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03:40 PM
Susan Foulds
Susan Foulds

The Maturation of Mobile Banking: Balancing Functionality & Ease of Use

Mobile banking has evolved from offering only basic, bare-bones banking activities and is on the cusp of providing a standalone alternative to branch banking and even desktop banking.

When we launched the Keynote Mobile Banking Scorecard in 2010 to benchmark the mobile banking offerings of the 14 largest US retail banks and USAA for mobile-optimized web, text banking, and smartphone app modes, the conventional thinking at the time was that the mobile channel would only need to offer basic banking capabilities for customers on the go. Using their mobile phones, customers could perform simple tasks such as checking their account balances and recent transactions, making intra-bank transfers, paying bills, possibly receiving e-bill summary information, and making P2P payments. Mobile check deposit was also starting to gain traction, with early adopters clamoring for it but few banks yet offering it. Now, four years on, mobile banking has evolved from offering only basic, bare-bones, banking activities and is on the cusp of providing a standalone alternative to branch banking and even desktop banking.

First-generation mobile-optimized modes (web and smartphone apps) often didn't enable users to schedule a future transfer or change a scheduled bill payment. The transaction had to be deleted and then rescheduled. In a few cases, the transaction had to be deleted from the desktop site. Help or guidance was limited or nonexistent through mobile devices. Navigation was awkward, often requiring the user to back out of a task screen to return to a global navigation menu. And there was no ability to view other product information, such as rates and fees, or apply for additional accounts. Upselling and cross-selling opportunities were being lost in the interest of providing rudimentary levels of functionality and performance.

Recently, however, the race for mobile supremacy through added functionality not only has addressed some of these basic gaps, but also has enabled a large degree of independence for mobile banking users from desktop banking.

In the last 18 months, with good reason, the banks in the Scorecard have turned their focus to the mobile UI in order to improve design, navigation, and flow -- and it shows. Many have deployed mobile web and phone apps with more efficient, attractive, and easy-to-view UIs to make it easier for their mobile customers to perform common banking and transactional tasks. There is some buzz in the industry about having reached parity with regards to mobile functionality, at least at the largest banks, and that attention needs to be focused on delivering better design and usability. However, the Scorecard indicates that this view somewhat oversimplifies the state of mobile banking.

Though there is certainly much to gain from the customer experience advancements in design and navigation flow, making mobile banking more convenient and enjoyable (if paying bills can be "fun"), there are still of plenty of opportunities to provide more functional capabilities for mobile customers, particular those who seldom use or have access to a desktop device. These capabilities include alert management, real-time alerts for overdraft conditions, more self-service options, integrated customer service channels such as message centers or chat, (secure) streamlined authentication to view balances and recent transaction, and wider availability of e-bill summary information, which is offered by only six of the 15 banks evaluated in the Scorecard. Though P2P functionality is offered by eight banks in the Scorecard, only three support the ability to receive payments and/or enable P2P enrollment. (All this data comes from the first-quarter 2014 Mobile Banking Scorecard.)

The five largest US banks and USAA have mostly led the way in mobile banking -- especially with regards to money movement -- and they continue to march forward with additional capabilities, but a few regional banks are close on their heels. Some regional banks, such as Bank of the West, BB&T, Citizens, Huntington, and Regions, have been first or early innovators with a number of popular mobile capabilities, including streamlined authentication to view account information, mobile check deposit, same-day payments, secure message centers, and self-service options. Looking north, most of the top six Canadian banks were out front in providing product information and the ability to apply for accounts through mobile web and smartphone apps, which was more recently introduced in the US. Four of the US banks in the Scorecard now display prevailing deposit account rates for interest-bearing accounts, and six provide product information, such as fees and rates, for deposit accounts through the mobile web.

With the relative ease of pushing out smartphone app releases, compared with rolling out enhancements to online banking platforms, most of the banks in the Mobile Banking Scorecard are starting to catch up in terms of functional capabilities offered, yet parity has not yet been reached, as some had predicted -- even among the largest banks. Some customers still aren't getting enough out of mobile banking today and want to be able to do more through their phones, independent of desktop banking. These customers want or need to be able to add bill payees and P2P contacts, manage alerts, perform self-service tasks, and view other product information through their mobile phones.

The top-ranking banks in the Mobile Banking Scorecard will be looking to offer still-higher levels of functionality, along with improved design and ease-of-use elements in order to fulfill the promise of standalone mobile banking. Some of those capabilities and improvements include:

  • Several types of money movement options, including P2P, inter-institutional transfers between customers' accounts, and expedited EFTs to others, such as via wires or through third parties such as Western Union
  • A wide range of alerts and the ability to manage them through mobile phones
  • Self-service options beyond requests to replace a debit or credit card, including card transaction or bill payment inquiry, requesting check copies or account statements, and loading prepaid cards
  • The ability to view account and product information, including rates and fees, and apply for new products in some cases
  • The ability to view reward balances and receive merchant offers
  • Efficient navigation and flow, such as how many screens are required to complete a task and how easily the user can reach global navigation to move between views and tasks
  • Ease-of-use components, such as the ability to search or filter transactions, view running balances for deposit accounts, and reach contextual help for tasks.

Finally, banks must keep in mind that achieving and maintaining the highest levels of performance is also critical to the overall mobile customer experience. One of the chief complaints in consumer reviews about banking apps (or any app, for that matter) is about performance, in terms of speed and reliability. First impressions for any bank channel are critical, and the holistic customer experience -- performance, functional capabilities, and ease-of-use best practices -- impact the likelihood of customers to use mobile banking at their bank in the future.

Susan Foulds's expertise draws upon more than 20 years of experience in research, analysis, and senior product strategy and management roles. She specializes in digital competitive intelligence, comparative benchmark studies, and customer experience ... View Full Bio

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