space. Clear writing. It’s obvious that this thing has been thought through and tested.

If only all of our websites were this clear in how they present information on their frontpage.

Lower down on the homepage they discuss simplifying the mortgage disclosure process.

Some months back, they asked for feedback on designing a better credit card agreement.

Credit card agreements are notoriously difficult to get through. Here’s the first page of the agreement for a credit card from Bank of America.

Sample Credit Card Agreement (Hard!)

Some months ago, the CFPB was actively soliciting feedback on two possible credit card agreements. Some A/B testing, if you will. In their test, they compared two updated forms. I wish I could show you both examples with exactly how they requested feedback but since that test is closed, that content is no longer available. When I went through the commenting process there were two forms. Each form was broken down clearly into sections. The visual styling was different on each but the content was essentially the same.  The test was focused on discerning the ability of the layout to communicate the complex information more clearly.

Next to each section there was a memo field where users could comment about each section – what they liked and didn’t like. Simple and effective.

The result is their current prototype. You can see and comment on it here.

New CFPB Credit Card Agreement Prototype (Easy!)

Or here.

The difference between one and the other is startling. It’s like the documents are almost doing different things. And they are. The first one, from Bank of America, is discouraging you from reading it. The second one is written for clarity.

The BoA agreement was most likely written by lawyers. The CFPB was probably also written by lawyers. Let’s be honest. But the CFPB lawyers wrote it with the goal of making the information clear, as well as complete. Then, to take it a step further, they created two versions, posted them on the website and solicited feedback.

The contrast between the two agreements is quite stark. I think it’s fair to say that it’s because of two things: 1. Perspective and 2. Testing. The first was written from a bank’s point of view. They even led with ‘we can change this anytime’ language. In the CFPB’s version, they lead with what interests consumers, namely, the costs.

When you see the difference between the two documents you’ll see what a night and day difference perspective and testing make.

If you’re looking for ways to participate in government, this is an easy and meaningful thing you can do to help without having to dip yourself in the muck of politics. All you need to do is join their email list. They send out emails when new forms are being tested. You can also visit their site and send your feedback on the various forms that are available for comment.

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