Icons can either help or confuse financial customers—and, by extension, firms’ profits—based on how they are used on a website. In an industry that offers complex products and services, icons can set key ideas apart. When used alongside meaningful text, they support users by attracting attention to key features.
When used without text, however, they risk confusing customers; in numerous user tests, we’ve seen people struggle with unlabeled icons. By considering this distinction, firms can successfully enhance sites with icons without inadvertently causing problems.
Help by Attracting Attention
Icons can help prospects or clients by highlighting key ideas: designers can draw customers’ eyes to particular sections by illustrating them with icons. Customers benefit from clear descriptions of complex financial products, such as Haven Life’s summary of its life insurance policies. Icons on the Haven Life homepage illustrate the summary, drawing attention to a list that may otherwise have little to set it apart visually.
Haven Life Public Site Homepage Section
Firms that offer a wide range of services, such as Nationwide, can support prospects by drawing attention to particularly useful options. Nationwide recently added icons to its homepage, highlighting services such as bill payment and account management.
Nationwide Public Site Homepage Section
Help by Marking Differences
Icons can enhance a menu or list by marking items with distinct qualities. Liberty Mutual, for example, uses icons to mark private site pages that open in a new window, while Fidelity marks pages that require login with a lock icon. These indicators help customers scan each menu quickly and understand where links will lead, reducing surprise.
Liberty Mutual and Fidelity Private Site Flyout Menus
In contrast, a list that lacks icons may frustrate customers. USAA does not distinguish links that require login, requiring prospects to load pages that they may not be able to access. This can particularly alienate prospects using mobile devices, who may wish to avoid wasting time or cellular data as they browse.
On the Retirement Calculators & Planners page, prospects have no way to know that the IRA Required Minimum Distribution Calculator requires a login: they must click the link and wait for the page to load before discovering that they cannot access it. Lock icons like those in Fidelity’s navigation menu could avoid this extra step and reduce frustration.
USAA Public Site Retirement Calculators Page
Confuse by Replacing Text
While icons effectively enhance menus and descriptions, they can confuse customers when used in place of text. ValoraLife, for example, effectively highlights application steps with icons on its Learn page. While they are useful as supplemental illustrations, the icons alone would be nearly meaningless. A speedometer, for example, makes abstract sense for Coverage to Fit Your Budget, but the icon could not communicate that concept alone.
ValoraLife Public Site Learn Page