Apps, Mobile Sites or Responsive Design? What’s Right for Your Institution?

When evaluating native apps, mobile sites and hybrid apps, contemplate the merits of each potential solution in light of your financial institution’s business goals and capabilities.

Are you a financial marketer tasked with figuring out the right approach for your bank or credit union’s new site design? You’ve looked at the analytics and read the articles. It’s apparent that your target audience is consuming content on mobile devices more and more every day. In fact, ComScore data indicates that mobile users will surpass desktop users in 2014. However, your research and experience tell you that there are several different approaches that your financial institution can take to deliver a mobile experience. Time, money and effort are among the most critical factors.

While considering the unique input of your in-house marketing and information technology teams, your financial institution is counting on you to make the right decision. Native app? Mobile site? Hybrid app? Offering a native app and a mobile-friendly site would be ideal, but can your institution really afford to develop and maintain both? And would that replace — or supplement — a desktop version of your site? In an effort to preserve budget and resources, perhaps the right solution for your financial institution’s new site is responsive design.

Getting your app terminology straight

Before we make the case for responsive design as viable solution, let’s make sure that we understand the different options and what they mean.

Native apps. A native app is a mobile application that is written with a specific programming language for a particular operating system, such as Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. Native apps are available in the app store of your smartphone or tablet, most commonly Apple iTunes for iPhone and iPad and Google Play for Droid phones and tablets. A native app doesn’t require an Internet connection and makes the most use out of a handheld device’s operating system, making for an optimal user experience. However, a native app build can be expensive and time consuming, and the process of downloading it from an app store can create an access barrier for your audience.

Mobile site. A mobile site — sometimes referred to as a “web app” — is a website that performs many of the same functions as a native app, allowing the user to tap buttons and swipe content. Built with common web development functionality, such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, the site will fit the screen size of the mobile device, creating a seamless user experience. Unlike a native app, the web app is accessed through a web browser and requires Internet connectivity on the mobile device. A mobile site is an effective way to allow your audience to view some pages of your financial institution’s site on handheld devices, coming close to the native app experience through a web browser. On the other hand, a mobile site doesn’t deliver all pages of your site like responsive design does, limiting a number of business and marketing opportunities. Additionally, a mobile site will require different versions to accommodate the various screen sizes, unless implementing responsive design. This can cost additional time and budget.

Hybrid apps. A hybrid app combines the most compelling features of both the native app and mobile site, allowing a mobile app to be distributed through an app store. While the foundation of the app leverages HTML and web technology, the functionality of the different operative systems permits additional features made possible in the native environment. The hybrid app also makes it possible for users to download your mobile experience from the Apple iTunes store and Google Play store. The hybrid app offers the best of both worlds, but also the same drawbacks as the native app option in terms of long development and approval times.

Responsive design. Responsive design is an approach to website development that creates a continuous user experience on all mobile devices, regardless of screen size and orientation. It’s a technique, rather than a technology. While responsive design can apply to native apps, mobile sites and hybrid apps, it offers a cost-effective and efficient alternative to all three of those mobile solutions.

Native apps, mobile sites and hybrids apps are all viable options for the mobile marketplace, each offering some distinct pros and cons in performance, accessibility and cost. Yet, responsive design is a popular alternative that financial marketers turn to for new site development. For the budget-conscious financial marketer seeking an accessible, user-friendly experience, responsive design represents a “one-size-fits-all” mobile solution.

Read More: The 6 Cs of Content Marketing for Banks and Credit Unions

Smart money might be on responsive design

Leveraging responsive design for your institution’s site results in one new website that can automatically size up and down to accommodate larger computer desktops, as well as smaller smartphone and tablet screens. Responsive design will also cater the display orientation (horizontal/vertical) for tablets and phones. The site will programmatically respond to the device size, fluidly changing the number of columns displayed, the font sizes and shown images to give the user the most optimal site experience. This can be achieved from the same source code, too, which means that making a change to the site content or functionality will not require subsequent updates and deployments to a standalone native app or mobile site.

Determining the right mobile-friendly solution will be highly dependent on your financial institution’s specific needs and capabilities. Sites that incorporate responsive design address common concerns and offer many benefits.

  • Accessibility – Access your site via an Internet connection without needing to download from an app store.
  • Performance – Provide better speed and user experience comparable to a native app or mobile site.
  • Changes – Get updates to market faster, bypassing app store rules, regulations and review process.
  • Cost – Adding responsive design to a new site or redesign is generally more cost-effective than doing a mobile site and/or a native app.
  • Development – Build test and maintain one site via the same source code.
  • Scalability – Support multiple operating systems with one site build, making enhancements a lot easier to support.
  • Management – Update content quickly and easily on a site via a Content Management System (CMS) without knowing HTML or app programming languages.
  • Maintenance – Focus on one web property running smoothly, rather than monitoring disparate properties.
  • Compliance & Legal – Make global changes, gain approvals and make updates faster and more easily.
  • Online Banking – Connect seamlessly with Internet banking and third-party applications, making sure they, too, offer a responsive solution).
  • Marketing – Point audiences directly to one device-agnostic site URL, simplifying call-to-actions.
  • SEO – Appeal to search engines by directing all site traffic to a single domain, thereby adding to the site credibility.
  • Cataloging – Share and bookmark actual webpages of your site, which native apps do not permit.
  • Social media –Link to products, services, articles and promotions specifically from social media channels, which have a heavy mobile audience.
  • Customer service – Interact with visitors directly, rather than through the layer of an app store.
  • Data – Gain invaluable customer and member insights from web-based site metrics, which are typically more robust than native app analytics.

Your mobile choices aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive

Now, there are certainly benefits to doing a native app or a mobile site, in addition to responsive design. Delivering a truly tailored experience based on its operating system, a native app takes full advantage of the smartphone or tablet’s inherent functions, such as push notifications and camera photos. Mobile sites offer highly customized user experiences based on the specifications of unique handheld devices. Both mobile solutions could work for your bank or credit union’s new site and certainly have their individual merits.

However, if your financial institution doesn’t have the extra timeline, additional budget or necessary resources to develop a native app or a mobile site in addition to a desktop version of your site, then a responsively designed site is your best option.

Read More: 10 Things You Are Doing Wrong With Your Institution’s Website

Consider your institution’s business objectives when evaluating mobile solutions

In evaluating whether or not your financial institution is better off investing in responsive design, carefully consider the business objectives of your new site or redesign. Look at how your financial institution’s audience is consuming content, tapping into your current analytics to see what platforms they are using to access your existing site. Deciding whether an app, a mobile site or site with responsive design is right for your financial institution really comes down to your own criteria.

An interactive agency experienced in responsive design, mobile sites and app development will be able to consult with you to recommend the proper solution based on your bank or credit union’s marketing and technical specifications. If your financial institution maintains the time and budget, as well as the in-house team or external resources for development, then the optimal solution might be a combination of a native app or a mobile site and a site with responsive design. This doubling up might seem excessive or cost-prohibitive for a lot of banks and credit unions just looking to create a user-friendly mobile experience for its members and customers. That’s why financial marketers are flocking to responsive design as a proven technique for their mobile solution. It’s accessible, affordable and offers clear advantages over native apps and mobile sites.

Chris Rinaldi is a Digital Strategist at ZAG Interactive, a full-service digital agency in Glastonbury, CT that has built hundreds of bank and credit union websites. To discuss your digital strategy needs with ZAG, call 860.633.4818.

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