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Bank of the West's New Approach to Mobile and Innovation

Bank of the West's organization had to rethink how it approached innovation to release a new differentiated mobile app.

Establishing an innovative culture is often the most difficult of becoming an innovative organization, Ashik Ardeshna, a parter and head of strategic IT at Oliver Wyman, told an audience gathered here at BAI Retail Delivery 2013 today. Ardeshna moderated a session called “An Enterprise Approach to Delivering On Innovation,” that focused on how Bank of the West was able to establish such an innovative culture to build the second iteration of its mobile app.

Bank of the West hired Mathieu Krogstad to be the VP and head of mobile last year, when the bank realized that it needed to rebuild its mobile banking app from scratch, Krogstad related to the audience.

The problem was that the app only offered the most basic mobile banking capabilities like checking balances and SMS alerts, he recalled. The app had nothing to differentiate itself from the apps of Bank of the West’s competitors. Krogstad wanted to bring in money movement capabilities like bill pay, introduce mobile check deposit and also launch a mobile service that no other bank was offering to set Bank of the West apart.

“We had a big organizational change that needed to happen for us to make that upgrade,” he shared.

Improving collaboration across different parts of the bank was the key to that change, Krogstad remarked. “We had very aggressive timelines for developing the new app, and to meet those we had to collaborate in a different way between all of our teams - IT, compliance, and risk,” he explained.

And that collaboration was not easy; just getting the buy-in from some of the teams involved in the project was difficult.

“I wasn’t a believer in mobile banking. I thought I could do all of my banking online anyway, ” Gina Wolley, EVP, regional banking administration group, Bank of the West, said during the panel session.

“When Matt came in it was suddenly all about mobile… Initially some parts of the collaboration were contentious. It was a real learning experience for us in terms of learning how to work together,” Wolley related.

In order to get the necessary buy-in, the bank brought all of those teams together very early in the life of the project to gather input from each of them.

“We moved many of the planning and initiation activities of the project further upfront in the project’s timeline. That way we got all of the teams involved in the early planning [of the project]. We had a clearly understanding of what was needed by everyone,” said Michael Manowski, SVP and solution delivery leader for Bank of the West, at the conference.

The main challenge to this early collaboration, Krogstad noted, was “being comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

“We would get a lot of people in a room to make decisions very early on in the project, and not all of those decisions could be made with every piece of necessary information in hand,” he explained.

On the IT side of the project this collaboration meant encouraging the engineers and developers to interact with the business side, Manowski said. “I told my team they need to go talk to the product managers and the business analysts. They usually just went and started writing code on their own… we encouraged them to have as many face-to-face conversations as possible,” he explained.

And on the risk and operations side it meant increasing the understanding between all of the teams as to how they could contribute to the project, Gina Wolley said. “Compliance, legal and risk teams are not about preventing innovation. It’s important to bring groups together in a sincere manner in terms of understanding what my role is… in the end our product risk folks made several suggestions that actually made the product better,” she added.

After nine months the bank released its new mobile banking app. The app included Quick Balance, a service that enables users to quickly check their balance on their smartphone without having to log in to the app. Quick Balance was the first-of-its-kind differentiating service that Krosgard wanted in the bank's mobile app. The bank has seen a 300% uptick in mobile logins since the app this past spring, he said.

[For More On Bank of the West’s Quick Balance Feature: Bank of the West’s New Mobile Feature Makes Checking Balances A Snap]

“In Silicon Valley startups you see this kind of collaboration - all the teams are integrated from day one. Some banks have that and some don’t. But successful ones get this collaboration early on in the in the project development,” Oliver Wyman’s Ardeshna noted.

Jonathan Camhi has been an associate editor with Bank Systems & Technology since 2012. He previously worked as a freelance journalist in New York City covering politics, health and immigration, and has a master's degree from the City University of New York's Graduate School ... View Full Bio

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