The Money Machine

Baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) now constitute 40 percent of the U.S. population, controlling 67 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Wealth management products are available, but many do not focus on innovative data visualization, are often desktop-based, and do not incorporate persuasion to change behavior. Mobile solutions face the additional challenge that many baby boomers are not as familiar with mobile devices as younger people.

The author’s firm, AM+A developed a concept design called the Money Machine, to answer two critical questions:

  1. How can information visualization and design promote change in wealth-management behavior? In general, we sought to assist people by enabling them to make decisions wisely about spending and saving appropriately. A specific example might involve managing the finances of an elderly parent with contributions coming from several different family members.
  2. How can mobile technology assist in presenting persuasive information to promote behavior change? In general we sought to enable people to review their “dashboard” easily, connect with specific family and friends who might be able to advise or contribute, and to provide incentives and game-like attributes that would make wise actions more appealing to carry out.

Market Research, Personas, and Use Scenarios

Following the philosophy of user-centered design, we conducted qualitative research to understand the target market and distributed a questionnaire that explored smartphones and social media, money management, technology and money, and demographics.

We used the detailed results of the questionnaire to establish a set of five personas, and used the questionnaire results, as well as these personas, to construct specific use scenarios describing financial monitoring, security, social media, and gamification.

Competitive Products Research

We studied approximately twenty financial and wealth management websites and iPhone applications (including Ameritrade, iBank, and Through screen comparison analysis and customer review analysis, we derived benefits and drawbacks of the applications, such as how easy it was to enter and track information, how flexible financial information formats were, and whether they had integrated mobile and web versions. Noting that few of these applications included much content related to actual behavior change, and that most addiction treatment programs (seeking to change behavior) do include such components, we concluded that usable, useful, and appealing UI design for wealth management should include incentives to prompt behavior change. These additional components go far beyond simply displaying information.

Desirable Characteristics

Based on our review of current products, the statement of needs and expectations of the interviewees, and knowledge gained from a previous, similar effort (called the Green Machine), we came to some general conclusions about desirable characteristics of the Money Machine. A good wealth management application should help users set goals, provide dynamic charts and illustrations, host competitions, and provide step-by-step instructions to motivate behavior change.

Extensive, up-to-date, user-friendly, and flexible searchable databases are another priority. Similarly, the Money Machine must liberate users from cumbersome manual data entry, furnishing a varied data entry system (for example, document or database scanning).

The Money Machine must also encourage and strengthen team-oriented behavior change. Cooperation and competition within and among teams can encourage greater restraint and financial control. Virtual rewards (for example, “star” designations) provide strong motivation, and real financial rewards can prompt a significant change in behavior.

Last but not least: The Money Machine should be fun. Gamification provides a further incentive for users to learn about selecting wise investment/expenditure combinations, and controlling risk efficiently and effectively. The Money Machine should allow users to share these experiences, primarily through Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

Hierarchical diagram with three management layer each having two activities.

Figure 1. A Concept Map of the Money Machine

Use of Persuasion Theory

We sought to combine information design with persuasion design to change people’s behavior. Based on Fogg’s behavior model for persuasive design, and Cialdini’s theories of persuasion, we defined five key processes to create behavioral change:

  • Increase frequency of use
  • Motivate changing some living habits (save, plan, invest)
  • Teach how to change living habits
  • Persuade users to plan short-term change
  • Persuade users to plan long-term change.

We also adapted Maslow’s analysis of fundamental human needs to the Money Machine context:

  • The safety and security need is met by the ability to visualize the amount of expense saved
  • The belonging and love need is met by the ability to share with, and gain support from, friends and family
  • The esteem need is satisfied by social comparisons that display improvement in financial control and skill, as well as by self-challenges that display goal accomplishment
  • The self-actualization need is fulfilled by the ability to visualize improvement of financial indexes and mood, and to predict change in users’ future economic scenarios.

