Addepar | Writing for a finance mobile app

Screenshot of Addepar Mobile showing portfolio performance
Screenshot of Addepar Mobile showing asset performance
Screenshot of Addepar Mobile showing holdings performance

Three screenshots of Addepar Mobile v1.0. From left to right: the Performance screen, the Asset Allocation screen, and the Holdings screen.

Addepar Mobile, an iOS app released in July 2019, is the first mobile app by Addepar. It's the backbone of the company's goal to bring the financial planning spreadsheets and paper reports of yore into the 21st century.

But it's also a product that has the least internal knowledge around it. No content strategists had experience writing for a mobile app, and Addepar didn't have an iOS engineer on hand. Instead, Addepar relied on a third party to develop the app, meaning any feature requests or copy changes would have to go through an intermediary. Furthermore, a strict budget meant we were on a strict timeline as well.

These challenges and more made Addepar Mobile an especially interesting project. As the product content strategist on Addepar Mobile, I observed Design-led user research sessions, wrote both in-app and external help documentation, and provided microcopy, including helper text, error messages, and button copy.

Key Considerations

Answering complex questions for both financial veterans and newbies. Addepar Mobile is only the second product from Addepar that is meant to be used by both financial advisors and their client investors, rather than being used only by financial advisors. Because of this, the copy on the app cannot be too complex—not all investors are financially savvy, and many rely on their advisors.

Designing "at a glance" usage for the busy investor. Previous user research for other products indicated that client investors met very little with their financial advisors, due to a lack of time. One client estimated that only 15 out of 200 investors would even bother to download the mobile app. This indicated that the mobile app would have to prove its worth by answering common questions quickly: "What am I worth?" "How has my net worth changed over time?" and "How is my wealth allocated?"

Assisting meaningful conversations with financial advisors. A common request from the customer base was not to create a mobile app on par with the Web app, but rather to create a mobile app that helped their clients understand the magnitude of their advisors' decisions. The mobile app therefore should help inform and guide the investor with insights that go beyond those of a banking app.

Alpha Approach

Alpha Approach

Screenshot of an older version of Addepar Mobile
Screenshot of an older version of Addepar Mobile

Two screenshots of the first version of Addepar Mobile, which aligned to a more copy-heavy philosophy.

Initially, Addepar Mobile was meant to be an "advisor in your pocket"—an app that used natural language to explain financial concepts.

To write that language, the product manager for Addepar Mobile and I scheduled 1:1s with investors who were likely to use Addepar Mobile, based on the recommendation of their financial advisors. We discovered other financial apps investors often used, and tested a range of different copy to see what resonated. We also used this time to confirm or reshape our assumptions and key considerations.

I organized the results in Google Sheets, and shared it with the rest of the team.

A table with beta tester responses.

A sample of questions asked and their responses from Alpha and Beta testers clients, captured in Google Sheets.

However, after creating an Alpha version of Addepar Mobile with this copy, we realized natural copy was actually more difficult to understand for investors. Benchmarks such as the S&P 500 Composite were easy to understand for advisors, but difficult to understand for investors. And busy investors preferred simple +x% or -y% metrics over long sentences explaining those metrics. We went back to the drawing board.

Screenshot of the Asset allocation screen for Addepar Mobile

Left: A screenshot of the Asset Allocation screen for v1.0 of Addepar.
Right: Tapping the question mark next to Asset Allocation opens the help screen.

Beta Approach

After a change in product manager and additional testing and iteration that I was not involved with, the Addepar Mobile product team reached its final design, and I began writing for v0.9, our Beta version, to be released 3 months before general availability.

Though the app no longer used as much natural language, I knew certain concepts would still require additional explanation based on Design-led user testing. I set out to demystify unclear terms, such as "TWR" (Time-Weighted Return),  and defined them not only with helper text, but with dedicated in-app help.

I recommended that this in-app help be accessible by tapping a (?) icon next to the title of any card in the app. This would bring up tooltip-style contextual documentation for each card.

Screenshot and table of copy critique

An example slide from the Google Slides document I created to provide copy recommendations.

As the timetable was too tight for comprehensive user testing, I made a simple spreadsheet with all terms in the mobile app and shopped it around product marketing, marking the terms that might need additional explanation.

Then, I defined the terms, developed additional microcopy recommendations, and put the copy in a Google Slides document. I presented the slides to technical account managers, engineers, and the product manager to ascertain accuracy before sending to the third-party developer for implementation.

Screenshot of the Cash Equivalents holdings screen on Addepar Mobile.

Left: A screenshot of the Investments screen for v1.0 of Addepar.
Right: Tapping the question mark next to All Investments opens the help screen.

After I finished implementing my copy for v0.9, we launched Addepar Mobile for Beta clients in April 2019. The Addepar Mobile product team met with Beta clients on a biweekly basis and facilitated product recommendations.

Due to Beta feedback that the app could use better priming, I wrote additional copy in that would appear upon opening the app, setting expectations for the user experience. I worked with the product manager to consider the most important takeaways from Addepar Mobile, and partnered with a designer to create relevant illustrations for each copy block.

I continued to iterate on this copy with Beta clients, and met with three Client Support leads to continue iterating on the in-app help content experience.

After three months of Beta testing (and several more for Alpha), Addepar Mobile launched in July 2019.

A screenshot of the onboarding screen for Addepar Mobile,
A screenshot of the onboarding screen for Addepar Mobile,
A screenshot of the onboarding screen for Addepar Mobile,

Three screenshots of the pre-sign in experience in Addepar Mobile. This experience was requested by Beta clients after they felt the purpose of the app was not clearly defined up front.


It being the first mobile product I'd ever worked on, Addepar Mobile taught me more than most projects. But these three points come to mind:

Be deliberate when writing for mobile—especially when you're selling a financial services app. Our Alpha version of Addepar Mobile, with friendly, natural language, was well-liked by the C-suite and internal users, but it was quickly shut down by external Alpha testers, who found the text unwieldy. There's a reason Betterment and Robinhood show you your money right as you sign in—if you're opening a financial services application, you probably want to see a number, not a sentence.

Users shouldn't have to refer to a manual. Addepar's Web app is a complex product, with features that demand training courses to understand. Addepar Mobile is the opposite: an easy-to-parse app for both financial advisors and investors, the latter of which have varying financial knowledge. While financial advisors requested more specific terms for certain financial applications, I learned that investors found more value when the terms were broad ones, with in-app help documentation that defined them when necessary. 

Partner early and often with Client Support Services. Addepar's product content strategists are also responsible for help site documentation. However, we sometimes have a bad habit of not reviewing help documentation with the Client Support Services organization. With the additional wrinkle of documentation visible to both investors and advisors, I wanted to make sure Client Services saw my in-app mobile documentation as fast as possible, as Client Services is on the front lines when it comes to external users. This sped up my content iteration, and provided new ideas for additional documentation.

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