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Adding additional authentication methods to Plaid Link

Plaid empowers fintech startups to access their customer’s financial data. At Plaid I was responsible for Plaid’s flagship product - Link, a component that allows companies like Venmo, Robinhood, Coinbase to connect to their customer’s bank accounts in minutes instead of days. They integrate the Plaid link to their signup flows and let Plaid handle relationships with banks and financial institutions. I worked on many initiatives aimed to improve user experience of the product and add new features requested by end users and Plaid’s clients.

Plaid supports instant connection for thousands of institutions. However, in some cases it does not work. For example, if an API connection to some institution were to be down, the institution might be very small and not supported by Plaid yet, the user might not feel comfortable sharing their bank credentials with a 3rd party app.

The goal of the project was to make it possible to connect any institution even if the Plaid link is not an option at the moment and to make the user experience as smooth as possible. It would also drastically improve the number of supported institutions.


- Plaid only supports 3,800 out of 11,500 institutions in the US. Some users can’t connect their bank accounts. If API connection to sertain institution is down, there’s no workaround to connect the institution

- Some users don’t want to share their bank credentials with 3rd party apps


- We need to add additional methods of account authentication and guide users to the best method based on the financial institution they select.

- Users will have an option to connect bank manually

I worked on this project with the PM and two developers. We kicked off the project with a few whiteboard sessions where we brainstormed some cases when instant linking can not work and what are some possible solutions for these cases. We defined four ways to connect the user’s bank account to an app from a fully automatic instant authentification with a bank login and a password to slower manual authentication with an account and a routing number.

After we figured out how it will work on the backend side I started working on a user journey map to get a good overview of the project and to make sure we did not miss anything.

The whole project took about 3 months to complete and every second week I conducted in-person and online user studies to make sure we are solving the right problems and solutions make sense for our users. Very first user interview indicated that roughly 20% of users are not willing to share their bank credentials even if they are motivated to link their account to an app. This group of users would prefer using traditional method with micro deposits even if it takes 2 days instead of 5 seconds with Instant linking. It become clear that fully manual flow should be easily accessible at all times. 

Also, we made a list of issues that we need to address to make the experience smooth for the user. As part of the research, we explored how other fintech products approach these problems.As part or the research we explored how other fin tech products approach these problems.

How do clients set user-expectations?

How do clients provide help on how to find A + R?

How do clients expose legal language and requirements?

How do clients provide help on finding microdeposits?

How do clients ask to confirm microdeposits?

When the low fidelity journey map was finished and all the corrections were made I started building out the wireframe by adding actual screens of the app to the map and creating new screens that did not exist in the product before. It helped us to understand which flows can reuse existing screens and what we need to design from scratch.

To encourage our partners from other departments share feedback more constantly I printed out the latest version of the wireframes and posted it on the wall close to my desk. It attracted my partners attention and helped to keep the conversation open until we finished the project and stopped pinning updates to the wall.

While working on the new flows it was really challenging to collect feedback from all stakeholders. The project was strategically important for the whole company and multiple departments were involved. It took 10 iterations of feedback to polish new flows.

Below you can see one of the iterations of fully manual bank linking. At this stage, we were exploring how we set the right expectation by showing a list of actions a user has to take to manually connect their bank account.

Every iteration was informed by the feedback from the stakeholders and by user research that I conducted every week to de-risk our designs and to make sure we’re moving in the right direction.

As plaid has really tight and holistic design system, we moved from grayish wireframes to actual hi-fi designs pretty early on. I had to design various elements like checks indicating where to find account and routing numbers. But most screens were built out of existing components.

Final designs

Option 1

Instant Authentication

Auth will still authenticate accounts in seconds using credential-based login for 3,800+ financial institutions in the U.S.—covering the majority of deposit accounts. This experience gets users up and running as quickly as possible so they can get the most out of using your app or digital service.

Option 2

Instant Match

For institutions that support Plaid’s Transactions product, we’re able to instantly authenticate accounts using account and routing numbers. Users provide their account information and Plaid will then match it with what’s on file at the financial institution.

Option 3

Automated Micro-Deposits

When accounts can’t be instantly authenticated, we offer a faster and easier micro-deposits experience. With Automated Micro-Deposits, users won’t have to wait 2-3 business days to come back to your app to manually confirm the deposited amounts. Plaid will automatically verify the deposit amounts for users and notify you when it’s done. To use Automated Micro-Deposits, users will need to provide their banking credentials along with their account and routing numbers.

Option 4

Same Day Micro-Deposits

For the smallest banks or credit unions, we offer manual micro-deposits in which users will confirm the deposited amounts. Instead of waiting 2-3 business days for the deposits to post, Plaid offers Same Day ACH so micro-deposits appear in an account within 1 business day.

Project results

The project was successfully launched in May of 2019 and made a significant impact on Plaid’s business. The number of supported institutions increased from 3,800 to 11,500. End-users got better experience while connecting their bank accounts to apps like Venmo and Robinhood. And they gat a choice between Instant authentification and manual microdeposits flow. Plaid’s clients were happy with the release too:

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