Helping Low-Income People of Color Achieve Financial Sustainability


My team collaborated with Citi Ventures to address the issue of financial inequality through product and service design within a span of 15 weeks

My Role

• Conducted secondary research, user interviews, and expert interviews
• Turned the insights from research into viable design ideas
• Crafted an overall brand system, style guides, and component libraries for the team
• Created high-fidelity user interfaces and made all design decisions for all screens


Citi Ventures


Sep - Dec 2021


4 Designers (

Original Challenge Prompt

How might we (Citi) develop an innovative fintech product that increases racial equity, expands financial inclusion, and empowers people of color?


We developed our product through the following four phases

We moved back and forth among the four phases as the design process was not linear. We needed to go back and redefine our project scope while learning more about our given problem statement.

Problem Space

Low-income people of color often rely on costly non-traditional financial services that don't help their credit

We visited the Bronx area to understand our target users better. While exploring, we noticed many check cashing services, which are less common in central Manhattan. These services enable people to cash their paychecks without a bank account but charge high fees.

$189 billion

Financially underserved customers in the U.S. spent $189 billion annually in fees and interest


Households of color are two times more likely to have used check-cashing services and money order as compared to white households

Financial Health Network, 2018

Why does it matter?

Many of our user's long-term financial goals are to own a house, get a better car, or even start a business. All of these goals require a good credit score.

Own a House

Get a Better Car

Start a Business

All of these goals require
'Good credit scores'

Revised Challenge Prompt

How might we help low-income people of color build or improve their credit scores so that they can plan and make progress towards their long-term financial goals?

User Research

We conducted 10 in-depth stakeholder interviews

We conducted 6 semi-structured interviews with target users and 4 expert interviews (including community experts and banking representatives) to understand how low-income individuals manage their finances, the challenges they encounter, and how we can offer assistance.

To further understand the users’ financial situation and needs, we tried an activity using Likert Scale during the interview.

After the user interviews, we wrote down transcripts immediately and then moved to the empathy map to highlight the key insights.

Interview Highlights

Why don't low-income people of color use traditional banking services?

Lack of trust in banks

“I only put 50% of my money into the bank, not 100%. What if they just take it?”

Wayne Simpson 34, Staten Island, New York

Negative financial habit

“I don’t use my credit card now because it has already maxed out.”

Shavonna Conyers 33, Bronx, NY

Language barriers

“I am not fluent in English so I don't understand the information that is given to me in English.”

Lois Pine 30, Brooklyn, New York

Other reasons

• Had negative banking experience in their home country

• Unable to meet minimum balance requirements

Ecosystem map

Ecosystem map to determine complicated relationships between influential actors and users

With help from the financial experts we interviewed, we were able to better understand the complicated relationships between various actors who possess social, financial, informational influences on the user.

Click on the image to enlarge

Brainstorming and Prioritizing Ideas


Based on four design principles, we brainstormed potential features to address the challenges users face: how to sign up with minimum identification requirements, how to create a personalized plan, how to engage in the online community forum, and how we can provide financial resources.

Co-design workshops

We hosted a co-design workshop with four target users remotely to verify whether potential features are useful and viable for them. This allowed us to discover potential opportunities and identify their priorities.

Information Architecture

Refined information architecture with final features based on user feedback

After deciding on the final features based on the feedback from co-design workshops, we built the information architecture, considering how users would use our products.

Click on the image to enlarge

Style Guides & Component Library

Promised design guidelines to ensure product consistency and enhance team work efficiency

I solely created an overall brand system, style guides, and component libraries for the team. This successfully resulted in consistent product design and improved work efficiency within the design team, all within a limited timeline of 3 weeks for the final pitch to Citi Ventures.

The image above represents a small part of the design elements I've created. There are many more components and patterns, including accordion, card UI, toasts, and data visualizations.

Final Deliverables

Transitioned from IA to prototypes

Due to time constraints, the team quickly shifted from information architecture to mid-fidelity prototypes. We efficiently developed mid to high-fidelity prototypes by leveraging pre-defined style guides and component libraries that I provided. I designed all screens and made every design decision for the screens presented below.


Support multiple languages & minimum identification requirements

When signing up, users gain access to the online community forum and resources without the need to provide personal or banking information.


Assistive tools: translation, financial dictionary, bookmark

Users can access assistive tools to translate, search a dictionary, and bookmark words or sentences for further learning by simply tapping with a finger.

User-Centeredness & Cultural Competence

Ask personalized finance questions anonymously

Users can feel much safer asking their finance-related questions because it's anonymous, and Finana provides tips to ensure they receive high-quality answers.

User-Centeredness & Cultural Competence

Receive professional advice from trusted financial advisors & community experts

Receive professional advice from trusted financial advisors and community experts, as well as assistance from other users through shared experiences.


Learn financial jargon in a more digestible way

Users can easily figure out difficult financial language through easy examples and related lessons.

Trust & Empowerment

Create a personalized financial plan unique to each user’s situation

Personal or banking information is only required for users who wish to utilize a personalized financial planning service to achieve their long-term financial goals. However, users will be informed about our transparent data collection policy.

Financial Sustainability

Achieve long-term financial success

Users can easily track their current financial situation and achieve long-term financial success by breaking down goals into actionable steps.

Financial Sustainability

Recommend the best financial advisor and product for you

Finana provides users with recommendations based on their financial situation and credit score to assist them in achieving their goals.


Defining project scope and initial steps

It took us a significant amount of time to define our project scope. We had to take into account various factors that users face, such as unpredictable income and living situations. However, laying out the entire user journey, from the user's current financial standing to where they aim to be in the next 5-10 years, proved beneficial for the team. It allowed us to identify the initial steps we could take to assist them on their journey.

A new try, co-design workshop

We hosted co-design workshops, and initially, I doubted how beneficial they would be as it was my first time. However, I soon realized my misconception. I gained insight into users' priorities regarding ideas generated during brainstorming sessions in the workshops and had the opportunity to receive honest and detailed user opinions. It proved to be an invaluable tool for validating assumption-based solutions for users.

Next step

Come up with a new product name

Our product name, Finana, was inspired by one of our users in co-design workshops. However, after the final presentation, we received feedback saying that it might not be appropriate to use a banana to symbolize a product directed towards the African American community. Therefore, even though it's unintentional, it's important not to cause any confusion or misunderstanding.

Special thanks to:

Qualitas of Life
Non-profit organization that provides financial education

Raven L.Veal
Strategic Design Lead at Citi Ventures

Jennifer Shuang
Head of UX Research at Citi Ventures

Melvin Washington II
Racial Equity, Data, and Technology at Citi Ventures

Misty Bell Stiers
VP, Creative Director - Inclusion at Citigroup

Kaitlyn He
UX Designer

Lucy Zhang
First Vice President at Royal Business Bank

©2024 Ted TAEhyun Lee. All rights reserved.