Chapter 3   •   5 minute read

Built for Mars

Highlighting the difference between good and great UX.

Freezing my card

If you thought that freezing your card was a simple one-tap feature, think again. In this chapter I analyse the experience of freezing my card with each bank.

Photograph by Built for Mars

Metro was the first bank to introduce the concept of ‘freezing’ your card back in 2014. Before this, if you lost your card you had a much simpler choice: cancel it now, or ransack your own home, admit defeat, and cancel it anyway.

Freezing your card essentially blocks it with software. It’s reversible, meaning you don’t have to wait a week for your new card to arrive—if you find it.

And for the 6% of brits who admit to having lost their card more than 4 times, this feature might get more usage than many of the apps on their phone.

So I wanted to see how easy it was to freeze my card with each bank.

Summary:

Whilst the challenger banks have made this feature more accessible, they had a poor overall experience. Barclays was considerably better.

What the banks need to do differently:

👩‍🏫 Better education.

🤝 Work better with third parties.

🏂 More pro-active anti-fraud notifications.

🚦 Dynamically suggesting next steps.

Case studies

This chapter only has 10 case studies, because neither Co-op nor Santander allowed me to freeze my card. Each study shows:

🤯 The full flow of freezing your card with each bank.

👀 Highlights notable UX decisions.

🧠 The subtle psychology used by each bank.

👇 Click any logo to open that case study in a new tab. 👇

⚡️

Each case study is about a 2/3 minute read.

Number of clicks to freeze my card

Firstly, I wanted to see how many clicks it’d take me to freeze my card—starting from the home screen.

Number of clicks to freeze my card (from homepage)

1

2

2

2

3

3

4

4

4

5

N/A

N/A

Number of clicks

builtformars.co.uk

The interesting takeaway here is actually not the number of clicks, but that it indicates how much the banks prioritise having regular access of this feature in their app.

Or rather: the greater the number of clicks, the more ‘buried’ in the menus it is.

Monzo, Revolut and Starling were the only banks to have the ‘freeze card’ functionality immediately visible from a main navigation item.

The challenger banks:

Visible from the home screen

Click on ‘Cards’ tab in main nav.

Click on ‘Card’ tab in main nav.

But does this translate into a better experience?

What are the differences?

If we can’t benchmark this feature by clicks, what other metrics can we use? The rest of this chapter explores that question.

1. Educating users when to freeze

What’s arguably more important than clicks, is how well the banks educate their users on how to use this functionality.

When should you freeze your card, and when should you cancel it?

What does freezing my card actually do?

Can I still use Apple Pay if I’ve frozen my card?

Will Netflix still be able to take money from my account?

So which of our banks actually took the time to educate their users?

Educated their users sufficiently (in my opinion):

Did not educate their users:

builtformars.co.uk

Educate their users sufficiently:

Did not educate their users:

builtformars.co.uk

What we see is that it’s the exact inverse of the number of clicks. Clearly there are two drivers:

1.  Make the functionality easily accessible. I.e put it on the home screen.

2.  Be more educational. I.e add more content about this feature.

There simply isn’t the space to discuss this feature at length on the main screens. Largely, the legacy banks leaned towards the latter.

The educational benefit of a dedicated screen:

For what it’s worth, I think Barclays (case study) and Lloyds (case study) had the best execution of this (from an educational perspective).

👨‍🏫 Level up your users

UX tip

Great functionality is useless if people don't know how to use it properly. Ensure that your users actually understand why a feature exists and when/how to use it.

2. Using Apple Pay while your card is frozen

When you freeze your card, it’s best practice for your bank to notify Apple. When a bank has done this, the following message appears:

What Apple pay shows when the card is frozen:

But not all the banks do this. Instead, the majority will let you attempt to pay with Apple Pay, and it’ll be rejected at the merchant level instead. In these circumstances Apple doesn’t know that the card is frozen, so it’ll try to facilitate the payment. 

So I froze my cards and then attempted to use Apple Pay.

Notified Apple that the card was suspended:

Suspended the card but didn’t notify Apple:

Apple Pay was still usable even when the card was frozen:

builtformars.co.uk

Notified Apple that the card was suspended:

Suspended the card but didn’t notify Apple:

Apple Pay was still usable even when the card was frozen:

builtformars.co.uk

For clarity, Nationwide do say that Apple Pay will still work when your card is frozen. So it’s not a bug—but I am unsure why they’d leave this on intentionally.

The issue with not notifying Apple arises when someone freezes their card, finds it but forgets to unfreeze it. They then load up Apple Pay at a checkout a week later and there’s no indication that their card is about to be declined.

And if my bank can help me avoid the embarrassment of having my card declined, then that’s a win for me.

🤝 Work with third parties better

UX tip

Consider how you could collaborate with third parties more. Could you help solve more of your user's problems if you either sent/received data to a third party via an API?

3. Potential fraud notifications

If there’s an attempt to make a payment on your frozen card, you’d want to know right away. This would probably mean someone has found it, and you need to cancel it immediately.

So I froze my cards and then attempted to make an online payment.

Notified me:

Did not notify me:

builtformars.co.uk

Notified me:

Did not notify me:

builtformars.co.uk

Barclays and Lloyds both sent a text, whereas Starling sent a push notification. 

Either is fantastic though. If you were designing the perfect bank wouldn’t this be something high on your list? A proactive bank should tell you “hey, someone’s trying to use your frozen card, click here and we’ll cancel it for you“.

Now I know that these banks don’t notify me, if I ever had to freeze my card I’d have a horrible feeling that someone was constantly trying to use it and I had no idea.

🏂 Be pro-active

UX tip

Be pro-active about telling your user bad news. They will appreciate the quick response and it'll help you build a relationship with your users.

