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Who’s Winning At Credit Card Application UX?

Form Optimisation

Perfecting the UX of an online form is an art. My research into credit card application and eligibility forms shows there’s room for improvement across the board.

Not one company is using all their optimisation options. With fierce competition between them, this is a major missed opportunity.

I’ve produced credit card UX league tables based on analysis carried out in June 2017 on 24 application forms and 17 eligibility forms.

After tracking 52 different metrics, each company has been ranked based on the critical features of a good form, for example using inline validation or taking a short time to complete.

So who’s nailing their credit card UX and why? And who needs to go back to the drawing board?


Application forms

Capital One
Vanquis Bank

Eligibility forms

Capital One
American Express


Application forms

M&S Bank
Yorkshire Bank

Eligibility forms

Virgin Money
M&S Bank

Read about my methodology and data compilation technique.

What are the likes of Aqua, Capital One and Nationwide doing right? And how can HSBC, M&S Bank and Yorkshire Bank move up the ranks?

Optimisation options to transform your forms

Any form optimisation process needs to focus on decreasing cognitive load, reducing frustration and ultimately increasing conversions.

This requires a succession of minor modifications to its design and therefore functionality. Among the most important and influential are:

Number of steps

A credit card form can be a complicated process. It requires a significant amount of often complex data from the customer.

Splitting it into chunks makes sense. Step one might focus on a customer’s basic details, step two on their job and salary etc.

But sectioning questions in this logical way comes with a trade-off: the more steps there are, the more likely it is the customer will think “Oh this looks way too long. I’ll do it later” or, even worse, “Forget it, I’ll look somewhere else.”

In my research, the highest-scoring forms have only one step. Overall, the figures range from one to eight steps (application) and one to four steps (eligibility).

Newcomers to the market, such as Aqua, Luma and Vanquis all offer a single step application form and are all in the top five. More-established players such as M&S Bank have eight steps, but are right at the foot of the application form league table.

Because the figure varies so widely across the industry, a good benchmark is to check if you’re double the median or above. If you are, you’re out of step with your steps.

To find the right number for this optimisation point, test different step configurations; it will have a positive effect on conversion rates.

Number of fields

The number of fields in a form shouldn’t overwhelm. The threat of abandonment is high when a customer is faced with reams of empty space to fill in.

Reducing the number of fields therefore has a direct impact on conversion rates and is a simple win.

The average number of fields in a credit card application form is 33, ranging from 17 for Capital One, Vanquis Bank and Luma to 54 for HSBC. The effort and time required to complete HSBC’s monster form will inevitably lead to significant drop-off.

Eligibility forms are by their very nature shorter: it should be a quick check that takes minimal time for the applicant. The average number of fields here is 16, ranging from 13 for Capital One and TotallyMoney to 26 for HSBC.

It’s crucial that this first step is quick and easy. If your branding centres on this message, getting the eligibility form right will encourage users to stick with you and move on to the lengthier application form.

So how do you fine-tune your fields and reduce their overall number?

  • Can you remove optional fields?
  • Can you adapt your business process to reduce the amount of required data?
  • Can you gather data from information the user has already entered, for example using an API to complete their full name from their email address?

These small tweaks can impact in two ways:

  • Customers have one less input element to complete, reducing the time required and the possibility of abandonment
  • The whole process will appear visually shorter, influencing a user’s decision to begin it

Reduce completion times

There’s a three-minute difference between the shortest and longest application form completion times: three precious minutes of your customers’ time.

This 3.4x range goes from 73 seconds for Capital One and Luma to 252 seconds for HSBC, with an average completion time of 147 seconds.

For eligibility forms, which are shorter, the average is 74 seconds with a 2x range between the quickest and the slowest: 60 seconds for Capital One (an excellent USP) and 121 seconds for HSBC.

The main factor here is the number of fields. Reduce your fields, reduce your form completion time.

A secondary issue is the type of fields used: radio buttons are quick, tick boxes even quicker.

The choices you make here can make all the difference.

For example, Luma has 17 fields in its application from compared to M&S Bank’s 41. Luma’s average time per field is 4.3 seconds while M&S Bank’s figure is 4.8 seconds. This highlights how Luma is selecting a larger proportion of quicker input types.

The 0.3 second difference between the two adds a significant 12.9 seconds onto the time taken to complete the M&S Bank application.

Customer service

Sharing customer service contact details on the form is key for your brand and your conversion levels.

It has numerous UX benefits:

  • Gives consumers confidence that they can speak to a human being
  • Reassures consumers that if they have a problem, they won’t have to abandon the form
  • Shows that you’re a reputable brand willing to share your phone number
  • Builds trust within the financial services industry
  • Makes your brand warm, personable and approachable

Just under two thirds of credit card companies display contact details on the application form. Customers know that they can get in touch immediately or later with any questions or issues.

Over a third don’t visibly share their phone number or email address and are missing out. Yes, it may reduce support costs, but think carefully whether this outweighs the opportunity to gain more customers.

Required fields marked

A straightforward way to speed up user engagement and get them at the form finish line quicker is to mark required fields.

This helpful optimisation clarifies which information is a necessity and which can be bypassed, reducing cognitive loads and possible frustration levels.

41% of companies don’t mark required fields on their application forms and 64% don’t on their eligibility form. Among those who do are four of the top five in both the application (Aqua, Capital One, Vanquis Bank and Luma) and eligibility (Capital One, ASDA, ThinkMoney and MBNA) forms.

A simple improvement for those that currently don’t state required fields would be to test the option, monitoring the time taken to complete the form and its conversion rate. I guarantee they’ll see results.

Mobile friendly keyboards

This easy-to-set-up optimisation opportunity addresses the challenge presented by ever-increasing mobile usage.

Whether on their smartphone or tablet, consumers expect the same great UX they’d get on their PC or laptop.

One way to achieve this is by using
mobile-friendly keyboards to make data entry quicker and easier.

Fewer than 40% of credit card companies are using an email keyboard with just under 60% using the telephone or number keyboard, leaving many applicants dealing with the unnecessary frustration of awkward inputting

Among those who use all three – email, telephone and number – are four of the top five in both the application (Aqua, Capital One, Nationwide and Luma) and eligibility (Capital One, ASDA, ThinkMoney and MBNA) forms.

And in the bottom five, only two companies are using any type of mobile keyboard: HSBC uses telephone and number in their application form and Virgin Money use just a number keyboard in their eligibility form.

Inline validation

Inline validation highlights errors as a user moves through a form towards their end-goal: completion. Instead of a list of mistakes appearing once a page has been submitted, they show up field-by-field.

My research reveals that almost 30% of credit card companies don’t use inline validation at all in their application forms, with 30% informing the user when they enter data successfully and when they’ve made an error. The remaining 40% only highlight when an error has been made.

The figures are even higher for eligibility forms with almost two thirds (65%) not using any form of inline validation. This includes all the bottom five companies.

Too many credit card companies are missing out on this quick-win technique. It’s a simple way of sparking your customers’ motivation to complete the form.

League table learnings

Why have I ranked the performance of these credit companies’ forms? I believe that competitive analysis is an important part of creating a great online experience.

Building a great, high-converting form is no different. Analysing and ranking a marketplace exposes optimisation opportunities and adds more ideas to a testing process.

Understanding your position in a market motivates you to improve, and improving your form will have a significant impact on your quote volume and profitability.