Applying for a credit card can be a time-consuming process. On average it takes 147 seconds to complete an application form (some forms take up to 251 seconds) and the user has to engage with an average of 33 fields. The type of information required is varied and will not always be at the front of the users' mind (e.g. salary) and this adds to the cognitive load.
There is a significant opportunity to increase conversion rates of credit card forms as they are particularly long, and there are a number of different areas to optimise.
The aim of this research is to determine the trends, and the weaknesses in credit card application forms and to help you map out your form optimisation process.
I carried out this analysis in July 2017. I created a persona that was used across all the application forms, which meant that the information I entered was standardised.
In my analysis I only counted required fields, so optional fields were noted but not included in my research.
I reviewed two types of forms for credit cards: the full application form, and the eligibility form. Aggregators (e.g. uSwitch) will appear in my research for just the eligibility form.
Finally, when an average number is noted in this report it is a median average unless stated otherwise.
My research included almost every major UK credit card company and aggregator
I looked at every aspect of the form, from fields used, timings, and mobile usability.
I scored each form based on the likelihood that a potential customer will convert.
Length is key to increasing conversions. The difference between the shortest and the longest forms over 100%. Reducing the number of fields has a direct impact on conversion rates.
High scoring forms are just one step. The credit card companies who have the highest performance scores have the lowest number of steps in the application form. For the top five there was an average of 1.2 steps to complete the process, whilst the bottom five had an average of 5 steps.
Field-level explanations aid users, and conversions. A small number of credit card companies provide explanations on highly personal, or unique, fields - for example the "Name on Card" field on American Express, or the salary fields. Explaining to users why you need this information helps them. get through a process faster, and makes them more likely to convert.
Sharing customer service contact details on the form is key. Just under two thirds of credit card companies display contact details on the application form. This gives consumers confidence that they can reach out, perhaps at a much later date, to speak to a human being, and gives them a warmer view of a provider.
Validating In-line is a major conversion boost. Showing people that the information they have entered is correct (or incorrect) as they move through a process reduces the time to complete a form as a user can move to the next field with confidence. 30% of credit card companies have no inline validation, whilst a further 40% have inline validation on just errors.
Splitting a lengthy process into steps is a good way to chunk down a large number of questions into sections, making it easier for a customer to complete. The trade-off is that the more steps there are, then the greater likelihood that the user will perceive the process to be long, and perhaps too long for them to complete right now.
Credit card forms require a significant amount of information from the potential customer, and across the industry the approach to sectioning differs. Full application forms range from a single step (e.g. Luma, Vanquis and Capital One) to eight steps (Marks and Spencer Bank). There is no ideal number of steps in any process, but if you're double the median for your industry it's a good sign that you're out of sync.
The range of fields that a user must engage with to apply for a credit card is significant - the shortest form contains 17 fields whilst the longest contains 54. The effort and time required for HSBC's 54-field form is huge, whereas Capital One have a light and easy to complete process. There's no doubt that the drop off on HSBC's form will be much higher.
There are three ways to reduce the number of fields in a form. Firstly, are there optional fields that can be removed. Secondly, can the business process be changed to reduce the data required by the user. Finally, can you gather information on the user from information they have already entered, or at a later stage. An example of automatically gathering data is the use of an API, the most used example is postcode lookup but there are other APIs that can draw the users full name from just an email address.
It may seem trivial to remove a single field in a form that has twenty or thirty fields, but the impact is felt in two ways. Firstly, there's one less input element for potential customers to complete, reducing the time required and the potential that a user will abandon the process. Secondly the user will see a process, or part of a process, that visually appears shorter. This has an impact on whether the user will decide to start the process.
Credit card eligibility forms are much shorter than full application forms, with a median of 16 fields compared to 33 fields for the full application. They range in length from 13 fields (Capital One and TotallyMoney) to 26 fields (HSBC). Comparing each company's eligibility and full application forms, the eligibility form is around 50% of the size of the main form.
Eligibility forms are often referred to as quick check forms, and there is an expectation from the user that it will be a short process. If your messaging is around a process being fast, but the user must complete a significant number of fields (over half of the credit card companies had over sixteen fields) then it will discourage the user from engaging with the brand fully and completing the full application form. This may be temporary ("I'll come back to this when I have more time") or permanent ("This company appears hard to deal with"). Either way the likelihood of converting a customer diminishes significantly.
Splitting a significant process into multiple steps allows the user to complete it in chunks. Those steps can have a focus, for example the first step in a credit card application process could be basic details on the customer, the second step could be information on the customer's job and salary.
When you're focused on optimising a process to increase the conversion rates then an optimisation point is how many steps you have - and in my experience, there is no magic number of steps, finding the right number is a case of testing it out.
One way to understand if you should reduce or increase the number of steps in your process is to look to the market. In my recent research on Insurance quotation forms I found some Credit Card companies to be clear market leaders when it came to form performance, and those Credit Card companies tended to be recent entrants into the market (i.e. Tesco Bank).
