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An Inconsistent Truth

During a recent review of Mobile banking apps, it became apparent to me that most services have failed to utilise the full potential of mobile devices.  Most banks have designed their Mobile banking interface to match the layout and style of its Online banking counterpart.  This reflects a clear lack of understanding.  If banks haven’t noticed, a PC and mobile are completely different.  They have different capabilities and are used in different settings.  One of the great myths in the banking industry is that it’s advantageous for Online and Mobile banking sites to be consistent.  This attitude is a constraint and I am going to tell you why...


At the turn of the millennium most banks had just implemented their first Online banking service.  It was an exciting time.  The demise of the branch was predicted and everyone was enthusiastic about the potential of the ‘Information Age’.  But something happened during the development of Online banking that was broadly overlooked at the time.  It was the first time that banks were required to design a complex customer facing interface.  All of a sudden the bank was in the home, and it was being done with a mouse instead of a handshake.


Prior to Online banking the main form of data capture in the industry was branch ‘green screens’.  It was no surprise then that this formed the basis of the design for Online banking.  Sure, Online banking had graphics and a few more bells and whistles, but the layout was generally a sequence of data entry points.  Since then, a lot has changed and designing your new banking app to be consistent with your 12 year old Online banking site, is not a good place to start.  It’s like dusting off your old Baha Men, ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ mix CD.  It wasn’t good then, and it surely isn’t good now…


Besides the poor design of old Online banking sites, the capabilities of modern mobile devices brings new opportunities not available in the past.  Today’s mobile phones are more powerful than most computers of that era.  GPS location, orientation and device positioning information are all available to developers with relative ease.  By designing apps to be consistent, banks are ignoring all these additional features.  These features can be used to redefine the customer experience and deliver a more rewarding bank relationship with customers.


Building your Mobile banking service without the ‘consistent’ constraint also has another added bonus.  Because of the size of a mobile device, banks are required to focus on what is important.  Luke Wroblewski, an expert on the topic of mobile design, argues that the inherent constraints of a mobile device force great design principles.  Having to design for the smaller screen space brings clarity and focus that is easy to ignore on a PC.  When Simple, a new US financial services provider developed its new banking service, it started with the mobile channel first and has since reported positively on the results.


In 2010, when both Google and Facebook reported more traffic from a mobile instead of PC, the game had changed. It is only a matter of time before the same thing happens in banking.  Banks need to develop a design strategy based around their mobile apps first, and then expand out to tablet and PC.  New style guides should be developed that factor in the need to support multiple platform styles, interactions and real estate.   Banks should also use this opportunity to rethink their core website.  Look for some banks to replicate remote deposit capture and mobile based person-to-person payments functionality on their Online banking site.


With more customers engaging with banks through their mobile every day, banks needs to ensure that the experience is rich, simple and suited to the context in which it is being used.  Banks that design and deliver a customised mobile experience that delights their customers will be rewarded.  Banks need to see this as an opportunity to build their mobile banking apps from the ground up, ignoring the original mess they created.  Whilst banks won’t want their services looking like they are from different solar systems, they should be treated as different planets rotating around the same core energy source; their customers.    

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Comments: (1)

Salil Ravindran
Salil Ravindran - Open Financial Technologies - Bangalore 16 February, 2012, 13:44Be the first to give this comment the thumbs up 0 likes

Well said Michael...

Probably the core of the issue is that most of them do not have a channel strategy as such. Worst most still see mobile and tablet banking as an extension of OLB. Recently read a report where a bank reported that it saw a 30% drop in its OLB usage once it launched mobile banking. And they seemed to be happy about the cannibalisation!!!

IMO the simple principle should be mobile banking for personal transactions - balance inquiries, transfers and NFC payments, RDC - and may be geo-locator features whereas tablet banking should be that plus PFM, social n/w integration and additional online engagement tools such as video chat. Also I have hardly seen any banks showing investment portfolios and basic buy & sellover their tablet apps - is it so difficult?

While banks still think mobile banking as novetly, it has probably reached a stage where it can only be used as a catalyst to migrate transactional banking to a cheaper channel and not retail and/or engage customers as such.

The best I have seen so far is Citi (check their iPad app but not sure if available for UK) which has done this brilliantly well. Most others have just done a redump of the same ingredients into a different cauldron. 

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