M1 Finance Internship
Jun 2021 - Aug 2021
M1 Finance is an investment platform that provides investing, borrowing, and spending services During my internship at M1 Finance, we worked towards solving user pain points around dividends on the M1 platform. In investing, a dividend is the money paid regularly, usually quarterly, by a company to its shareholders. My team and I focused on improving 3 areas where dividend information was lacking: explaining negative dividends, showing the status of earned dividends, and displaying historical dividends.
Aimed for M1 Income and Passive Income Investors
The target audience of this project are users who have an interest in income investing and passive income investing. Dividends are the foundation of these two types of investing and these users need as much information on them as possible. They could care less about surface level information, they want details! Prior to the research we conducted, there was only one piece of data available to us: 321,000 out of 360,000 M1 users receive dividends. (88.9%). That’s a lot of people, so this project is kind of important.
M1 users who have interest in income investing or passive income investing, want to be informed where their dividends have come from (historically) in relationship to their portfolio. That brings up the question: What information does M1 currently provide the user, and why is that not enough? So let's talk about the current state of dividends at M1 Finance.
The current M1 product does not put much emphasis on dividends. Negative dividends are shown in the activity page with no explanation, which leaves users confused because they do not know what they are. On the portfolio page, the TOTAL amount of earned dividends are displayed, with neither an indication of what company they came from, nor how how much came from that company.On the activity page, users can see their dividends when they are paid.
Desired Business Outcome
We Need to Decrease the Support Tickets and Drive New User Growth
By solving problems surrounding dividends, M1 was hoping to experience a decrease in support tickets and drive new user growth. The dividend project was prioritized in the first place because there was increase in support tickets regarding dividends, ranging from confusion about the difference between earned and paid dividends, to requesting more information about their personal dividends.
Analyzing the Use of the New Features and Support Ticket Trends
Considering users are very concerned with their dividends, success was most likely measured by the use of the three new features, support ticket trends, and drop-off rates.
Designing With Constraints...Was Difficult
Our team’s internship only lasted 3 months, so the project had to be completed by the beginning of August. We didn’t manage time as well as we should have, and this resulted in us being pressed for time when we were working on the final stage of the project, displaying historical dividends. We also had to pivot a couple of times during the design process and handoff because we were met with some backend limitations.
An example of this is the static time frame on the earned dividend page. Normally users would be able to change the timeframe on any given page, but to save computational power and time, we designed it to be static. Now the time range chosen on the previous page dictates what earned dividend data is shown.
Gathering Data and Identifying User Painpoints
Considering my team and I were unfamiliar with the problems that users were facing, we had to do some digging. The product manager and I talked to a number of different people. We started with user research and talking to different departments throughout the company such as the content strategy manager, client success, and marketing. Throughout these meetings, we started to see similarities and common problems that users were facing. Common problems were: confusion about earned vs. paid dividends, confusion about the status of dividends, the timeframe from earned to paid, and users wanted to see how their dividends were performing over time.
Narrowing Down Ideas to Implementable Solutions
To kickoff our project, my team participated in a design workshop where we brainstormed and discussed the current problems surrounding dividends on a broad scale, and worked our way toward potential, actionable solutions. At the end of the workshop, we concluded that we would focus on three areas: explaining negative dividends, showing the status of earned dividends, and displaying historical dividends.
The New and Improved M1 Finance Dividend Experience
Negative Dividend Tooltips
Users were confused about negative dividends because they were seeing deductions from their account without any explanation. To fix that, we implemented tool tips that explain the different types of negative dividends, which occur because of foreign taxes and ADR fees.
Earned Dividend Breakdown
Before dividends are paid, they are earned. Before, users were only able to see wich company issued a particular dividend when it was PAID, not earned. Only the total amount of earned dividends were shown without any indication of what company issued them. To solve this problem, we added a page to show users where their earned dividends came from. To help users understand the difference between earned and paid dividends, we added tooltips that define the terms.
Historical Dividend Tracker
Experienced investors wanted the ability to track their dividends to see how they have performed and changed over time. Our historical dividend tracker gives the user the ability to view their dividend data by month, quarter, and year. Users can view the data of an entire pie (which can be seen as user made folder) or of a single security.
May Our Original Designs Rest in Peace
Our team had some killer ideas, but it wasn't possible to move forward with most of them. For example, we loved the idea of a stepper that showed the status of a dividend, whether it was earned, pending, or paid. Because of some backend limitations, this was not possible.
Users Were Disappointed with a Few Features
Unfortunately, M1 Finance didn't share any proprietary metrics with me, so the only way I was able to measure success was user reactions via social media, mainly Reddit. M1 followers on Reddit were disappointed because they did not receive a fully decked out dividend tracker. They found the features lacking and underwhelming. I know the M1 Reddit following doesn't represent the M1 community as a whole, but their feedback is still important.
Learnings & Obstacles
Working at M1 Paid Dividends...Literally
Becoming Partners with My Product Manager
Scare collaboration with my Product Manager made our team less efficient than it should have been. Throughout the internship, there were several times that we were not on the same page and did not meet regurlary. This complicated communication with other departments and ultimately the development of our project. In the future, I plan on doing eveything in my power to make sure my Product Manager and I are always on the same page.
The Value of Being Open with Your Team
Communicating with my team was the most challenging obstacle I faced during the internship. There were times when I would update a mobile design with the iOS engineer, and forget to mention the changes to the Android and Web engineers. This led to confusion and inconsistent design. Eventually, I adapted and made sure to communicate all design updates during stand-ups.
Placing All Dividend Information in One Place
If I had more time at M1 Finance, I would have liked to take the dividend project a step further. While our team made significant improvements to the M1 dividend experience, it has the potential to be even better. Right now, dividend information is located in several places. If both Earned and Paid divdend information was in one place, users would definitely have a better experience. The Stepper iteration was start. Even if it is not possible today, there is still hope for the future.
Thank You for Viewing.