5.6 Billion Reasons Retail Bankers Need a Smartphone Strategy Now

Skyrocketing smartphone adoption is a powerful opportunity for bank marketers, but requires careful thought to get right. This article examines how banks can develop successful strategies to adapt the bank for the rise of mobile.

By Nancy Radermecher, President at JohnRyan

Banking is now literally in the hands of global consumers, around the globe, in the form of smartphones.

By the end of 2013, mobile networks vendor Ericsson estimated there were 1.9 billion active smartphone subscriptions globally. In five years, Ericsson forecasts that number will triple to 5.6 billion subscriptions. As data capabilities increase and rates drop, broadband subscriptions are expected to quadruple globally by 2019.

That means before the end of this decade, most of the world’s population will have the capability – in their hands, pockets or purses – to initiate or be drawn into one-to-one interactions, and transactions, at retail banking locations.

It’s a powerful opportunity for bank marketers, but one that requires a lot of careful thought to get right.

Me Time Rules, But Productive Time Makes The Difference

Almost half of the time (46%) that people spend looking at smartphones is for what’s been coined as “Me Time.” People indulge themselves for more than 14 hours a month, playing games, catching up on celebrity gossip, or watching funny videos. Another 19% of their time is spent on social networking, says a 2012 report from AOL and agency BBDO, done on the primary motivators of smartphone use.

Just 11% of smartphone time is spent accomplishing things – like managing finances. But advertising messages put in front of users during that time are more than twice as effective (47% vs. 23%), says the research, than when people are deep into their Me Time.

The result: getting the right messages in front of consumers at the right moments – like contextual banking messages when people have their smartphones out in or around branches – gives marketers an opportunity to make meaningful impressions and influence consumer behavior.

Mobile Tech Is Increasingly Central To People’s Lives, So How Do Banks Adjust?

Financial institutions around the globe have been adapting for many years to this increasingly mobile-enabled world. Basic smartphone banking apps are commonplace, and in parts of the world not burdened by regulatory hurdles and legacy IT systems, smartphones and even “dumb” feature phones are being used as mobile wallets and powerful tools.

The banking industry is starting to see mobile applications and experiences that bridge bankers to consumers, and make banks part of their mobile lives.

Spain’s CaixaBank, for example, makes an app available for its personal insurance services. Policyholders can do everything from locate parked cars and find fueling stations, to change their phone to an SOS emitter in the event of a road accident.

South Africa’s Standard Bank has what it calls AccessPoints located around the country, enabling account-holders to use their phones to withdraw or deposit cash at places as diverse as taverns, petrol stations and butcher shops.

In one case, mobile is serving a need and easing experiences. In the other, it’s about convenience, lowering barriers and democratizing a basic banking experience for people who don’t otherwise have easy access to banks.

Yet both are squarely focused on the consumer.

( Read More: Mobile Channels Are Turning Financial Marketing Upside Down )

Thinking Beyond Single Screens

A smartphone strategy for retail banking needs to look beyond those little handheld screens, and also factor the many screens consumers see near and in branches.

It starts outside with the large-format LED signs and ribbon displays on bank facades, and displays and video walls in high street windows. Inside, there are screens at ATMs, and digital signage screens fixed around the branch, behind the counters and in poster positions and wait areas.

When well-executed, they work together to drive marketing objectives and customer experience, based on where they are, what they can do and the moment in the customer journey. They work independently, but are part of a larger plan that includes everything from TV, online and print to mobile.

A silo’d mobile-only strategy won’t optimize the opportunity or respect what’s going on in that environment, or how shoppers are thinking and bank staff are working.

Orchestrating Omni-Channel

Mobile, tablet and online desktop banking capabilities mean fewer customers are coming into branches for conventional transactions. With the customer base inevitably shifting to younger, much more tech-savvy users, branches are becoming less about transactions and more about financial advice and education.

No one merchandising and messaging tactic or device will do the full job of reaching consumers. They all address elements of the consumer journey, starting at home and the workplace, and leading into the branch and through it.

Conventional bank messaging has long been about promotion, but in a media-saturated culture, it’s wise to adopt in-store messaging on phones and other screens to be less about selling and upselling, and much more about addressing customer interests and needs.

The increasing capabilities built into mobile devices and related technologies, when coupled with dedicated apps, allow messaging to be hyper-relevant and tailored to the general profiles of consumers. Using proximity messaging technologies like Bluetooth Low Energy (the non-proprietary foundation for Apple’s much-discussed iBeacons), it’s possible to send messages to smartphones based on the user profile and even the tight location within a branch.

That can mean a few things.

For one, messaging can be segmented to the general profile of consumer in the branch, at that time. For example, messaging to teens and young adults might focus much more on initial account acquisition and digital tools, while messaging aimed at older customers can be tuned, instead, to things like retirement savings plans and services.

