Creating Financial Tools for the Underbanked Population with Paso Sabio

Visit the interactive prototype here: Details omitted due to NDA.

For the past few months, I’ve been working as a design and strategy consultant with Paso Sabio. My mission was to help answer the following question:

How might Paso Sabio help the underbanked population manage their money better?

The process entailed research with users to understand current approaches to managing money, persona and journey mapping, and eventually proposing and developing UI/UX frameworks for a user base with low digital and financial literacy.

The problem

Most of the underbanked population across the US does not have knowledge or access to tools that can help them overcome financial barriers. Furthermore, without the ability to effectively budget and control expenses, long term planning is severely hindered and debt can spiral out of control. 

Based on preliminary research, I helped the team break down 3 main goals:

  • Guide users towards better money managing habits, while educating and providing transparency on spending habits
  • Help a user effectively save money for specific goals and emergencies
  • Create paths for users to manage and eventually become debt-free

Although there are fintech tools that help users keep track of portions of their financial health (e.g. spending), our constraint was that the target demographic primarily used cash for most transactions. Manually adding transactions was not a friction-free process in potential competitors we analyzed.

Insight backed features

The generative and evaluative research we conducted ranged from the broad routines of a potential user down to process mapping how people engage with their phones and financial institutions. These are some of the bigger takeaways that informed the design and feature-set.


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From onboarding to updating the budget each month, we included an insight bubble at the top of relevant screens that explained in detail the intention behind completing each step in a process. We also included splash pages and periodic lessons that made a user’s financial data more insightful and transparent.

With too many options, users can also get overwhelmed, so the onboarding funnel allows users to unlock new features as they get more comfortable with certain features.

Orienting the Budget around a Calendar

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Without formal budgeting tools, people often use a calendar to keep track of how much spending money they have at any time. We noticed the heads of the family often planned their expenses around what date their income would be deposited each month, and calculating how much money they have left to spend.

We wanted to follow this same habitual model, while reducing friction and room for error. The financial tools are thus oriented around a calendar with recurring expenses and income. Information hierarchy reflects this with a simple answer to “how much can I spend right now?” at the top of the screen. This amount is also derived from the anticipated future payments a user inputs for each month. 

Visualizing financial data

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One challenge in particular concerned how to most effectively display data and insights. To figure this out, we tested countless versions of the same information visualized in different ways to understand what formats were understood best. 

We eventually broke down spending information into “category-based” and “needs vs. wants” as shown below.

Education tools left and right

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The team is also in the process of developing a Paso Sabio school for future release that includes lessons on financial health and budget management best practices. Building a design system would allow future UI designers to easily incorporate new features.

Information at a Glance

The best example of this is in the “Savings Goals”, where simple piggy bank icons help a user understand their progress. We also included a green light, yellow light, red light motif that indicates where a user has to focus their attention.


We noticed people often got discouraged with the numbers after tabulating it. Instead, we contextualized insights using awards, community support, and tools that aimed at helping a user take action steps instead of demonstrating what they might be doing wrong.

Trust through Community and Context

Finally, we noticed that our audience often values one-stop-shops for the services they engage with. A classic example: a notary often provides legal advice, can help with taxes, and shows up at your daughter’s wedding. This closeness and trust transcends the relationship one has with a tool used for specific purposes. We asked ourselves how we could create a more well-rounded experience for users.

Community + Super app-strategy →  To build a similar trust, we incorporated lessons, personal goals, and other ancillary features to contextualize savings within the goal of creating a balanced life. Paso Sabio isn’t just your financial tool. It’s a community of people that are all trying to achieve a more balanced life.

For fun

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We tested, refined, and refined some more. Some features had literally hundreds of iterations where we sought to create a polished and friction-free experience for users

Testing Our target demographic tends to have lower digital literacy

→  I designed and tested with older demographics and created UI interactions that often bucked convention. 

Unbundling features with chatbots

Sometimes users only want to interact with a single feature. By leveraging SMS and Facebook Messenger chatbots, we could create features like a “quick budget update” tool and other notifications that don’t require opening the app

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