4. Dynamically suggesting next steps

There’s a design technique called Progressive Disclosure, which could be summarised as “people find it easier to use products if they’re not overwhelmed by stuff, so you should allow users to discover things in a particular sequence”.

It means really understanding the journey a user goes on, and ensuring that you always help them take that next step—but not overwhelm them with information.

So let’s consider the sequence in which a user may go through when freezing their card.

Sequence of actions when freezing a card

😨

1: Panic

Believe they’ve lost their card and decide to act.

❄️

2: Freeze card

The first action they think of doing, can be undone if they find it.

🔥

3A: Unfreeze card

Because they found it under the sofa.

🌱

3B: Cancel it and order new one

They’ve given up on finding it.

builtformars.co.uk

What’s important here is to not think of freezing your card as a single action, but as a step in a journey—or to complicate things; in many journeys.

The key to executing this well is not that there’s an option to cancel your card, it’s that the suggestion to cancel your card is dynamic.

Or rather: there needs to be a nudge that after you’ve frozen your card, if you cannot find it, your next step is to cancel it. And for that nudge to be effective, it has to appear to be dynamic based on your actions.

So I logged which banks offered dynamic suggestions in this way:

Dynamically suggested to cancel and order a new card:

No dynamic suggestion:

builtformars.co.uk

Dynamically suggested to cancel and order a new card:

No dynamic suggestion:

builtformars.co.uk

Most of the banks simply presented ‘cancel card’ as another option, alongside the ability to freeze your card. But this misses the point.

They’ve built two features in isolation of each other, assuming that users will understand the functionally well enough to leap between them. A better experience would guide the user from one, onto another, seamlessly. 

This is kind of what Monzo and Revolut do. Once you’ve frozen your card the option to cancel and order a new one appears. Which is a subtle way of guiding the user onto the next step of their journey.

🚦 Progressive disclosure

UX tip

Your aim is to always guide the user onto the next step, without overwhelming them with information. This helps retain attention and focus.

Conclusion

After analysing all the banks, it’s clear that this feature was designed as a function, not as an experience.

It was distilled down into its technical objective, with a result that lacks context and empathy.

Consider this, what will the emotional state of the user be when they’re trying to freeze their card? It will almost always be a moment of stress, panic and despair.

This low moment is called a ‘pit’, and the best products are designed to turn ‘pits‘ into ‘peaks‘. Here are just some of those:

Pit

Peak

😰 Worried that somebody might find your card and use it.

😌 Relief knowing your card is now frozen and nobody can use it.

🤳 Refreshing your bank statements to see if anyone has already used it.

🙅‍♂️ Reassurance that nobody has used your card in the last day.

🙎‍♂️ Frustrated that if you can’t find it you’ll need to wait days for a new one to be sent out.

😀 Delighted that you can have a new one within 48 hours in just one tap.

builtformars.co.uk

When you really think about it, building a product in this way is obvious. Yet when you read the case studies you’ll see that seldom do the banks even attempt to turn a pit into a peak.

There’s more FinTech analysis like this coming soon.

Leave your email here and you’ll get it straight to your inbox. 👀

There are more chapters to dive into:

ONE

It took 18x longer to open an account with HSBC that it did with Monzo.

8 min read  ·  May 21

TWO

Payment notifications were at least 2x faster with the challenger banks, and in some cases 100x faster.

10 min read  ·  May 28

⚡️ Includes 12 case studies

THREE

There were the only 3 banks to send notifications when someone attempted to use a frozen card.

6 min read  ·  Jun 4

⚡️ Includes 10 case studies

FOUR

It cost at least £20 to send £1 (GBP) to a US bank (USD) with three banks.

8 min read  ·  Jun 11

⚡️ Includes 12 case studies

FIVE

It took nearly 4x longer to authorise an Open Banking payment with Lloyds than it did with Starling.

8 min read  ·  Jun 18

⚡️ Includes 10 case studies

SIX

Revolut only ever replied to 20% of my live chat support messages, and don’t have a phone line.

9 min read  ·  Jul 2

Footnotes

Here are somethings I felt important to explain, but are non-essential

Santander and Co-op

Santander says that you can freeze your card on their website, but it actually only works if you have a Santander Mastercard. I—as most people in the UK will—have a Visa, and you cannot freeze your card.

Co-op don’t seem to offer it. I certainly can’t find it anywhere, and there’s nothing about it online. 

Turning a pit into a peak, another analogy

Review websites, like TripAdvisor, have taught the hospitality industry that pits matter. A pit can lead to a scathing review, without any fault of their own. So let me use an example you may be familiar with:

Imagine arriving at your hotel, on time, and being told that your room isn’t ready yet—it’ll be another hour.

For you, this may be a ‘pit’. You’re tired, you’ve been travelling for 10 hours and you’ve not eaten anything all day. If the hotel did nothing, this could easily turn into a terrible review. You’d probably find yourself getting more and more frustrated by the minute.

Now imagine the same situation, but when you arrive they explain that your room isn’t ready, but they’ll take your bags now and give you a free meal in the restaurant while you wait. They then come over 10 minutes later and surprise you with a free local beer and a colouring book for the kids.

What would have been a ‘pit’, is now a ‘peak’. It hopefully wouldn’t be the highlight of your holiday, but you’d remember their kindness and would look back far more positively on your experience.

If more people reviewed their banking apps online, you’d probably find that they invested more time into these moments. But without that feedback loop and risk of something going viral, the incentive isn’t as strong.

References

Great book which discusses turning a ‘pit’ into a ‘peak’ — Amazon Link

6% of brits have lost their card 4 times or more— Reference