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Car Loan Application Form Insight

Comparing the application processes for leading car loan companies

Created by Al Mackin

Why study Car Loan Application Forms?

Financial services forms are tough for consumers. There's a requirement to give more information than a regular form, and this information is highly personal. The length of application forms means that users are more likely to give up. Those users may come back another day to complete the process, or they may move on to another provider.

It takes potential customer an average of 134.5 seconds to complete a car loan application form, with the user having to enter information into an average of 29 different fields. This is a large investment from the consumer, in both time and energy.

The optimisation opportunities for long forms are significant as there are a high number of elements and areas that can be improved or removed. New optimisation opportunities become available as technology changes or new UX learnings are created, leading to an optimisation process that is continual rather than project based.

Jump to the league table for all car loan providers

Car loan application forms are long, and customers dislike long processes. This leads to:
Higher Application Cost Increased Abandonment Higher Marketing CPAs

Our Analysis

I carried out this analysis in January 2018. I created a persona that was used across all the sites, meaning that the information I entered was standardised across all the application processes.

In our analysis I counted only the required fields, so optional fields were noted but not included in our numbers.

Finally, when an average number is noted in this report it is a median average unless stated otherwise.

  • I analyzed and tested 45 car loan companies

    I reviewed the application forms for almost every major UK loan company

  • 52 metrics were used to measure performance

    My research is focused on every aspect of the form, from the form elements to the timing and mobile usability.

  • I ranked and rated each application form

    I scored each form based on critical factors that will increase user frustration and decrease conversions

Five Key Take-aways

Validate inline on both success and failure. Display errors as users move from one field to the next, but also highlight when they've been successful. When a user clicks the final submit button, you want them to believe that they won't be presented with errors.

Show customer service information or a livechat link. It's unlikely that your customers will contact you, but showing that information at a critical point in the process will increase their confidence in your brand and improve the likelihood that they convert. Getting customers to complete a form isn't just about having a short, perfect form, it's equally about how the customers feel during the process.

Use attributes to show the right mobile keyboard. Just over half of sites don't show the most relevant mobile keyboard. This slows the user down as they enter data like phone number, and fixing it is an easy optimisation.

Explain why you ask for highly personal information. Help users understand why you ask for their annual salary, phone number and marital status. By explaining you'll keep potential customers calm about your process.

Use an advanced, automatic address lookup and reduce your address fields to a single input. 88% of sites have either no lookup, or they use a traditional postcode lookup, where the user enters their house number, postcode and then is given a list of potential addresses. An automatic lookup allows the user to type any element of their address and uses their IP address to filter the results to show the most likely matches. Reducing five fields, or two fields, to just one, will have a significant impact on conversion rates.

Analysing Car Loan Application Forms

Each step or block in an application process is a new page or new section for a potential customer to absorb. There's no magic number of steps that will lead to a higher conversion rate but there's likely to be drop off if the process gets too long.

The median number of steps across all loan companies is 4.

There's a difference between a long process that has many steps, and one that is chunking down all of the questions so that each question is a step in itself. GetCarFinanceHere has 22 steps, but that's because they're using a Typeform style approach where a question is asked one at a time. Their process has a low number of fields (24, vs 72 for Clydesdale Bank). Although this type of process is really interesting they don't give clarity to the user on how many steps there are in total, and at what stage the user is.

The more fields, the greater the likelihood of abandonment

Users hate completing application forms - they want to complete the process, get approved and then get the car they want as quickly as possible. The fewer fields they have to complete, the more likely they are to get through your process.

Amigo and Accept Car Finance have the shortest forms, with just fourteen fields. This is significantly shorter than incumbents like Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, and it even compares well to challenges like Zopa and Zuto. The average number of fields across all application forms is 29.

Whereas the relationship between the number of steps (see graph above) and the conversion rate is often indirect, there is a strong relationship between the number of fields and conversion rates. A potential customer who sees a shorter form is more likely to complete it, and the time required to complete a shorter form is less. Aggressively reducing the size of the form, and reducing the effort required to complete it, will have a positive impact on conversion rates.

Top or Back-loading Application Forms

Across all providers 44.2% of fields appear in the first step of the application process, with 26.6% of loan companies having only one step to complete. The question over top-loading (or not) is an important one. Ask too many questions in the first step and the user will be put off, whilst having too many steps will make the user believe that they're engaging in a virtually endless process. It is important to show to the user how far they are in a process, and how many steps are left.

If you're considering turning your single step process into a multiple step process then a sensible starting point for testing is the average across all companies: top-load half your fields in Step 1, a quarter in Step 2 then trail off.

Some Application Forms Take Four Times As Long To Complete

On average it takes a customer 134.5 seconds to complete a car finance application form. There is a significant difference between the best and worst performing sites, with Amigo taking just 64 seconds and the Clydesdale Bank taking 320.1 seconds.