Messaging out to phones on-premise can also boost consumer banking experiences. If there are time windows when line-ups tend to be longer, messages pushed to phones during those periods can present alternatives to seeing a teller, such as ATMs. Some queue management systems now allow users to register and take virtual line numbers, allowing them to leave a queue, and even the branch, to get other tasks done, instead of just waiting.

Mobile technology, when opted in by users, can also start to provide powerful insights into how branches are being used – everything from average time on premises to virtual heat maps that show how people enter and flow through a branch.

Those insights can feed right back into the omni-channel messaging strategy – informing marketers about where messaging needs to be, and what it should be saying.

Smartphone capabilities also now allow much more one-to-one interplay. Some technologies empower users to influence and even control what’s on a larger screen, while others can enrich the in-branch experience through applications that allow customers to explore brochures, posters and even business cards in a more vivid and memorable way. By scanning a QR code, for example, on an in-branch poster or teller counter tent-card, a customer can launch a URL on a phone browser and walk out with the deep detail on a service and actionable tools to sign up.

Digital Signs Are The Catalyst

The volume of mobile apps on both the Apple and Google Android OS store is staggering. Even getting an app noticed, never mind downloaded, is an accomplishment.

Digital displays in retail play an essential role in driving awareness and downloads of bank-centric apps, at just the moment when they’d be top of mind. They’re also critical to effectively reinforcing the value and breadth of what those apps can do.

Larger screens around branches can be asking questions like:

  • Waiting in line to pay your utility bills? You can do that with your phone.
  • Getting money wired to your kids? Did you know you can text them the cash?

Networked digital displays have the targeting and timing capabilities, and the frequency of messaging, to effectively reach customers in ways not really possible in emails, texts or printed material spread around branches.

They can drive awareness for contests and promotions initiated by mobile. They’ll make millennials aware of a bank’s gamification efforts. They’ll drive social networking programs, and offer the best, most public amplification of positive Tweets, posts and photos. A big, curated visual sent from a customer and pushed out to branch screens is far more powerful and relevant than one more entry in a blog or Twitter stream.

Done well, messaging on digital signs serves the dual intents of driving mobile awareness and activity, but also carrying a rotation of messaging that stands on its own and is part of the overall messaging and merchandising mix in branches.

( Read More: Banks Gain Marketing Edge With Mobile Apps for Home Buyers )

Considerations For Mobile Adoption

Leading and bleeding edge can be closely related, and in a time of rapid technology shifts and uncertainty over platforms, investing fully in one mobile technology is risky. Proximity marketing using Bluetooth is not new, but Apple and shopping app companies such as ShopKick have just made the latest version of it better and more relevant.

Before Apple’s iBeacons came along, Near Field Communication was the next big thing in mobile interactivity. Now NFC is “so 2013” and the talk is all about Bluetooth Low Energy. It could be another hot technology in another year.

Rather than be paralyzed, waiting for what settles in, we suggest bankers start testing. Test how your bank marketing team reaches out to consumers. Test the type and tone of messages, and response rates. Test on-premise engagement, to see what people will do with their smartphones while there. Measure who’s eager, and who’s indifferent to apps. Do the results match pre-conceptions?

At the test phase, it’s not as critical to have all the components aligned and launching at once. It’s OK to start, for example, with just digital signs and existing, separate mobile capabilities. What’s more important is to be thinking about and building a plan that enables them to intertwine over time. The key is finding solutions and vendors that allow integration and processes that can power a broader omni-channel strategy.

Ensure what you do doesn’t feel like the bank is invading customer privacy. Opting in to messages is likely much more sensitive to people than it is in environments like shopping malls and events facilities. Ensure they understand and you have buy-in.

Treat mobile to social with caution and a healthy respect. Pushing Tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram photos from customers to branch screens can be powerful, or disastrous. As fast and fresh as mobile can make content, slow and deliberate curation will ensure what reaches other screens safeguards and elevates the bank brand.

Future-proof and streamline your plans. Modern digital publishing capabilities mean what’s designed for mobile should also work for other screens. An integrated content management system can publish to all the screens in a branch (from large TVs right through to kiosks, tablets and mobile) from one desktop, meaning big savings in cost and workload.

The right system and vendor partner should be able to effectively target in endless ways, based on the data provided, and in near real-time.

Summing Up

The dizzying adoption rate of smartphones globally, combined with equally rapid advances in capabilities, make it obvious mobile should be a big part of retail banking’s future. But rather than a smartphone strategy alone, we advocate a full, holistic strategy that considers the customer needs, their journey to and through branches, and the technology and vendor solution that will optimize the opportunity.

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