#FPD: Charting New Horizons in Fintech UX Writing with Jennifer Rees of Yokoy
In this edition of #FintechProductDiaries, we chatted with Jennifer Rees, a Senior UX Writer at Yokoy. Jennifer began her career journey in Cape Town as a trade publication writer and editor at a small family publishing house, before creating her own boutique PR and communications agency.
In 2020, she relocated to Switzerland and entered the tech world as a junior copywriter at Smallpdf, a SaaS suite of PDF tools, where she naturally transitioned into the field of UX writing due to her passion for writing for the end user. After more than two years at Smallpdf, at the end of 2022, Jennifer made the leap to the fintech sector by joining Yokoy, a leader in automated and AI-driven spend management, as a Senior UX writer. Jennifer describes the move as a “leap” because she had no prior knowledge or experience in the industry and felt like an “imposter”. However, shortly after that, she realised that Yokoy didn’t hire her for her financial expertise but for her ability to write for the humans on the other side of their products.
Today, Jennifer navigates the complex world of fintech UX with her unique writing and storytelling style, aiming to bridge the gap between business objectives, development constraints, and user needs. As the sole UX writer at Yokoy, her role is far-reaching, dealing with everything from user interface text, translations and localisation, to setting down an English content style guide and ensuring compliance in a highly regulated sector.
What’s it like to build a fintech’s UX writing organisation from scratch, what are some of the biggest challenges UX professionals currently face, and why is empathy for the user critical for the future success of the fintech sector? Learn the answers in Jennifer’s complete story below.
Tell us about your career start and journey so far?
I think many writers would tell you their career started very early on with a simple love of words. Same for me. Whether it was my gran’s knack for storytelling and making up clever rhymes on the spot, my need to check out more library books than I could carry, or the magic I felt I could wield with an HB pencil and copier paper, words and stories have been imprinted on my DNA ever since I can remember.
After completing my MA in English Studies at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa (where my focus lay heavily in gender studies), a university professor I had approached to supervise my doctorate asked me how old I was and promptly told me I’d be better off going out into the ‘real world’ and doing a PhD later on in life instead.
Heartbroken, but incensed, I took his advice and applied for any job I could that had anything to do with writing. I didn’t care what it was, how little the salary was, or how long the hours would be, I just wanted to write.
And so, I did.
I started out at a small family publishing house in Cape Town as a trade publication writer and editor, overseeing titles about roofing and affordable housing. Later, I supported the business in releasing a new title, which was about timber construction and design, and was later promoted to managing editor. It was the time I spent with the folks in the timber sector that gave me a very different level of insight into how tradespeople engage with their material. The way the timber folks spoke about and advocated for timber as a material to build and design with was very unique compared to professionals in other trades. There was a passion and deep affection in the way they worked with timber that resonated with me and my material of choice — the written word.
As a building material with a challenging reputation in a complex socio-economic market for housing, many of the timber folks had neither the time, nor the money to fund big campaigns to promote their craft or material. But they had stories to tell and a little money to spare; I had the words and an empty bank account. And so, my boutique PR and communications agency was born, and for the next 5 years, I got to weave stories for a trade that barely had time to breathe.
In 2018, my husband called me from a business trip in Switzerland and told me about a work opportunity there. Mountains, chocolate, and snow? A-men! He came home from that trip to a house already adorned with a ‘For sale’ sign, a stack of empty cardboard boxes waiting to be filled, and a wife with a toddler glued to her hip and her hair in a bun that meant business.
Fast-forward to 2020, I began my search for work again; this time in Switzerland. I didn’t care what it was, how little the salary was, or how long the hours would be, I just wanted to write.
I started out as a junior copywriter at Smallpdf, a SaaS suite of PDF tools based in Zurich, where my manager, Tamara Johnson, was an incredible support in repositioning me as a UX writer. She felt the field of UX writing rumbling in the tech space and me, a writer that cares most about the reader (or the user in this case), and the match was made. (You need people like this around you to see beyond yourself.)
After more than two years at Smallpdf, I made the leap to Yokoy. It was a leap because I knew nothing about fintech. I was an imposter. Fortunately, I realized very quickly that Yokoy didn’t hire me for my financial expertise. They hired me to write for the humans on the other side of their products.
What’s it like to be a Senior UX Writer at Yokoy? What does a typical day of yours look like?
When you start out in a new role, it always helps to leave your expectations at the door and feel things out with as much objectivity as possible. Turns out I didn’t have to, because I got to step into a role within a well-defined UX design team, equipped with exceptional designers, UX researcher, and a team lead, Jolanta Marczewska, who leads fiercely from the bow.
Keep in mind that many UX writers are hired by companies that don’t know much about UX writing, or UX at all, for that matter. In many cases, UX writers have to spend a lot of their time and energy not doing their work but clambering first for the place to do their work. It’s exhausting, defeating stuff and can be a powerful deterrent for the most energetic, passionate, and talented of UX writers.
But not at Yokoy.
I’m the first and (for now) only UX writer here and, as simple as it may sound, I have the tools, resources, and freedom to occupy my role in the fullest sense and do what I do best — on my own terms. More than that, I have the respect of the folks around me to be able to make a difference and do more with what I bring to this table.
A day in the life of a UX writer at Yokoy is varied. I have several touch points within my team, where we share what we’re all busy with and make important connections with the people and work involved. I have monthly 1:1 catchups with each of our PMs so I can get a better sense of what they’re up to, what their challenges are, and to give us both the room to figure out how and what we can do better.
