Humanizing The Central Banking Site: Bank Negara Malaysia

Jun 14, 2016 | UX Testing, Financial Services

With the rise of scams and frauds in the country, it is of the utmost importance that the public is able to access the latest information about these issues easily. As a reputable financial authority, the central bank of Malaysia (BNM:Bank Negara Malaysia) has been providing the essential tools needed to protect oneself from scams and to improve financial literacy.

Recently, the BNM website went through a transformation in terms of design. In order to identify if the re-vamp was beneficial to all end users; especially for the layman user, the old and new sites were compared to see which one was better in terms of usefulness and findability of information provided by BNM. We ran a user testing session with 12 users with 6 users using the old and new sites respectively.

Bank Negara Malaysia Portal

The new BNM site design with a much cleaner interface (image above). We were unsure why there was a need to have a ‘Style Switcher’; an impressive gimmick that serves no useful purpose. Also, there is a banner telling visitors that this is a new responsive site, yet clicking on the ‘Start Now’ button just basically directs you back to the very same homepage you started out from basically directs you back to the very same homepage you started out from.

“The information is very helpful, but the way it is presented is not.”

However, the data showed that users struggled with the same types of issues in both the new and old site concluding that the user friendliness of the site was not significantly altered. As a result of the test, all users agreed that the Bank Negara provided useful information but the information architecture required much amendment, as one user voiced out “the information is very helpful, but the way it is presented is not”.

In this study, we asked users to look for several types of information such as currency exchange rate, fraud tips and blacklisted companies. Undeniably, BNM is doing a good job at providing the right information to protect or educate citizens about financial related issues. However for the users, not being able to find the info needed is as good as not having the information in the first place.

Users also found that some content on the new website were not shown correctly which frustrated them in navigating the site.

Aside from that, one of the things that shocked us most was that all the users were unable to clearly state what the site was about. Some even confessed to not knowing what they can do at the site. Few thought the site was like that of a commercial bank where they could withdraw money from it if they had an account.

Users were tasked to find a company that had been blacklisted by BNM. Fortunately, only 2 users were unable to find such information even after searching the site tirelessly and eventually succumbed to frustration before giving up. Although most users managed to eventually complete the tasks, frustration and difficulties were no stranger to them. Below we will discuss more on what frustrated them when using the sites.

Too Many Choices Overwhelm The User

Imagine an average user, wanting to find out what a financial authority like Bank Negara has to say about a torn bank note. He is first greeted by a battery of links to choose from on an extremely clustered homepage.

Not sure where to start, he goes to the most obvious choice on the main menu: Consumer Information. Because this is the only thing that makes sense. (‘Consumer Information’ has been replaced with a less commonly recognized term ‘Financial Consumer’ in the new site, which most users did not understand).

Instead of finding an answer quickly, he is directed to another page with a long list of links to choose from. Clicking the first likely link, he gets directed to yet another long list of links to PDF files. By now, our user is frustrated. There is a long pause before he decides to click the first link and wait for the file to load.

List of links

Malaysian Currency page (image above): The old site (left) and the new site (right).

Drawing from results of a famous marketing experiment; when people were given too many jam flavour options to choose from, they ended up leaving without making a purchase. Most people are not able to make a decision fast enough, which is why having too many choices at once is never good.

The problem with having a plethora of links is that it only serves to overwhelm the user. Not being sure which link leads to the right answer can be frustrating, especially if the pages don’t load quickly enough. Every wrongly selected page may be corrected with the press of the back button, but a user’s short attention span may not be very forgiving.

Bank Negara must have noticed that its site was getting outdated and decided to give it a revamp with a much cleaner interface design. However, not much has been done to reduce the number of links that users have to comb through in order to get exactly what they want. Users of the new site are still directed to the older fashioned sites like that of the Financial Fraud site, which still features a long list of links.

To make matters worse, the first thing users see are links to news about scams and frauds while the important links on how to prevent the users from falling for scams are located at the bottom of the page (as seen in image below). It should be noted that although the links are also provided on the top left hand corner and middle right corner of the page, it is not prominent enough to catch the user’s eye.

Bank Negara Malaysia Website

The right links are everywhere, but nowhere to be found easily by users.

Remember, users don’t read, they scan.

Aside from that, a user also thought that this was the same site as the old homepage as they look very similar. He was trying to search for more information using the search bar on this ‘microsite’, but failed to find any useful information.

People Don’t Understand The Terminology Used

The information that Bank Negara site provides about money and the Malaysian economy is valuable for every Malaysian. Indeed, many users will agree on this. There is information on the site that expert users can use to make decisions and there is also information for the most novice of financial consumers.