Splitting the market into traditional lenders, who are mostly banks, and the recent entrants and challengers, there is a trend for challengers to have forms that are faster to complete. Out of the six slowest sites, four are traditional lenders. Of the six fastest sites, all of them are challengers.

The main factor in form completion time is the number of fields, with a general trend of a lower completion time when there are fewer fields. A secondary factor in time to complete is the type of fields used: text inputs take up the most time, followed by drop downs, then radio buttons and finally tick boxes. Radio buttons take an average of 2.8 seconds to complete (from absorbing the question, to selecting the answer) compared to 3.6 seconds for drop downs. Not only does a higher number of fields mean more time required entering data in the field, but also time between the fields, as the user completes one question and moves to the next one.

Comparing the average time per field for Zuto and CarFinance247 shows the importance of choosing the right field type. Both sites have a similar total completion time (124.7s for Zuto, and 125.9 for CarFinance247) but Zuto has one more field in their process. So why isn't Zuto slower to complete? Their form uses fields that are faster to complete (more radio buttons and tick boxes) leading to an average time in each field of 4.1 seconds vs the 4.3 seconds for CarFinance247. This means that although their form is longer, it will take a user less time to complete than a competitor.

Why Radio Buttons save time

Radio buttons trump Drop Downs for two reasons. Firstly all of the potential options are visible and readable by the user on a radio button. A drop down requires the user to click and then read the options.

Secondly, the user has less total interaction with a radio button than a drop down, a drop down requires a minimum of two clicks versus the single click for a radio. With a form that has a significant number of fields then saving the user fractions of a second will add up to a good time saving, and a greater likelihood of conversion.

Engagement examples: radio vs drop down

From our aggregated timing data on forms (Formisimo tracks engagement with fields with millisecond accuracy) I can see that the time spent on a radio button (taken from the time of the interaction with the last field to the first engagement with the next field) is 2.8 seconds, whereas a drop down is 3.6 seconds.

Which field types are used the most?

The field types used in a form can make a significant difference to the frustration that a user feels, and the time that they take to complete it. Long forms give a much greater opportunity to change field types and to test the results. There are three field types that should be considered: radio buttons, drop downs and tick boxes. In certain scenarios you can change the field type from one to another, with the aim of making it faster for the user to understand the question and all potential answers, and faster to select the right option.

You can see in the graph below that some companies (Tesco Bank, Amigo) have a much lower percentage of text boxes, which will reduce the amount of time to complete. Tesco also relies more on radio buttons than their competitors, and radios are faster to complete than drop downs.

How The Top Five Use Field Types (vs Bottom Five)

Comparing the top five application forms (ranked using our scoring at the base of the page) and the bottom five forms you can see how the higher performing sites move away from text boxes and use a greater proportion of drop downs (significant) and radio buttons (marginal). Radio buttons (where the user has a choice between two or more items, presented as items that are clickable) are much easier to complete. They're not ideal for when there's a lot of options but when the choice is between two to four options it allows them all to be presented to the user without them having to click.

Comparing the UX of a text box (open, requires typing), drop downs (closed list, requires clicking and reviewing) and radio buttons (closed, all options visible) the radio button wins on total interaction required. A radio button requires a single click on the right option, whereas a drop down requires a minimum of two clicks, with an unfurling of the options that will then need to be read and absorbed.

Mobile Friendly Keyboards

Mobile represents new challenges for forms. Beyond the way that a form is presented on screen there's a second challenge of how the user enters data, and dealing with the complexity of data entry compared to entering information on a desktop.

Only 49% of car loan application forms use the email keyboard type, and 44% use the telephone or number keyboard type

The use of keyboard types on mobile devices makes it easier for potential customers to complete a form as it shows them the most relevant keyboard for the data input. As an example a number or telephone number field should show just the number keypad, rather than the full keyboard. A field that asks for an email address can show a keyboard that makes the "@" symbol visible without having to press the shift key. Adding this functionality to a field is relatively easy, and it generally has a positive impact on conversion rates.

Loan application forms are number heavy, requiring more numerical inputs from the user than most forms. For the sites that don't use the telephone/number keyboard there is an opportunity to easily improve the user experience of the potential customer, and impact conversion rates.

Not Validating Inline Is A Missed Opportunity

Inline validation is a good way to highlight issues as a user moves through a form, and when you have a long form with complex questions it's a necessity. Showing errors whilst the user is engaging with a question is better than having the user click submit and then they're then presented with a list of all their mistakes.

46.7% of brands have no validation, 28.9% report just when a user has made an error, and 24.4% report on both success and error

The uptake on application forms is very low - almost half of sites have no inline validation, with just under a third having inline validation on just error (and with no feedback shown when the user successfully completes a field).

Validating for both success and failure will give the user the best level of feedback as they move through the form, and it gives you the best opportunity of converting them into customers.

Validation - Gamification for Long Forms

Website visitors have all experienced frustrating forms and when they start to engage with yours they are carrying baggage from the times when a form has been annoying. The length of a loan application form suggests that it will be a painful process for them.