Increasing Frequency of Use

Game-like attributes and award concepts typically increase frequency of use of applications. Users might be given virtual rewards, as well as real money contributed by government or financial institutions, for use of the application.

Increasing Motivation

Users’ potential financial conditions are an important incentive for behavior change. Viewing their current versus predicted economic status over the next twenty to thirty years gives users greater understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of their financial strategy.

Because setting goals improves learning outcomes and provides quantitative performance data, the Money Machine asks users to set time-based goals for spending reduction, savings, and retirement. To achieve each goal, users receive suggested step-by-step action plans.

In addition, we created ten monthly challenges. In meeting them, users can make short-term behavior changes that will generate long-term positive impacts.

Social interaction also motivates behavior change through community support and informal competition or comparison. Users can form groups of family and friends and participate in competitions. Although based around financial controls and exercises, users need not reveal personal financial data.

The Money Machine also leverages social networking by integrating features found in forums, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.

Improving Learning

Understanding long-term wealth management is crucial. To improve learning, the Money Machine integrates contextual tips on:

  • Wiser consumption
  • Increased financial control
  • Tackling complications associated with debt and poor investments
  • Coping with principle burn rates that are either too high or too low.

We sought to make the education process entertaining as well as informative. Proposed games teach users to choose the right proportion of investments.

Next Steps

We plan to develop a working prototype to conduct user evaluations, validate personas, and use scenarios, then revise the information architecture and the look-and-feel appropriately. We also are interested in researching and developing improved information visualizations and considering how the Money Machine might be redesigned for different cultures and for enterprise use, not only individual consumer use.

In general, we plan to test whether the application can persuade people to exercise greater fiscal control, adopt healthier wealth management habits, and pursue a more financially sound lifestyle under real use conditions over the long term. If the design philosophy about adding persuasion characteristics to information display in order to change behavior is proven correct, this approach could have significant wealth-management benefits.

Figure 2. Landing screen. User-selected priority information is displayed at the top of the screen, with arrows for scrolling at either side. The bottom half displays market updates as well as social networking and competition notifications.

Figure 2. Landing screen. User-selected priority information is displayed at the top of the screen, with arrows for scrolling at either side. The bottom half displays market updates as well as social networking and competition notifications.

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Figure 3. Future | Goals. Users set financial goals (acquisition, savings), each of which has an associated status progress bar. Users can access further details, for example, expected date of accomplishment, by clicking on the arrow at right.

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Figure 4. Friends | Announcements. Announcements contain a list of posts from groups of friends. The user can give posts a thumbs up/down. The posts can be filtered by person or by subject. The inbox button will take the user to his/her messages.

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Figure 5. Contests | Achievements. This “wall” shows the user’s achievements, each represented by a badge. Progress is shown in a bar below the badge. Achievements are earned through methods that show the user is improving financially.

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Figure 6. My Money | Budgets. Budget categories are displayed at the top. “Total” displays total earnings, expenses, and savings for a given timeframe. Users can view specific budgets by clicking on the associated icon.

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Figure 7. Friends | Main page. In the search-enabled list of friends, users click on a name or icon to view a complete profile. A privacy indicator sits next to each friend, representing that friend’s access to sensitive financial information (zero access, limited access, or complete access).

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Figure 8. Tips | Main page. A news feed of financial tips from users can be filtered by person or subject. Users can write their own tips, search through all tips, rate them, and see more detail.

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Figure 10. My Money | Group Accounts. Group accounts let users manage shared funds contributed
and used by others. Selecting a group account member from the top bar displays the total money in the account, versus that member’s contributions and expenses for a given timeframe.

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Figure 9. My Money | Retirement Planner. This chart illustrates users’ current assets, allowing them to view their retirement plans graphically and create a more intuitive understanding of factors like risk, savings rates, and tax management.

Marcus, A. (2012). The Money Machine. User Experience Magazine, 11(2).
Retrieved from

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