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Statement design -- more important than you think

BankStatementChequingKey takeaway: the statement is a customer touchpoint. And as customer journey mapping will tell you, touchpoints are everything. No touch, no transaction. No passing Go, no $200. 

The topic of statements sounds so boring I'm surprised you've read this far. Insurance statements, account statements, loan statements. Gah! Kill me now. But I kid you not: it's a big deal.

It's a big deal because the statement is a touchpoint. And touchpoints are always important. But what's even more important is that, in some industries, the statement is often the only touchpoint for years in an ongoing customer relationship. Take insurance as an example. Outside of onboarding and the (rare) claims experience, the statement is pretty much it -- the main interaction that Jane Customer has with her life insurance company. And over time, those touches build up into an impression that is much more than the sum of its parts.

Over the years we've tested dozens of statements as part of redesign initiatives for insurers, investment companies, banks and other organizations; we're talking hundreds of interviews and surveys with consumers. This article presents some of our design thinking to get you to reflect on your own statements and how they might create a better customer experience.

Caveat: What follows here is some best practices that apply generally to most statements. Let us be the first to say that each statement, like each organization, is unique. What works for some statements for some groups of consumers may not be optimal for others. The following general practices are what we consider more or less universal in the North American context.  How they are applied will vary by organization and statement type.

#1. Don’t bury the lede

This is an old print journalism precept to start with the most important element of the story, then fill in the details. For statements, it means that the most important information for the customer needs to be presented up front and stand out.It's easy to find out what's most important for your statement. Just ask your customers, they know.

What’s most important will vary depending on the type of statement and product. If the statement is:

  • A bill, what’s most important is the balance owing and the due date.
  • A policy summary, then what’s more important is the coverage amount, the premium, the beneficiary (for life insurance) and term
  • An investment, then the most important information is the current value and change in value from the last reporting period.

Some customers will want more detail than others. Make it easy to locate non-essential information but consider putting it below the fold or other pages. If your online statements are dynamic, consider the accordion principle and let users expand the page to access details that may interest them and not bother with those that don’t.

#2. Calls to Action Need to Be Prominent

If you need your customer to do something as a follow-on, make this loud and clear.  Within 10 seconds or less of looking at the statement, the customer should know if she needs to remit a payment, update information, contact an advisor etc.If there is no action required, it's not a bad idea to say that.
When we test statements, some of the first questions we ask after showing consumers the document is “so what if anything do you have to do?” and “when do you have to do this by?”

If there is no action required, it’s not a bad idea to say that. Some statements make a point of highlighting that no action or payment is required. Consumers appreciate this.

#3. Design the flow

Most customers are not going to read the statement. They are going to scan it and skim it. This means you need to think about the flow of the document.  What order do you want customers to encounter information? Where do you want them to end up? What do they really not want to miss? Consider engaging a specialist statement design firm.

Some tips for creating a flow include:

  • Create a statement content hierarchy (see points #1 and #2)
  • Use layout to guide the eye. Typically a grid approach works best for both print and online.
  • Don’t skimp on white space. Crowded, busy statements mean consumer will miss information you don’t want them to.
  • Use color and contrast to highlight important content.

Hire a professional. Statement design is art and science. Consider engaging a specialist statement design firm to develop an optimal statement for your organization. In our experience, in-house design efforts have resulted in less engaging statements.

#4. Use plain language

We can’t stress this enough. Too many statements read like they were written by post-doctoral critical theorists and edited by the legal department. Your statement should be clearly understood by someone with a grade 6 reading level. This means copy should use:Tone is important. The tone of the writing should reflect your brand as well as the nature of the product.

  • Short, simple words and to-the-point sentences
  • Bulleted lists
  • Adjectives and adverbs sparingly

Industry-related jargon is a huge danger, particularly in insurance and investing. Even relatively sophisticated customers may not understand words like “sponsor” or “equities” let alone more arcane language.  If you must use them, consider a glossary for industry terms (still, keep these to a minimum).

#5. Make it readable

We’re all getting older (even your millennial customers). Font size should be easy to read for your target audience.

  • Typefaces should be cleanWatch the colors. Color-blind customers will have difficulties with red and green.
  • Don’t use more than a couple of font types
  • Keep font consistent between print and online statements
  • Ensure contrast (dark on white or very light is easiest to read for most people)
  • Break up large blocks of text into bulleted lists

Offer alternative formats for customers with visual impairments. Although red (and sometimes green) are used to indicate important information in some statements, remember that some of your readers are color-blind.