A good way to keep users motivated, and to challenge their belief that the experience will be painful, is to use positive validation as they enter data. This is often in the form of a tick box next to a field, and is shown as they exit the field and move to the next one. This positive validation keeps the user happy, and helps them believe that when they click the "submit" or "next" button that they will be successful.

Showing errors in-line is equally important, as the user doesn't have to wait until the end of the step to see if they have made mistakes. A good inline validation process will not only show the user if they have entered incorrect information in a field (and so so as they move out of the field) but it will also explain what they need to do to correct it.

Example of Inline Validation

An example of insurer AXA using full inline validation. They highlight when information is correct and also when a user makes a mistake (along with a full explanation of what the mistake is). In the image above I have left the postcode field blank, and then moved to the next field.

Let customers know they can contact you (if they really need to)

Adding customer service information to a form gives users the confidence that if they have an issue then they can contact you directly. They're unlikely to need to contact you, although some may have issues that you can help them with. By displaying phone numbers, or a livechat link, this increases the likelihood that a user will convert.

33.3% of sites show no customer service information during the application process, with 19% including a livechat and 47.6% having contact details visible within the page.

Marking required fields makes it easier to complete forms

Marking which fields a user has to complete will save them time. It guides them to which fields you absolutely have to enter information into, and which fields you can ignore (there's a question over whether you should have any optional fields in your process). A simple asterisk or similar notation will help the user understand how they can fast track the process.

My analysis shows that 40% of sites do not mark required fields, whilst the remaining 60% mark them in some way. For the sites that do not mark required fields this is an easy optimisation.

Explain why you ask for non-standard information, and help users feel more comfortable.

Customers get used to entering certain information into forms: they frequently enter their name and their email address. When you ask a user to enter non-standard information this will slow the process down, as the user will think "Why do you need this information, and should I enter it and continue with the process?".

Car finance forms require more information on the user to validate if finance could be issued. This requires the users data of birth, along with their address, and financial information. In addition almost all sites ask for mobile number, which can confuse users as they often don't want to be called, or receive SMS.

Explaining why you need this information can reduce the confusion that users have. So, for example, saying "We need your mobile number so we can contact you about important information on your application" will remove the users concerns.

55.6% of sites do not offer an explanation for non-standard fields. 2.2% have a popup that appears with an explanation, whilst 42.2% have an explanation that is inline (shown next to the field) or hidden until the user clicks on an item.

Using Explanations to Increase Conversions

Forms on car finance sites ask personal questions - like your date of birth, address, salary and mobile phone number. Users are cautious, and sometimes confused, about questions that are highly personal. In your day to day life of completing forms this information is rarely asked for, so it can make a user consider why you need that... and potentially decide to abandon the process.

When your process requires this information then offering an explanation as to why you need it, and what you use it for, is an important optimisation.

There are diverse ways that you can explain to the user why you need this information from them. Showing text around a field is an effective way to make sure that your explanation is always visible, but using an inline popup (that displays the message on the current field, as the user moves into it) is a good way to make the message highly visible.

Example of Field-Level Explanations

American Express has a popup message on some of their fields, and is currently visible on the email, "Name on Card" and mothers maiden name fields.

The messages are either to confirm why they need that information (in the case of Mothers Maiden Name they explain that this is needed for security and verification) or an explanation of something that may simply confuse the user ("Name on Card" is explained as it can differ from the regular name of the customer).

video showing popups that explain what a field is in a form

Reduce your address fields from five to one

Entering your address into a form is a painful process for users, especially on a mobile device. The number of fields that have to be completed, and the combination of letters, and numbers (and the required switches between mobile keyboards) mean that this takes up a significant proportion of the total time to complete.

Using a postcode lookup process can reduce the required fields from around five to just two (house number and postcode). This is a significant reduction in fields. Using an advanced, automatic postcode lookup (where the user types any element of their address into a single text box) reduces the form size further.

Just 11.1% of sites use an automatic, advanced postcode lookup. 68.9% use a standard lookup, whilst 20% have no address lookup at all. That's a positive number of sites that have a basic address lookup, but there's a good opportunity for them to upgrade to an advanced lookup, and to reduce the effort required to complete.

Scoring All Car Finance Companies

To score each finance company I generated a score out of 79, which took into account the number of steps and fields (related to the median score for each) and scored companies based on the percentage they were above or below this. I also scored companies based on the removal of unnecessary obstacles, and the mobile friendliness of each form based on the usage of mobile keyboard attributes. Having a livechat and postcode lookup was also part of the scoring process, and using inline validation boosted scores further, along with other form features that I considered to be critical to conversion rates.

The aim of our scoring was to take into account attributes of the form rather than the look and feel. Some forms were more attractive than others, but as design is subjective I chose not to apply any marks for forms that I felt looked better or worse.

See a full league table of loan companies with deeper scoring data and read about the methodology behind my scoring by entering your details:

ratings of all companies application forms

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