Financial Marketers Must Ditch ‘Bank Speak’ to Boost Usage of Mobile Banking Apps

Most mobile banking apps score well for functionality, but are only "OK" when it comes to communication clarity. The challenge is to build a friendlier pocket-sized banking device, not just a shiny new tech tool. Financial marketers can't let techies and programmers script the "brand voice" of their mobile banking apps. To craft a better, simpler and more intuitive experience, you've got to dump all the jargon.

Does your mobile banking app leave some people wondering, scratching their heads? Do they get lost? Confused? Stuck?

While smart design, robust security, cutting-edge features are all ingredients that go into creating an awesome mobile banking app, an intuitive digital experience isn’t always about coding. Sometimes what consumers really need is de-coding — deciphering the message and telling them in good old plain English what you mean or what they are supposed to do.

According to a study by Forrester, banks and credit unions can spike adoption and utilization of mobile banking apps simply by using language that doesn’t sound like banker jargon. And the good news? It’s relatively cheap, and it doesn’t require any new technology.

Forrester’s analysis and ranking of mobile apps from leading retail and direct retail banks found that nearly every one failed to use plain everyday language. The findings are surprising consider that institutions in study included megabanks lik Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citibank, US Bank, USAA and Ally.

According to the report, most banking providers “still struggle to ensure consistent and clear language in their apps.”

“Clear language drives a measurable and substantial improvement in the customer experience,” say the report’s authors, Forrester analysts Peter Wannemacher, Gina Bhawalkar, and August Du Pont.

This is a lesson any bank or credit union should take to heart. Quite simply, dump the “finance speak” that spews from compliance and the “tech talk” programmers like to use. Good copy writing and editing usually requires a bit more effort and creativity, which is where marketing professionals should step in. They need to take charge, and show everyone how to communicate effectively and efficiently — even with “technical writing” assignments.

Communication In Word And Feel

As an example of the communication problem, the authors point out that the difference between traditional P2P transfers via automated clearing house transactions are not distinguished clearly from newer payment mechanisms such as Zelle.

“Banks often use jargon instead of plain English. USAA, by contrast, uses clear, customer-friendly language to clarify the differences between posted, pending, and future scheduled transactions,” the report continues.

Paradoxically, one of the places where communication confusion blossoms is in apps’ help sections. There is plenty of help content, the report states, but it remains poorly formatted, full of jargon, or requires consumers to leave the task flow to find it.

“Marketers developing or revamping mobile apps will benefit from reading consumer comments in the App Store and Google Play. They can grow quite detailed, describing the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

The report likewise criticizes providers’ error messages. Sometimes they pop up and disappear faster than the consumer can correct the issues. And usually, the report states, the apps’ error messages fail to suggest how the user can correct the error.

None of the U.S. banking companies Forrester reviewed consistently offers useful error messaging and help content within its app, says the report.

Though the report didn’t address it, over-communication can be an issue as well. A long rant on the App Store home for BofA’s mobile app complained about promos from other companies showing up in-app. Bank and credit union marketers developing or revamping mobile apps will benefit from reading consumer comments in the App Store and Google Play. They can grow quite detailed, describing the good, the bad, and the ugly from consumers’ direct, unfiltered perspective. Sometimes the institutions’ app developers’ responses can also be read.

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Beyond Words: Visual Communication Is The Secret to Intuitive Experiences

USAA led Forrester’s rankings, which examined apps along two fundamental performance categories. The first looked at functional points, including login and security, money management, money movement, self-service features, assisted service features, and marketing and sales. The second category consisted of user experience factors, including search and navigation, content, progress and workflow, error avoidance and recovery, and privacy and trust. USAA ranked highest in seven of these 11 factors.

Communication in mobile apps depends on more than word choices, the report points out. For example, one criticism specifically concerned visual designs that don’t make it clear when money is going into a consumer’s account and when it’s leaving.

Another common criticism of the apps reviewed was a serious failure to communicate when security measures are implemented. The report noted that BofA and Wells Fargo both made a better effort to include links to security, privacy, and fraud information in key places on their apps, but everyone else fell way short.

Simple graphics can also help convey security messages.

For instance, Forrester highlights that Wells Fargo includes a padlock icon on every screen and requiring customers to enter a one-time verification code during tasks, such as sending money, where sensitive information is entered.

Three Big Improvements Mobile Banking Apps Need Now

One of Forreseter’s overarching points is that financial institutions must view mobile banking as more than just a mere transactional tool. Their report concludes that — as a group — mobile banking apps offer strong functionality, but the user experience is “just okay.”

As banks and credit unions build out their apps, Forrester says they must then engage consumers to ensure they’re striking the right balance — robust features wrapped in a great user experience.

Specifically, the report highlights three areas where mobile banking apps urgently need improvement:

  1. Market and cross-sell “in-app.”The report says some apps require consumers to exit the app in order to learn more details about and sign up for products and services they are interested in. By contrast to most, USAA’s app features an “in-app agent” that guides consumers through enrollments.
  2. Give the whole picture of personal finances. “Most personal finance tools are still either only available online or half integrated into apps,” the report says, “making it hard to navigate past transactions and plan ahead.”
  3. Ditch the legacy. Increasingly the legacy systems of banks stand in the way of improving service that relies on modern technologies.

“Bolting a shiny new user interface on top of a patchwork of legacy systems just won’t cut it anymore,” Forrester’s report cautions.

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This article was originally published on July 31, 2018. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.

Comments

  1. Expanding usage of mobile banking is really about expanding the use case. In an ATH power consulting survey of 3000 mobile banking consumers they ranked loyalty and discount coupons as the TOP 2 features they wanted in mobile banking. You can find that survey on The Financial Brand. Give them what they want this holiday shopping season and make your card top of wallet. http://www.itisrelevant.com

  2. Steve, great article and a topic my team at Beyond the Arc is passionate about. In working on simpler, jargon-free, accessible customer communications we’ve seen banks struggle with a few key challenges.

    First, in their brand strategy, many banks have not adequately defined their value proposition for customers– they can’t tell you how they differentiate themselves. Without this foundation, you don’t have the touchstone that enables you to be concise and consistent with messaging.

    Second, banks haven’t done the heavy lifting required to reconcile compliance and risk requirements, with customer experience requirements. While “safe harbor” language will mitigate risk, it won’t enable you to engage with people in a language that they can understand and trust.

    For mobile, given the additional constraints of screen real estate, these challenges become even more daunting.

    – Steven Ramirez, CEO of Beyond the Arc

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