Obviously, a statement will contain information that is unique to the customer. There are other ways to personalize the document though, such as:

  • Referencing relevant dates
  • Using the customer’s name in relevant narratives (“Michael, we appreciate you placing your trust in us for your insurance needs..”)
  • Including a  photo or other information of the customer’s advisor
  • Ensuring that cross-selling information reflects the customer’s needs and profile

#7. Use Graphs and Images

Using pie charts, bar charts and images make statements more visually engaging and can make information easier to understand. Other graphical elements can help guide readers to relevant information (e.g. using icons to denote different contact channels). Some considerations:Make sure customers can track mathematical operations.

  • Keep graphics simple – too many data points or convoluted graphical styles makes things worse
  • Ensure your graphs and images help tell the story – if they make key information clear or compelling, then great; if they are just adornment, they are probably not needed
  • Stick to your brand guidelines for colors, visual identity, etc.

Numbers need to add up. If a statement includes data that implies a mathematical operation (e.g. you contributed this much, withdrew this much and here is what your account is worth today), make sure that the customer can follow this easily.  Be careful about overwhelming customers with too much data.

#8. Make Contact Details Easy to Find

If your customer has a question, you want to make it easy for them to get in touch. Contact information should be easy to find. Some statements put telephone and online contacts on every page.

Who to call for what?  Specify as clearly as possible when the customer should contact an agent or broker vs customer support teams.

#9. Minimize Marketing Content

Just about every organization sees statements as opportunities to promote other products and other sundry information (“Go paperless!”, “7 ways to flood proof your home,” etc.). After all, there’s a better chance your customer is going to open their statement than stand-alone DM piece and the opportunity for cost savings is tempting.

  • In our experience, consumers don’t mind seeing additional information on their statements as long as:
  • It doesn’t get in the way of the key “statement” content
  • It’s relevant to their situation
  • It really adds some value and quickly demonstrates some benefit
  • It’s well-presented and uses visuals
  • There’s not too much of it

#10. Discounts, Discounts, Discounts

Customers want to save money on their insurance or on their fees.  If there are ways that they can do so, let them know and they'll appreciate it. In insurance this might be discounts for a multi-policy or an updated medical. In financial institutions, if they increase their assets under management, can they reduce their fees?Don't hesitate to remind them of discounts. If they get online statements instead of paper?  Let them know. Every single time we have tested statements that reference discounts, customers have voiced approval.

If customers currently receive any type of discount or promotional pricing, it never hurts to remind them on their statement.

#11. Round Up the Team

Statement design studies need to involve many stakeholders. While communications or marketing groups may take the lead, it’s critical to get the input of key stakeholders from:

  • Technology (as systems need to ultimately produce the documents)Getting input and advice from your internal stakeholders will help you build consensus.
  • Product
  • Legal and compliance

Start early. Getting input and advice from your internal stakeholders will help you build consensus and often set important parameters for your design.  If your IT systems won’t let you lay out data a certain way or calculate rate of return for more than 5 years, there’s no point including this in your design prototypes.

#12. Test your designs

A bit self-serving, this part, since Phase 5 tests designs. But it's true. Getting feedback from your customers is critical to this process. Ideally, you should collect insight from your customers on your current statements to find out what their key information needs are, and what they see as the strengths and weaknesses of your current designs.

More importantly, test design prototypes as they evolve. Good design is an iterative process. Some general guidelines:

  • Use a one-on-one in-depth interview approach, not focus groups
  • You don’t need a lot of interviews: 12-15 interviews will provide lots of insight and will likely uncover the vast majority of issues
  • If there are different types of statements (e.g. for different products, combination, customer types, etc.), make sure these are covered
  • Test print statements using paper prototypes, online statements using online prototypes (even if they are static)
  • Don’t have your designer or design-team do the testing – they are too close to and invested in their designs to be objective
  • Use quantitative testing only to choose between different versions or establish that your new design is better than your existing statement


Written by Steve Hansen

Steve Hansen, MBA, is the President of Phase 5 US and the leader of the firm's Data Analytics practice. With almost 2 decades of experience in client-side marketing strategy, market research, and product management, Steve brings a client’s mindset and drive for actionable results to each project. He has extensive experience in capturing the view “from the outside” with a special focus on product and service innovation. Steve is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.