New entrants in the Credit Card industry are trending to just a single step application form. Aqua, Vanquis and Luma are all rated in the top five and have a single step process, which suggests that testing out a single page application form is a sensible use of optimisation time.
The average user will take 147 seconds to complete a credit card application form, and 74 seconds to complete an eligibility form. The range between the best and the worst forms (for speed of completion) is 3.4x for full application forms, with the best form being completed in 73 seconds and the worst taking 251 seconds. For eligibility forms the gap between the best and the worst is less, at 2x. The fastest eligibility form can be completed in 60 seconds whilst the worst takes 121 seconds.
The main factor in form completion time is the number of fields, with a general trend of a lower completion time with fewer fields. A secondary factor is the type of fields used, with text boxes as the field type that takes 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 within the field, but also time between the fields, as the user completes one question and moves to the next one.
Comparing the application forms of Luma and M&S bank shows how Luma have less fields and they're using field types that are faster to complete. Luma's average time per field is 4.3 seconds, whereas M&S Bank is 4.8 seconds. The latter has 43 fields, which means the .3 second difference adds 12.9 seconds on to the form length.
Another secondary factor is the number of steps in the process, which are usually separate pages. Each step takes time to load, increasing the total length of time to complete the form. An example of performance improvement is Santander, where 9% (14.5 seconds) of the total time to complete the form is related to page loads, whereas just 3.96% (2.9 seconds) of Luma's total time is related to page load.
Getting people to enter their address easily and correctly in forms has always been a challenge. The address spans several fields and this comes with burden on the user who must move from field to field and fill them all in accurately. Below are two examples of how this has been tackled in a way that reduces user input and the time to complete the form.
The postcode lookup is used almost everywhere, but is much slower compared to the inline search bar.
This is the original solution, but is now ageing. You need to enter your postcode exactly, and your house number, then click a few more times to have your address entered.
This new solution allows the user to start typing any part of their address, and to then see matches in real-time.
Only one credit card company used the smart lookup, but there are two reasons why using it will help improve conversion rates. Firstly, the user has to click less times than when they use a postcode lookup. Secondly the user only has to recall parts of their address, and they can pick whether they want to enter postcode or street name and number.
Inline validation is an effective 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.
Almost 30% of credit card companies have no form of inline validation, with 30% alerting the user to both errors and when they have successfully entered information. The remaining 40% report back inline when the user has made an error.
Some customers may want to contact you directly during the application process, whilst others may just want to know that they have that option. Having visible contact details will help both groups of people, and those who just want to know that you're a reputable brand that's willing to share a phone number.
Only 37.5% of credit card application forms have a visible phone number or contact details. Whilst reducing support costs is important, building trust is a critical factor in form completion. Sharing contact details is an important component in building trust in financial services.
Forms on Financial Services sites ask personal questions - like your date of birth, employment status and your annual income. Users are cautious, and sometimes confused, about questions that are highly personal. In your day to day life of completing registration forms and checkout processes this information is rarely asked for, so it can stop a user in their tracks.
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.
American Express have 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).
Aggregators (e.g. Money.co.uk) only have eligibility forms, as the user will then jump to the chosen credit card application website when they're ready to complete the process, so I've analysed the field types used in eligibility forms.
Aggregators rely marginally less on text boxes, but the significant difference between their forms and direct credit card company forms is the shift from drop downs to radio buttons. The latter is much faster to complete, and all the answers are visible to the consumer. I recently wrote about replacing drop downs with radio buttons.
Users have become accustomed to forms that contain required and optional fields. It's helpful for the customer if required fields are marked, even though all inputs are required. It clarifies to them which input elements they must complete, which means they don't have to think about whether a field needs to be completed or not.
41% of companies didn't mark required fields in their application forms, whilst 64% didn't on their eligibility form. A simple optimisation would be to test the marking required fields, and then monitoring the form conversion rate and the time to complete the process.
The prevalence of mobile usage presents new user experience challenges. Beyond the way that an application or eligibility form is presented 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.
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.
Less than 40% of credit card companies use the "email" keyboard type, with just under 60% using the "telephone" or "number" keyboard type. A credit card company that isn't using keyboard types has a quick, easy to setup optimisation opportunity.
To score each credit card company I generated a ranking out of 63, which considered the number of steps and fields (related to the median score for each) and scored forms based on the percentage they were above or below this. I also scored credit card forms based on the removal of unnecessary obstacles, and the mobile friendliness of each form based on the usage of mobile keyboard attributes. Having visible contact details (for customer support) was also part of the scoring process, and using inline validation boosted scores further.
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.
"If you have forms, you need to analyze their performance. Formisimo does a very good job at providing in-depth information that really helps with optimization efforts. Useful data, simple interface. It is form analytics that actually works, especially when compared to some mouse tracking tools that have form analytics as one of the many features."ConversionXL Peep Laja