How to design an online calculation tool for financial services sales and marketing

Over the years we’ve designed and developed a number of online calculation tools for the financial services industry. It’s become something of a niche of ours.

We tend to group online calculators into two different types –

  1. Creating a need

We love these kinds of calculators – they’re massively powerful if you want to instantly demonstrate the value of your offering. They’re especially great when used as part of an advice conversation in an intermediary context.

This kind of calculator is best used when there’s an element of shock factor associated with the content. Take for example, the Risk Reality Calculator we developed for LV=. A simple online tool designed for Financial Advisers to use during client conversations. It helps their clients to grasp the importance of financial protection in just a few seconds.

There’s a level of impartiality and credibility in algorithmic calculations that’s hard for us mere mortals to emulate. There’s a perceived difference in neutrality; a feeling that the computer never lies.

  1. Comparison tools

You’d be hard pressed to find someone that’s not used online comparison tools at some point when buying car insurance, or holiday insurance or a flight to Lanzarote.

As consumers and purchasers, we’ve become comfortable with them as a way of quickly discerning value when confronted with an array of choice in a competitive market. They should always be presented as provider-neutral.

Online comparison calculators are more often than not, consumer facing-tools, but can also be used in an intermediary context to inform advice models.

What makes a good online calculator?

FS Marketers certainly appreciate and acknowledge their value, but being tasked with creating one isn’t typically on their Christmas list. For good reason – they require long, complex development and testing and deep technical knowledge. If you’ve never done it before, how do you know where to start?

1. Design backwards

First up, don’t start designing a calculator because online tools are ‘in’. Start with the crux of what you want your calculator to achieve, asking how it can help support and fill any holes in your sales cycle.

Building a calculator in isolation won’t do much for your business – you should think of it as one element of a wider campaign. How are you going to get people to the web page? What are you going to do with them afterwards? You should be thinking about these questions from day one.

2. Ease of Use

It’s doesn’t matter how mind-blowingly complex the back-end is, the user doesn’t need to know. Simplicity is key.

We’ve found that the more interactive you make it the better – sliding scales, drag and drop and toggles work well.

Oh, and your results need to update in real-time despite those complicated, dynamic algorithms.

3. Don’t ask too many questions

Treat your calculator like any other webform. What’s the bare minimum of information you can work with?

Aim for your initial screen to take no longer than 10-15 seconds to complete. Don’t forget that you can put additional questions on a second page (within reason). Initially, focus on getting them to click ‘next’ or ‘submit’. By that point, you’ve piqued their curiosity.

4. Put the results into context

So you’ve calculated that I’ve got a 6% risk of kicking the bucket before I reach retirement age.

Ok. Is that good? Bad? Should I be worried? Am I in the top 10% for my age group? (Not that I’m competitive or anything, but do I deserve a medal?)

Design an online calculation tool for financial services with benchmarking figures

Putting the results into context makes it easier to digest.

Where your results aren’t self-explanatory, give an the user something to go on. Some simple bench-marking instantly turns an set of calculations onto something that can provoke a reaction – or better still, action.

5. Where next?

Sounds obvious, but make sure you’ve got a clear call to action. Whether it’s adding an insurance package to your cart, or giving them the option to have an online chat with an expert, think through what you want the next steps to be. Strike whilst the iron is hot.

It’s best practice to also give the option to email the results afterwards. It’s a good idea from a lead gen perspective and it can be especially useful for high-commitment, long sales cycles where users are unlikely to make a snap decision – mortgages and pension schemes for example.

6. Analytics

Basically, your online calculator is a fantastic opportunity to do some market research.

There’s a wealth of data surrounding online calculators – make sure your systems are set-up to make the most of it. Aggregated, anonymised data can be really useful for creating data-filled content like infographics. Or to enrich your company’s understanding of their target audience.

Oh, and on the topic of analytics – Google Analytics is a must. UX-monitoring tools like CrazyEgg or ClickTale can be really useful to offer insight into how people interact with your tool and inform future design decisions. If you’re not familiar with them, check them out.

Why are online calculators so hard to develop?

Having delivered more online calculators than we can count on our collective fingers and toes, at Moreish, we’ve come to the conclusion that getting the angle and approach right is actually the really crucial, difficult part of the job. Even more so even than the design and build.

It’s probably safe to say that 99% of companies don’t have the skills required to develop a complicated online calculator in-house end-to-end. We’ve spent a long time honing a network of the perfect skills for the job from creative development, to algorithm busting that makes your brain bleed, to designing snazzy sliding scales that work responsively. You’re in safe hands.

If you’re looking for some advice, get in touch. We might be able to give you some pointers or help you out on your project.

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