By Peter Ramsey
4 Jun 20
Freezing my card
Metro was the first bank to introduce the concept of ‘freezing’ your card back in 2014. Before this, if you lost your card you had a much simpler choice: cancel it now, or ransack your own home, admit defeat, and cancel it anyway.
Freezing your card essentially blocks it with software. It’s reversible, meaning you don’t have to wait a week for your new card to arrive—if you find it.
And for the 6% of brits who admit to having lost their card more than 4 times, this feature might get more usage than many of the apps on their phone.
So I wanted to see how easy it was to freeze my card with each bank.
Summary: Whilst the challenger banks have made this feature more accessible, they had a poor overall experience. Barclays was considerably better.
Work better with third parties.
More pro-active anti-fraud notifications.
Dynamically suggesting next steps.
Number of clicks to freeze my card
Firstly, I wanted to see how many clicks it’d take me to freeze my card—starting from the home screen.
Number of clicks to freeze my card (from homepage)
Number of clicks
The interesting takeaway here is actually not the number of clicks, but that it indicates how much the banks prioritise having regular access of this feature in their app.
Or rather: the greater the number of clicks, the more ‘buried’ in the menus it is.
Monzo, Revolut and Starling were the only banks to have the ‘freeze card’ functionality immediately visible from a main navigation item.
But does this translate into a better experience?
What are the differences?
If we can’t benchmark this feature by clicks, what other metrics can we use? The rest of this chapter explores that question.
1. Educating users when to freeze
What’s arguably more important than clicks, is how well the banks educate their users on how to use this functionality.
When should you freeze your card, and when should you cancel it?
What does freezing my card actually do?
Can I still use Apple Pay if I’ve frozen my card?
Will Netflix still be able to take money from my account?
So which of our banks actually took the time to educate their users?
Educated their users sufficiently (in my opinion):
Did not educate their users:
What we see is that it’s the exact inverse of the number of clicks. Clearly there are two drivers:
1. Make the functionality easily accessible. I.e put it on the home screen.
2. Be more educational. I.e add more content about this feature.
There simply isn’t the space to discuss this feature at length on the main screens. Largely, the legacy banks leaned towards the latter.
For what it’s worth, I think Barclays and Lloyds had the best execution of this (from an educational perspective).
2. Using Apple Pay while your card is frozen
When you freeze your card, it’s best practice for your bank to notify Apple. When a bank has done this, the following message appears:
But not all the banks do this. Instead, the majority will let you attempt to pay with Apple Pay, and it’ll be rejected at the merchant level instead. In these circumstances Apple doesn’t know that the card is frozen, so it’ll try to facilitate the payment.
So I froze my cards and then attempted to use Apple Pay.
Notified Apple that the card was suspended:
Suspended the card but didn’t notify Apple:
Apple Pay was still usable even when the card was frozen:
For clarity, Nationwide do say that Apple Pay will still work when your card is frozen. So it’s not a bug—but I am unsure why they’d leave this on intentionally.
The issue with not notifying Apple arises when someone freezes their card, finds it but forgets to unfreeze it. They then load up Apple Pay at a checkout a week later and there’s no indication that their card is about to be declined.
And if my bank can help me avoid the embarrassment of having my card declined, then that’s a win for me.
3. Potential fraud notifications
If there’s an attempt to make a payment on your frozen card, you’d want to know right away. This would probably mean someone has found it, and you need to cancel it immediately.
So I froze my cards and then attempted to make an online payment.
Did not notify me:
Barclays and Lloyds both sent a text, whereas Starling sent a push notification.
Either is fantastic though. If you were designing the perfect bank wouldn’t this be something high on your list? A proactive bank should tell you “hey, someone’s trying to use your frozen card, click here and we’ll cancel it for you“.
Now I know that these banks don’t notify me, if I ever had to freeze my card I’d have a horrible feeling that someone was constantly trying to use it and I had no idea.
4. Dynamically suggesting next steps
There’s a design technique called Progressive Disclosure, which could be summarised as “people find it easier to use products if they’re not overwhelmed by stuff, so you should allow users to discover things in a particular sequence”.
It means really understanding the journey a user goes on, and ensuring that you always help them take that next step—but not overwhelm them with information.
So let’s consider the sequence in which a user may go through when freezing their card.
Believe they’ve lost their card and decide to act.
2: Freeze card
The first action they think of doing, can be undone if they find it.
3A: Unfreeze card
Because they found it under the sofa.
3B: Cancel it and order new one
They’ve given up on finding it.
What’s important here is to not think of freezing your card as a single action, but as a step in a journey—or to complicate things; in many journeys.
The key to executing this well is not that there’s an option to cancel your card, it’s that the suggestion to cancel your card is dynamic.
Or rather: there needs to be a nudge that after you’ve frozen your card, if you cannot find it, your next step is to cancel it. And for that nudge to be effective, it has to appear to be dynamic based on your actions.
So I logged which banks offered dynamic suggestions in this way:
Dynamically suggested to cancel and order a new card:
No dynamic suggestion:
Most of the banks simply presented ‘cancel card’ as another option, alongside the ability to freeze your card. But this misses the point.
They’ve built two features in isolation of each other, assuming that users will understand the functionally well enough to leap between them. A better experience would guide the user from one, onto another, seamlessly.
This is kind of what Monzo and Revolut do. Once you’ve frozen your card the option to cancel and order a new one appears. Which is a subtle way of guiding the user onto the next step of their journey.
After analysing all the banks, it’s clear that this feature was designed as a function, not as an experience.
It was distilled down into its technical objective, with a result that lacks context and empathy.
Consider this, what will the emotional state of the user be when they’re trying to freeze their card? It will almost always be a moment of stress, panic and despair.
This low moment is called a ‘pit’, and the best products are designed to turn ‘pits‘ into ‘peaks‘. Here are just some of those:
😰 Worried that somebody might find your card and use it.
😌 Relief knowing your card is now frozen and nobody can use it.
🤳 Refreshing your bank statements to see if anyone has already used it.
🙅♂️ Reassurance that nobody has used your card in the last day.
🙎♂️ Frustrated that if you can’t find it you’ll need to wait days for a new one to be sent out.
😀 Delighted that you can have a new one within 48 hours in just one tap.
When you really think about it, building a product in this way is obvious. Yet when you read the case studies you’ll see that seldom do the banks even attempt to turn a pit into a peak.