My almost-great FNB credit card onboarding experience

Financial product onboarding experiences are omnichannel. By nature. Despite this, banks often focus on single-channel experiences, where customers hypothetically discover, explore and sign up for a new account, card or service on a single digital device. Designing an onboarding experience with a single channel in mind, is a valiant thing to do, but by not considering the other channels that your customers will naturally switch to as they progress, (other people, call centre agents, paper forms, apps and web portals), and what might go wrong in those channels, you are designing a broken experience. By nature.

The story

(Note: South Africa has five “big” banks: Nedbank and FNB are two of those.)

I have two home loans with FNB, but I have always had my transactional accounts with Nedbank. Years ago, I thought of consolidating things and visited my nearest FNB branch to find out about switching to FNB. The first (and only) thing the consultant asked me was my monthly income, and then pointed at an account bundle that was more expensive than my Nedbank accounts. When I asked why I couldn’t just go for a cheaper option, he basically replied that that’s the Rule: you earn more, therefore you pay more. And so, I left.

Fast forward to a few months ago.

I received an email from a person called Elizabeth at FNB, saying that the bank would give me a rate cut of 0.15% on one of my home loans if I opened a transactional account with them. My first (very South African) reaction was suspicion: was this email legitimate, and if so, what was the catch? I replied to Elizabeth, and asked her to set up a meeting for me with a person at a branch close by. She quickly organised this, and I met with a friendly consultant who explained the deal in greater detail. I had done a bit of research and a few calculations before meeting up with him, and I had all the documents I needed to apply ready.

He quickly completed the various forms right there and then and made copies of my documents, promising that both my credit and cheque cards would be delivered to me, and that FNB would handle all my debit order switching.

A few days later, my credit card was delivered. The delivery man scanned my ID and asked me to sign a panel. I was quite excited, tore open the envelope, unstuck the card, and saw a little panel on the letter, with an instruction to “PLACE FORM ON FLAT SURFACE AND PEEL FILM OFF”, to reveal my PIN. I did exactly this, and was left with a strip of plastic full of little black blotches.

No PIN anywhere!

Luckily, I found a number to call in the same letter. A recorded voice promised that I was a valued client and then asked for my ID number (easy), my card number (also easy) and my PIN (impossible). So this was a bit of a Catch 22 situation. I needed my PIN to ask for it. I called again, this time following the option to just speak to the first available consultant. After being transferred to various departments, a friendly voice told me the good news: I could change my PIN online!

Very happy, I logged in to my internet banking profile, only to find that this option was either hidden very well, or not yet available to me.

The next day, which turned out to be the hottest day in Cape Town this summer, I walked to my nearest FNB branch over lunch time. I told my story to a friendly man called Morné, showing him the Credit Card letter, as well as the plastic strip with the black blotches. A slightly pained expression flashed over his face. Then he smiled, did a bit of fiddling with the opaque plastic strip, sticking it and unsticking it. Finally, he held it up to the light and pointed at it triumphantly.

“There’s your PIN!” he cried, smiling. I squinted at it, and could just about make out the four digits. I smiled, and walked back to the office, with my brand new FNB credit card — which I could now, finally, start using.

Things that stood out to me about this experience

We need to talk to someone we trust. I’m a user experience designer and I love using digital channels for most things. And yet, to apply for this account, I really wanted to sit across a human being, inside an FNB branch, to feel that this was safe and legitimate. I would not have applied with if it hadn’t been for this initial meeting with a friendly, professional human being who could answer my questions.

Call centres should never have dead ends. Calling a call centre is the desperate act. Nobody wants to listen to that recorded voice (“Press 1 for queries, 2 for…”), be subjected to a quagmire of people who you have to repeat your sad story to, and listen to tinny music and adverts for other products if you’re already unhappy with your current product. Adding a dead end, where you are asked for a piece of information that you might not have, and not giving you an alternative option, is bad UX design.

Call centre staff need to be kept in the loop. When the call centre agent told me that I could change my PIN online, I was overjoyed. I could do this from the comfort of my office and would not need to visit a branch. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible, and still isn’t (I checked). Something must have changed and he hadn’t been informed, or he had been misinformed. Call centre staff should be expertly trained and kept up to date.

The details are important. I am sure that the plastic strip concealing the card’s default PIN was designed to be tamper-proof and secure. Unfortunately, it seems that more thought was given to the bad guys (the tamperers and crooks), and less thought to the good guys — the overexcited client wanting to open their present. It’s a seemingly small detail, but it needs to be well-designed. The strip needs to be both tamper-proof and easy to remove. The reaction of the man who helped me at the branch, gave away that I was not the first person to struggle with this.

It’s easy to go from feeling very excited, to very disappointed. I was excited to receive my new credit card. Unsticking it from its letter, felt like opening a Christmas present. When I couldn’t see my PIN, all my excitement dissipated. The call centre experience that followed and the even more disappointing online experience, drove me into a state of cynical negativity. You know, that feeling of: “All the banks are the same, after all.” The whole unwrapping experience felt like receiving a brand new phone, only to discover you have to charge the battery for a day before you can switch it on.


To design a great onboarding experience, take all channels into account. The most beautifully designed and executed digital onboarding experience will result in frustrated customers and even in lost conversions if the channels supporting that experience, both digital and non-digital, both people and paper, aren’t considered.

I’m an experience designer in the lovely Cape Town, South Africa. I believe that well-designed customer experiences make the world a better place.

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