Behavioral Change: Is There An App for That?

To some of us, it might seem that people who don’t know about mobile banking must be living in a cave somewhere. But here’s the reality: Only 10 percent of mobile banking users were prompted to use their bank’s mobile channel by their actual bank.

This is not some revelation from years ago, when mobile features and capabilities were still mostly a novelty, and understandably accompanied by some trepidation. It’s actually a key finding from a survey of 1,527 mobile banking users, encompassing more than 240 banks and credit unions. It was commissioned by ath Power Consulting, a provider of customer experience solutions for the financial services industry.

That’s not the only bad news in the report. It turns out that only one in five users were offered any option to customize their user interface, and fully 40 percent failed to find links for technical support.

It’s relatively easy for those of us essentially embedded in these disciplines and practices to look down on these findings—after all, companies have spent millions developing these technologies, and millions more promoting them. Besides, many of those consumers are surely using their mobile devices for many other functions that would have seemed futuristic just a couple of years ago. So what’s the problem?

Just this past week, acerbic comedian Bill Maher got big laughs on his HBO show by expressing bewilderment at the construction of new retail banks. He noted that he hasn’t walked into a bank for many years, since there’s so much available at the click of a button.

But we should get real too. When it comes to banking, just saying “There’s an app for that” isn’t enough.

It’s impossible to bottle the science behind behavioral change. If we could, everybody would launch something like Facebook out of a dorm room, or create viral videos on a regular basis. What we do know is that some behavioral shifts (such as social networking) occur at an incredible pace, while others (such as specific aspects of e-commerce) are adopted in fits and starts. For the most part, we don’t know why, except that the availability of a new technological capability alone doesn’t guarantee a change in habit.

Money complicates the issue even more. The relationship we have with our banks is fundamentally different than with our favorite retailer or clothing brand; it requires a level of trust, comfort and familiarity that extends far beyond other B2C interactions. It takes a leap of faith to go from using the cell phone to Tweet something personal (which we know others can see) to conducting a sensitive financial transaction.

For the record, the ath Power study does show some promise. While security will always be a prime concern, the mobile channel can play a major role in fraud prevention as mobile adoption improves and consumers become more familiar with alerts. On another front, mobile customers are more loyal: about one in eight say they’ll change banks within two years, compared with one in five in the general customer base. Finally, despite the relative lack of awareness of this category, the quality of a mobile offering is a major factor in choice of bank among the mass affluent and small business owner segments.

That’s all for the good, but this is a behavioral change that needs broader consumer adoption. And for that to happen, maybe the word needs to get out a lot more than it has so far.

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