There are few institutions in Alberta as steadfast and longstanding as ATB Financial. At the heart of the 76-year-old bank is a strong spirit of innovation and technical leadership, so it comes as no surprise that ATB Financial is changing the way small businesses are funded.
Recognizing that not all small businesses fit the mold for traditional financing options like loans and lines of credit, ATB envisioned an alternative means for businesses to secure funding. In 2013, ATB Financial launched AlbertaBoostr.ca, a crowd funding website designed to showcase and help raise funds for start-ups and small businesses. Instead of paying back loans with interest and fees, participating businesses offer their “Boostrs” something of value – a product, service or experience – in exchange for a financial contribution.
When Sean Ballard’s team at ATB wanted to make sure the site was user friendly and easily navigable, they engaged the help of UX Guys, a Calgary-based user experience firm that specializes in developing websites and mobile apps with the user in mind.
“ATB is a company that listens to its customers,” said Ballard, Director of Innovation at ATB Financial. “When we roll out new products, we want to get input and comments from the people who will actually be using them. For the AlbertaBoostr project, we needed to work with a supplier who agreed with and understood that philosophy. UX Guys was really a good fit for us.”
Ballard said working with UX Guys in a collaborative way helped keep the project on track and focused on being a successful initiative.
“The team at ATB creates transformational products on a small scale, and as these products grow, we can become smarter about where we invest on a larger scale,” Ballard said. “That’s why working with UX Guys worked so well for us. They were involved throughout the process. They helped us identify issues and find solutions.”
Ballard said the UX Guys process relied heavily on studying how users navigated through the AlbertaBoostr prototype site, and helped collect feedback and implement solutions to issues the users brought to their attention.
“They looked at places on the prototype where users got stuck,” he said. “Or at places on the prototype the users weren’t sure where to go. They took the feedback and really made the interface intuitive. Those kinds of issues disappeared pretty quickly.”
Ross Anderson, UX Guys’ Director of User Experience, said that Ballard and his team were the ideal clients – they were on board for working collaboratively and really understood the importance of user experience.
“Our job was to research how the users used the site,” he said. “We then pivoted from that research and generated ideas and concepts that addressed any issues the users were having. At every step of the way we had an open dialogue with ATB, and that’s the way to get the best product.”
Anderson notes that throughout the process, UX Guys was researching how different types of users were interacting with the site.
“UX Guys set up and moderated those discussions and solicited feedback from the users,” he said. “Based on those discussions, they set up new prototypes and researched those as well. They helped us really digest what the users were saying.”
As the process of building the architecture of the AlbertaBoostr user experienced moved forward, Ballard said the input from UX Guys became more and more valuable.
“The very notion of doing a prototype to examine the customer journeys was theirs,” he said. “Just approaching everything from the viewpoint of the user was a fantastic contribution. We had basic ideas in mind, but they really helped break then down and by watching users navigate the site, we were able to see what was working and what wasn’t.
“What made the difference was that the project was constantly changing. If a donor, for example, got stuck on a particular part of the prototype, we could address that right away without having to re-code like you would have to with a fully coded website. That way of working made it a lot more cost effective to test and change things as we were moving forward.”
Anderson adds that once the research and architecture phase was complete, UX Guys was able to advise the coders and site designers to make sure none of the user insights were compromised.
“We helped them choose a vendor that could execute the concepts and ideas we had come up with,” he said. “So much of the vision for the project would have been lost if the wrong designers were coding the site.”
Through the whole process right up until the site launched, Anderson said UX Guys was available to collaborate with ATB’s innovation team.
“We became trusted advisors, “ he said. “It was exciting to be involved in such an innovative project and working with such an innovative team.”
Ballard agrees, noting UX Guys’ contribution to AlbertaBoostr was invaluable.
“We’ve gotten fantastic feedback, both from businesses and donors who use the site,” he said. “And because their experience has been so positive, it’s had a really positive effect on ATB’s reputation with small businesses, and their opinion of ATB has become even more positive. We’ve gotten a lot of referral business out of it”
Ballard adds that the project was so successful that AlbertaBoostr won the prestigious People’s Choice award at the 2014 Corporate Entrepreneur awards, beating numerous other entries from larger, more internationally established companies.
“Those who use it, like it, and the metrics are great,” he said. “And so much of that has to do with UX Guys’ process and methods.”
AlbertaBoostr success stories include Edmonton-based bespoke footwear company, Poppy Barley, which successfully raised $28,500 – exceeding their original goal of $10,000.
The Carbon Farmer, a Calgary-based tree farm business far surpassed their $2,800 goal, raising a total of $6,212 to help re-tree Calgary parks after the 2013 floods.