What factors must banks think about when creating mobile apps?

Modern mobile banking – what banks need to do to stand out

We live in a mobile world. For many people, devices such as desktop and even laptop computers now seem cumbersome and old-fashioned. Why would a person want to haul around a heavy brick of a device – or worse, be tethered to a desk – when they can do everything they need from a smartphone that fits in their pocket?

According to figures from GlobalWebIndex, 15 per cent of internet-connected adults only used a mobile to get online at the end of last year. This is particularly the case in fast-growing developing markets, where mobile has been fundamental to the growth of internet access, but even in developed countries, more people are turning to mobile as their platform of choice.

For banks, this means that having a strong mobile presence isn’t an optional extra – it needs to be fundamental to their digital strategy. According to recent research by software firm Malauzai, a quarter of consumers are now ‘mobile-only’ when it comes to their banking – with this rising to 44 percent among ‘best-in-class’ financial institutions – showing how taking the time to develop a strong mobile solution can bring significant rewards.

Therefore, consumer expectations of mobile banking apps are higher than ever. Yet it’s still easy to get this wrong and deliver a substandard service if close attention isn’t paid. So what must banks do to ensure they’re able to deliver the best experience?

A single banking solution

Functionality will naturally be a primary consideration, especially in an age where growing numbers of people rely on mobile as their primary or only means of interacting with their bank. This means mobile apps today need to do far more than just offer the ability to check balances, view recent statements or move money between accounts.

Improved transactional features need to play a role in this. For example, the UK’s PayM service enables banks to integrate real-time person-to-person mobile payments directly into their app, allowing users to send payments using only the recipient’s phone number. Meanwhile, several banks support direct integration with the likes of Android Pay, so users can easily add card details to the mobile payment service direct from their banking app.

Functionality such as mobile check deposit is also highly-valued by consumers, while apps can also take advantage of the newest high-resolution cameras to confirm users’ identities when they’re applying for new products and services, by taking a snapshot of their ID. This enables consumers to conduct almost all aspects of their financial activities from their smartphone.

Focusing on usability

However, it is no use having this functionality if it’s hidden away behind an ugly series of nested menus that require users to hunt through multiple screens or tap on unintuitive ¬†options to find what they’re looking for. It’s essential that the most commonly-used functions, such as checking balances, viewing transactions, transferring money, and paying bills, are easily visible and accessible from the home screen with no more than one or two taps.

Developers also need to pay close attention to the performance of the apps. How quickly they load pages and ensuring stability must be among the top priorities in this regard. It’s not always easy when teams are trying to balance the demands and develop a solution that works consistently across multiple hardware and software platforms, but a slow, buggy or crash-prone experience can do serious damage to a bank’s reputation. Even delays of just a few seconds while waiting for a page to load can frustrate customers and lead to them abandoning a brand.

Don’t forget offline integration

Despite the growing number of mobile-only users, many people will also still want to use other channels sooner or later, so mobile apps must support this. For instance, one highly useful feature is the ability to call a bank’s contact center directly from the app, and receive details such as the expected wait time on their screen.

Other simple yet highly useful features could include branch and ATM locators, so consumers always know where they can find in-person help or access to cash. Further integration with the ATM channel may also be possible through the use of unique one-time passcodes or QR codes that users can request via the app in order to withdraw cash if they’ve lost or forgotten their card.

A more personal experience

For many people, their phone is like an extension of themselves, and they can take a lot of time to get everything set up exactly the way they want it, from how they arrange their apps to what sounds they use for various notifications. So it will be important that mobile apps also offer an experience that’s unique to them.

At a basic level, this can involve putting their most commonly-used features front and centre to make them easily accessible, while the mobile platform is also a great place to offer tailored advisory services and offers that are relevant to them – provided these sit naturally within the app and are not seen as intrusive.

The next step from this is ‘contextual advice’, which is a key theme for the banking sector at the moment. This allows providers to be more proactive in how they deliver both advice and marketing to customers, based on close analysis of their activities. Being able to tell exactly what an individual customer might need before they need it can really help banks stand out from the crowd, and mobile apps are a great place to do this.

Some banks have already gone to great lengths to ensure their customers get a unique experience. UK-based digital-only startup Atom Bank, for example, lets users choose their own logo and color scheme to make their experience personal to them – with some 1.4 million combinations available. Such offerings may not improve functionality, but they do help users create an experience that’s unique and tailored to them, giving them a better impression of a brand as a whole.

Mistakes to avoid

A common trap that developers fall into when creating a mobile banking app is to approach it in the same way they would a desktop online banking solution. There may be an assumption that what works on this channel can just be simplified or cut down for mobile, but this is not the case. The mobile space is a very different experience to the desktop, both in terms of the information that is able to be conveyed and the user experience when navigating and interacting.

For example, when it comes to data entry, this is a very different experience on mobile. Therefore, steps need to be taken to ensure that any fiddly activities are kept to a minimum to reduce user frustration and minimize the risk of error.

Continual development is also a must. The mobile market is always evolving, and banks must therefore always be looking to move with this, adding new features and taking advantage of new functionality. For example, fingerprint sensors have now become standard on many phones, but if your app hasn’t been updated in two or three years, you could be missing out on offering this easy verification capability.

In the next few years, not having an engaging, easy-to-use mobile banking app will come to be seen as outdated as not having a website would be today. It’s an old adage, but you need to be where your customers are – and as more consumers head to mobile-first and mobile-only, it’s vital the experience offered on this platform matches that of any other channel.

Written by Dan Weis

Dan Weis

Dan Weis works at NCR leading the retail banking mobile app team. The mobile apps are used by nearly 4.8 million consumers.