Bank Negara has also outlined effective measures to identify counterfeit banknotes on its site. The only setback remains that you will need to know exactly what to look for and big words like “fraudulently tempered banknotes” should give you a clear picture of where to start.

Circulation Banknotes

The unfortunate reality is that not everyone understands that the term “currency” applies to the banknotes that we stuff into our wallets every day. Thus, choosing to open the ‘guideline on the quality standards for the Malaysian currency’ file will not seem like an obvious choice.

At the new site, most users thought they could find currency exchange rates under ‘Currency’ but failed. Other words like ‘Circulation Currency’ also did not produce any relevant results. Further, most of the users were not aware that a torn note is also known as “mutilated currency”, or that bank notes with scribblings on them are known as currency that has been “defaced”.

A user should not have to feel like they need an Economics text book to navigate through the site. Especially since the Bank Negara site exists for the purpose of being a credible source of information for the general public. It cannot achieve this if it insists on throwing jargon at the end user, many of whom are Malaysians who do not have the most fundamental Economics knowledge.

What Bank Negara needs to do is to find a proper balance between the information it provides for both the shrewd business analysts and the general public. Being a financial authority, the site simply cannot help but feature some jargon. One way to go around this would be to clearly define what each term means with the use of hover over tool tips, which can reduce the technicality surrounding them. If done right, Bank Negara will be fulfilling its mission to improve the financial literacy and safety of the general public.

Search Bar Is Used More Than Navigating The Site Itself

The test proved that the most used feature of the site was its search bar. Considering how all the users resorted to search for their keywords more than once gave loud hints about the ease of navigation through the site. It was evident that the ease of navigation was the one thing that users bemoaned about in unison. The search bar seemed to be the saviour, making the menu buttons completely redundant.

Arguably, this could be considered a normal user behaviour; where more people were using the internal search bar out of preference. Still, it does not explain why users resort to the search bar on the BNM sites only after struggling to navigate through the different menu buttons to find what they need. It was evident that the navigation menu was not helpful in providing clues on where to look for the information needed.

Those who discovered the search bar to accomplish a task became heavily reliant on it and many users decided to just complete the remaining tasks by feeding in keywords from the instructions of the task (given by us during the test).

In reality, the general user does not have a guided set of test instruction to provide them with suitable keywords. Even if users can rely solely on an effective search bar, users need to know what keywords to use in order to obtain the specific information they want.

Finding Information Is A Treasure Hunt

One too many central banking websites have the habit of burying crucial information in a multitude of words. Reading about financial matters is not the most fun of things to do for many people. Hence, finding the answers to settle any arising doubt about financial fraud or Malaysian currency should be made quick and easy.

A sizeable portion of information is found on PDF files. PDF documents may be a neat way to pack all the information for the user to consume at his own peril. Truth be told, no one has the time to sit and read through a lengthy PDF document. The information about what to do with a torn bank note from your local grocer lies in one of the forty pages of a PDF document. Does it still matter?

Not many have the luxury of unlimited data to waste on downloading a file just to find out if that torn bank note can still be used. Users have stated that if given the option they would like to be able to read off the page and not download a PDF file.

If perhaps, the user is not deterred by a 40 page long document or the effort of waiting for the PDF to finish downloading the next step would be to find the answer amidst all the jargon and text.

Fortunately, the PDF document for blacklisted companies has a much smaller size (information squeezed into a 68.7kb file), and thus was able to load quickly. Still, users had to download and view it in a separate window which is not optimized for online reading. Although users usually search for specific company names on the list, it is good to allow users to sort the listing with options like ‘type’ and ‘date’, so that they can easily be aware of potential scams and avoid them.

Put simply, PDFs are best fit for printing; not presentation of all data and information on a website. Here’s a good article that outlines why users dislike PDFs and why sites should not pack information into PDFs.


In the eyes of an average Joe, navigating a central banking site is a technical and challenging task to be avoided at all costs. Thus, it is up to Bank Negara to curate content that caters to all levels of expertise. This study proved that there was no significant difference in the usability issues faced by the users across both versions of the site.

As we only covered a few specific sections in this round of study, a more thorough study should be carried out in the future to uncover more usability findings. As such, a card sorting exercise would be helpful to identify the right information architecture not only for public consumers but also for other interested parties. Hopefully, the findings from this testing session can provide valuable insight on how to come up with a better experience to help citizens get the right information, timely and effectively.

Note:  Changes to the website may have occurred since UX Testing was done.

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