Why Banking Needs Even More Disruption

Question MarksThere’s no question that in our business we’ve seen more than a few ‘disruptive’ technologies. You could even argue that the entire industry has become conditioned to the notion of disruption—every day, it seems, there’s a new startup, a new device, a new paradigm, and of course a flood of new apps, all designed to make life easier for professionals and consumers alike. All of these inventions have done their part to move the industry forward.

But what if the changes don’t go far enough?

What if many of the innovations don’t reinvent the industry as much as they refine existing capabilities? What if the new technologies we marvel at are time-savers (which is surely a good thing) more than game-changers?  What if basic functionality has gotten much easier but is still too hard?

There have surely been ground-breaking advances along the way. A number of online-only banks have sprung up to offer services that are both more varied and less costly than some of their traditional counterparts, ramping up competition in the process. A full roster of mobile applications from startups and multinationals alike has changed consumers’ core perceptions of day-to-day money management. Mint.com helped shift the landscape with technology that identifies and organizes transactions made in virtually any account, boosted by search algorithm that finds personalized savings opportunities.

Simple logo

BBVA recently announced a deal to acquire startup Simple. Image source: Gizmodo.com

The innovation isn’t letting up anytime soon, and the money is there to support it. Just last week, BBVA, a Spain-based multinational whose U.S. subsidiary Compass operates close to 700 branches, announced a deal to acquire Simple, a fledgling venture that has taken numerous apps to market. By itself, the deal is not exactly gigantic—the $117 million price tag is puny compared to, say, the $19 billion that Facebook is willing to shell out for What’sApp.  (Now there’s a deal that’s got many marketers scratching their heads.)  But the Simple acquisition is interesting for a number of reasons.

First, Simple is not a bank in any sense, in fact, it doesn’t even hold customer accounts. (That function is currently managed by Bancorp, though BBVA will eventually take it over.) More interestingly, perhaps, Simple is essentially built on the notion that traditional banks do things wrong. Its founders have been loudly critical of existing practices, which is why they don’t charge fees but instead create services around data-driven behavioral patterns.

The key belief here is that while banks are content to show consumers what they have left in their checking accounts, those same consumers must also do mental gymnastics to incorporate factors such as rent and groceries before deciding what they can actually spend. Simple’s services helps with that thinking, and will in turn propel changes in end-user behavior. Moving forward, these are the kinds of innovations that the market will demand.

Some industry professionals are making the case to go even further. Aman Narain, global head of digital banking at Standard Chartered, stresses that insight into current finances does not by itself enable action. So what actually might help?

Imagine a personal finance application that estimates a user is spending too much on cabs when it rains, automatically checks the weather, and makes a recommendation via the mobile device to carry an umbrella or raincoat. There are endless possibilities: It could match financial information with health concerns to guide decisions at a grocery store or a restaurant.

Yes, the Big Brother aspect to all this is obvious. It’s a little intimidating to think that the smartphone, in its own way the most personalized computer ever, could be so personal as to make the best decisions about what we spend money on, entirely based on our own best interests. Yet that’s exactly how the best technology works—it doesn’t make decisions for us, but it changes the way we make decisions. And those products have a much, much bigger and better memory than we do.

In our business, the core product is money—it’s personal, visceral and vital, and it helps enable the acquisition of every other product. That makes comparisons to advances in other industries seem like a stretch. Our industry has good reason to be proud of the innovations we’ve taken to market. We’ve come a long way. But we can, and must, go much further.

Who Will Win the Mobile Banking Revolution?

Today, the value of the brick-and-mortar banking experience is fading quickly and mobile banking transactions are filling the void. But it seems that consumers are not so pleased with most mobile app experiences out in the marketplace, particularly with the big banks.  The basic features of account balances, transfers and mobile check deposits are expected basic functionality, but it’s not enough. Users want value beyond just transactions; customers want enriched interactions to understand what their money can do for them. The key to winning in the mobile banking space is relevance – whoever can make the mobile banking experience the most relevant to a user will win the revolution

What is relevance?

Relevance creates a personalized user experience: know what I want, when I want it, before I ask for it and make me smarter. From smartphones to wearable technology (e.g. Google Glass, smart watches, activity trackers, etc.), personal finance is interwoven into our everyday activities. Between the quantifiable self, need-to-know, and constant connectivity, our desire to be engaged with our money is increasing, changing our behavior and evolving what is expected from banks.

The experience can’t be just ordinary, it has to be extraordinary. If you simply spout numbers and balances, you’re not replacing the personalization that is eliminated when a user chooses mobile banking over their local branch with tellers. Mobile banking needs to help explain what a user’s money and transactions mean and what they can do. Users want an experience that is contextual, not just based on location, but also based on previous transactions, current account balances, and what is being planned for the near and long-term future. Banking data can be used to drive key decision points for consumers. The user expects the experience to be not only visually appealing, seamless and pleasurable, but also to take advantage of the latest technologies. Why can’t I know my current balance from my smart watch or Google Glass? A critical aspect of relevance is interacting with consumers where they prefer to interact.

So the big question is, who is winning?

Right now, it’s the startups – apps like Simple, Moven and Level. The start-ups are more nimble and are taking more risk to stay relevant. They’ve pushed beyond just a transactional experience to a lifestyle utility. They aren’t just a source of information, but are tapping into what money can help with, in a very personalized way. No one wants to see only how much they owe on their credit card. For many users, looking at a bank account is more of a source of stress. It has remained a relationship that was strictly transactional with deposits and payments. But when you help the user manage their money and look ahead at what their money can do for them, you become a source of hope.  Users want a relationship where someone is looking out for them, understanding their motivation and goals.

Solstice MobileBanking_Chart

Big banks are not out of the game yet. The new start-ups are missing years of data, historical trends and key partnerships. In order to delve into a rich contextual experience means tapping into Big Data and banking trends. So, my advice for the big banks? Put your customer and his or her experience first. Continue to innovate, rapidly iterate and bring new solutions to market quickly instead of getting stuck in analysis paralysis and letting start-ups beat you to the best in mobile banking.  Find ways that you can use disruptive technologies and a contextual experience to create more frequent and more relevant touch points for your user.

Last, but not least, the brick and mortar isn’t really dead. A true user-centered mobile experience can be a catalyst to drive a better experience across all of your channels, which is something the start-ups don’t have. The mobile banking ecosystem is still in its infancy. As it evolves, the ones to win the revolution will be those who innovate quickly and put a relevant, cross-channel user experience above all else.

 

Marisa MannMarisa Mann, Director of Solution Delivery at Solstice MobileMarisa brings over 15 years of experience in consulting and financial services industries to the Solstice team, working on large scale enterprise initiatives across many technologies, including specializing in the digital space – Internet and mobile. Mann is passionate about mobile and the endless possibilities for the enterprise, delivering business value through strong brand recognition and driving to excellence in the consumer experience. Prior to Solstice, Mann worked at JP Morgan Chase, Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, Washington Mutual, Inc, and Accenture.