Thoughts

A UX Designer's Favorite Mobile Banking App

PNC’s Virtual Wallet lets me manage my money in a way that makes sense to me.

by Diana Funk

Before I started as a UX Designer at Promptworks, I had been a waitress for a very long time.

Since I’m used to handling physical cash, the concept of banking has always been daunting. In my server days, my savings account was a series of wine bottles shoved full of $5 bills that I would smash open on my sidewalk (to the horror of my neighbors) when faced with financial emergencies. My “checking account” was a shoebox overflowing with $1s. Ah, the server life.

I was fine with this system of “financial upkeep”--until I landed a 9-5 job as a designer and was forced into the “direct deposit” lifestyle.

As you’ve probably assumed by my artist-adjacent profession, I’m not the organized type. I was afraid that being unable to see the actual cash I had on hand would get me into trouble. Enter my 10-year love affair with Virtual Wallet on PNC's mobile application.

I’m of the opinion that the best user interfaces mimic our mental models of how things operate in the real world. The original Mac “desktop” perfectly echoed a tangible desk. When we see that image now, it feels trite--a relic of the past. We tend to think of the tech world as being one that’s so different from our 3-dimensional reality, but the truth is, the UIs that stick around pay homage to our experience in the physical world.

Think of a calendar, the dialer on your phone, the way we put files in folders––all of these concepts and visual designs existed before modern technology. Part of the success (and why I’m an avid user) of Virtual Wallet is that it does exactly that. While I tend to stock-pile far less wine bottle piggy banks these days, my basic money management style never had to change.

Here are some of my favorite Virtual Wallet features:

Visualized Savings/Checking

With PNC’s money bar, you can easily see balances and transfer funds between your savings and checking accounts. Moving the money from the metaphorical shoebox to the wine bottle was never so easy. Admittedly, there’s a level of gravitas that came with moving physical cash that I do miss, but the visualization of Virtual Wallet still allows me to see what cash is where and to move it with ease.

Danger Days

Addressing my fears that I would never know when I was running out of virtual cash, the Danger Days feature tracks my average spending and can tell me when I’m going to be at risk of over-drawing my account or running out of funds. It knows what I typically have coming in and going out and can warn me when things look a little off.

Virtual Wallet calls these “Danger Days,” and the red-highlighted dates on the calendar do more to kick me into gear than the slow reveal of the cardboard bottom of my shoebox ever could.

Punch-the-Pig

Punch-the-Pig mimics real-life piggy-bank saving by allowing you to move $1 from checking to savings each time you punch (click) on a virtual piggy bank. The questionably-named feature mimics real-life, as it allows you to be intentional with each click and count along as you add funds.

(This feature reminds me of why I went for wine bottles and not piggy banks in the first place. Pigs are my favorite animal and I’ve never been able to smash them open. Punching the pig, however, I guess I’m on board with?)

Budgets & Goals

Some of you out there might be operating from a mindset where simple banking isn’t as complex to you. You may benefit from one of the more evolved features that I barely skim the surface of.

Similar to Mint or YNAB, the Spending and Budgets feature tracks your spending through categories that help you create a realistic budget, based on what you actually spend. The Savings Engine allows you to set savings goals for different big purchases. Along with that, it allows you to assign rules that transfer cash from checking to savings at whichever time interval you choose.

While I’m sure the app has even more capabilities, these are the tools I use the most. I’ve chosen to use them for almost a decade because they allow me to operate in a way that makes sense to me - which makes for a great user experience. Virtual Wallet has never told me to give up any of my own systems or understandings; it simply provides me all the tools to be successful with what I was already doing in the real world.

Through their mobile app, I’ve only gotten the sense that PNC is trying to empower me--not overpower me. Which, as someone who started this journey skeptical of online banking, has been a HUGE relief to me.

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