UX writing work takes place in Figma alongside our designers. Cheesy as it sounds, I think of UX writing and design as being a kind of dance couple, where the individuals aren’t mutually exclusive, they aren’t complete without the other, and more than that, they challenge and elevate one another to new levels. It’s this design tango, along with the music of UX research, that must happen before we can even consider releasing products that look good, work well, and keep the user front and centre.
Translation and localisation are a critical part of my work as well. Our app is localised from English into 7 other languages, namely Simplified Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish, and Spanish. App localisation is fundamental, not only to expanding business horizons and localities, but also to meeting many of our customers and users where they are and not expecting them always to meet us where we are. This is just one of the many ways we make Yokoy more accessible and easier to use for our growing user base.
Finally, a foundational aspect of all UX writing work anywhere is a good, solid base of documentation. When I joined Yokoy, I conducted a full product copy audit, which gave us a wealth of insights into areas of improvement around UX writing, from quick fixes to long-game initiatives. But it also gave us the information we needed to set down our English content style guide, which includes documentation on things like our ideal customer profiles (ICPs) and user personas, voice, tone, style, and diction, as well as our product glossary of terms, and our growing guide to inclusive writing. It can be a long, hard slog to get this up and running, but once it’s there, it helps us work and make decisions better, cleaner, faster, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time we’re confronted with a challenge or question.
What’s unique about UX in fintech?
When I started out at Yokoy, I was worried about not knowing enough about fintech to be able to contribute early on. But soon enough, I realised that this wasn’t why I was hired in the first place. Yes, a keen and quick grasp of the terminology and mechanics of the app were crucial, but other things more so.
These are things that can be applied to any UX writing role and they are empathy for the user, where they’re at and what they came to your app to do, and advocacy for them every step of the way, all while considering things like business initiatives, development constraints, and yes, even localisation.
It’s about bringing writing skills that can bend, flex, and do the work of helping the user get where they need to go with the right combination of economy, information, and empathy. When to use what in bigger or smaller doses? It almost always depends — and that’s one of the sources of magic for good UX writing.
But what’s unique about UX writing in fintech for me has been the insight into localisation on a very different level to just thinking about translation and language. We don’t just have to think about whether a string will translate well into German or break the design in Chinese; it’s about more than that.
When we think about finance and spend management, we’re thinking about very granular things like per diems and itemised expenses for business travel, and asking questions like...
- How can we effectively manage these in different currencies?
- What about changing time zones?
- What about taxability and tax rate variations in certain countries or cities?
- What if an expense falls on a weekend?
- What is a weekend, even? (Hint: It’s not the same for everyone)
Beyond this type of complexity, fintech is a highly regulated sector (for good reason) and it’s critical that we not only consider compliance in how our customers and users manage their spend with our app, but in how we operate as a business as well. This has brought next-level perspective for me as a UX writer on how we can support the user journey, not just by making our users feel taken care of, but by actually taking care of them in a very tangible, accountable way.
What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your UX career so far? And how did you tackle them?
I see many posts on LinkedIn about some of the difficulties that can come with being a UX writer. It’s a relatively new (or maybe just newly popularised or defined?) field that might come off either too ‘techy’ and therefore unrelatable in some way, or that has ‘writer’ in it, which sets us off on a slippery slope where anyone who can write can or should do the UX writing.
The biggest challenges I see out there are related to:
- Limited knowledge or understanding of what UX writing is (not least of all why it’s important)
- Apathy or reluctance from other business areas in roping UX writing in and making it part of the status quo in product development
The big topics, then, for UX writers are around advocacy and evangelism, both of which require a lot of self-reflexivity and enough emotional fuel to communicate about the work almost as much as we do the work. It’s about bouncing back from being left out of conversations and injecting ourselves back into them. It’s about people making big assumptions about what our job is without ever asking — until it’s too late and a product with little consideration for the user has been released out into the wild.
For me, most of my challenges are around process and best practice. Though we make fabulous spelling bees, UX writers are not paid to check spelling and fill text boxes. When we get to write words like they’re part of the design process (and they are), products end up looking and feeling better, tighter, and cleaner. They often end up more useful, too.
It’s really about being invited to tango in the first place.
What advice would you give to anyone considering pursuing a career in UX writing?
Don’t wait. We’re at this incredible place right now for SaaS products and the humans that use them. A part of making the experience at that interface the best it can be is also up to the humans. With UX writing, you get to play in the realms of psychology, product development, engineering, and user research and testing, and bring all of that to the front of a great user experience — with words.
For folks both curious about and who are starting out in this field, I’d suggest you...
- Get practice (play with prototypes and experiment with UX writing challenges)
- Find out what skills you’re missing and take steps to fill the gaps
- Connect and talk to people doing the work you want to do
- Get a mentor, coach, or sparring partner
- Don’t undervalue or undersell yourself
- Get comfortable with justifying your work
- Keep showing up
What’s next for you and your team at Yokoy?
It was surprising for me to learn just how much time and money are sunk into things like managing and processing receipts, reconciling expenses and transactions, reimbursing employee expenses, and processing invoices. Imagine spending up to $25* to process an invoice for $20? Soul crushing.
At Yokoy, we help our users fully automate their spend management, so they can cut down on manual processing. This means their finance people can do more and better things with their time and the business saves money.
Though I can’t say much, I’m looking forward to seeing just how much we can shake up spend management globally and free businesses from sticky, time-intensive accounting practices. I’d love to see the stories that come from that; the innovation that can come with freed up time and money. Just imagine...
I’m here for that.
And maybe a PhD as well.
* Adobe. How much does it cost to process an invoice? Accessed: 12 May 2023.
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