Forward Financing Merchant Portal

Intro: Forward Financing is a company based in Boston that specializes in high risk, small business advances.

Task: To create a merchant facing portal for Forward Financing that allows merchants access to their basic account information as well as make special requests while maintaining a relationship to the account representatives.


View the Desktop Prototype or Mobile Prototype

Scope: 3 weeks within a team of 3 UX designers

Skills and Tools used: Competitive Analysis, User Research, User Interviews, Affinity Mapping, Card Sorting, Personas, MVP Diagram, Service Diagram, User flow, Prototyping, User testing, Teamwork.

The Research: We started off by meeting with the Forward Financing team to get a clear idea of what they needed. Their account representatives were spending too much time answering basic questions from merchants (their customers) such as their balance information, how many more payments they had to make, and requests for statements. From our interviews, we saw a couple points:

  1. Allowing the Merchant to be self-reliant for some basic things would allow reps to spend more time building relationships with their accounts.

  2. It is important to make phone contact with a customer to build a relationship

  3. Certain requests are signs that the merchant may be taking their business elsewhere

We interviewed business and personal loan-takers to understand their needs regarding loan information. Here are some key findings from our User Interviews:

  1. Users want to be able to service the account themselves

  2. They want easy access to a person when something goes wrong

  3. They want to be notified when something goes wrong with their account

  4. Sometimes they are unsure of the terminology used

User Problem: As a busy store owner, I need a way to quickly get some information about my account because I need to get on with my day.

Account Rep Problem: As an account Rep, I need to spend more time growing my accounts rather than handling basic information requests.

Personas: Our primary persona is Betty Borrower, the merchant and loan-taker. She will be the main user of this portal. Rhonda Rep is our secondary persona, the Account Rep. Because the Account Reps have such an important and integrated role with the merchants, we had to build this product with them in mind. 


Our Solution: A customer facing portal that gives Merchants access to basic account information, statements, and to keep them connected with Account Reps.

Prioritizing Features: We had a lot of features in mind when we started out. Those included features that were required (such as viewing the Account Balance and Statements) to features that were just nice to have (such as a live chat feature or FAQ). To help us prioritize what features would add the most value, we created the MVP Diagram.

And after speaking with Users and the Account Representatives, we decided on what features made it into the product (highlighted in green).

And here are the features that did not make the cut:

  1. Live Chat: this feature would imply instant response, something that would put too much strain on the Reps

  2. The On-boarding tour: This might be unnecessary

  3. Renew Advance Calculator: This would detract from building a personal relationship with the merchants.

Userflow: After deciding on the features, we created a userflow where the merchant would be able to access all pages from a Main Dashboard. This would ensure the merchant to find what they are looking for with less clicks and easy navigation.

Prototyping and User Testing

We received many useful feedback during our user testing sessions. Here are two key insights that we have discovered:

Requests Page: When asked to perform the task “Change your Bank Account Information”, all users would get stuck, and click on all available options until they’ve landed on the Requests page. It was not intuitive that changing the bank account information had to be requested, so we decided to remove the overall page and integrate the request links into the Home page.

Requests features integrated into the Home Page

Requests features integrated into the Home Page

Contact Account Rep Icon: Shown below, this problem only showed up in the Mobile Web screens. The Account Rep information is turned into a tab that is summoned when you tap the icon in the upper right. Many testers thought this was a live chat or microphone feature, so we changed it to a conventional phone icon to signify that you can call your account rep at any time.

Contact Account Rep Icon 

Contact Account Rep Icon 

Final Digital Prototype: When it came to the final digital prototype, I took the lead to mock up the Desktop prototype. I changed the bell icon for notifications into the written word “Notifications” since there was more space on Desktop to do so. This would also eliminate any possible confusion. I had originally chose the dark purple as the color for the navigation bar because it appeared in Forward Financing’s current website. It seemed too heavy, dark, and distracting. I switched that over to a lighter shade of green, which proved to be more successful and less distracting.

Viewing the Statements page

Viewing the Statements page

View the Desktop Prototype or Mobile Prototype

Conclusion: I learned that understanding both the Merchant and Account Rep sides is crucial in order to have a valuable product. Throughout the process we had to keep a balance between what the user needs (upfront and clear information) and what the business needs (to create more merchant relationships and revenue). I also learned that what I may personally deem as an good idea (the contact account rep icon) may not be so good after all if no one knows what it’s for.

We presented our findings to the Forward Financing team and delivered the prototypes. They were very happy with the work that we have done, especially how we understood their business model of maintaining Merchant to Account Rep relationships and incorporated that relationship into our prototypes. 

Update: (Work in Progress) Remade visuals of the Home page to have a more visually appealing and engaging look. Links have been moved to the left hand side. "Request Payoff Letter" and "Update Bank Account" has been moved to the side since it is not the main focus. Question mark bubbles have been turned into outlines to give a lighter appearance.