While the coronavirus pandemic brought many more users to financial institutions’ mobile apps, and made it possible for many to do much of their banking in spite of isolations, but banks as a whole still aren’t hitting a bullseye, according to research by J.D. Power.
Among some consumer segments mobile banking apps enjoyed an element of “if you build it they will come” attraction. But in the COVID period many users who hadn’t been interested in mobile banking beforehand came because they had no choice.
Indeed, a significant ripple effect of all the new users and traffic is that both types of users — the enthusiastic and the once-reluctant new arrivals — have, started exploring additional features beyond the basics they had been using. For some this will be mobile checking deposits or contactless payments, other services for the rest.
“It will be interesting to see what happens in the next three to six months as we start to hear feedback about those features as more new users touch them,” says Jennifer White, Senior Consultant for Banking and Payment Intelligence at J.D. Power. White thinks smart financial institutions will be taking a fresh look at their apps, if they haven’t already.
“They’ve moved out of the immediate crisis response mode and are thinking about what will happen if life stays the way it is now for the next year,” says White.
What Do Mobile App Makers Do for an Encore?
White says financial institution tech strategists need to be deciding what extended life with COVID-19 will mean for their apps. Most institutions have had some roadmap in place for their apps’ evolution, but now they must decide if they need to change the priority of certain planned features. What needs to be accelerated. and what should be postponed, as well as what needs to be added to the list in the wake of the first half of 2020 — this should all be under discussion, according to White.
While executives have weighed how to stimulate use of mobile apps, now they are just as likely to wonder which new features to promote first. To a degree the megabanks will set the tone and pace in that regard, as they typically do in mobile, White suggests.
Another essential discussion, White believes, should be a fresh consideration of how “omnichannel” — a term that’s not been heard much since the pandemic began — should evolve as branch visits decline and as direct, online-only financial institutions continue to grow in importance. White made several suggestions about the all-digital aspect of omnichannel during an interview with The Financial Brand.
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Where Banks’ Mobile App Customer Experience Still Falls Short
J.D. Power based its ranking of financial companies’ performance on ten key indicators derived from multiple 2020 studies of mobile banking apps and credit card apps. Any banking or credit card app features among those covered in the firm’s consumer banking surveys that were judged important by 55% or fewer of respondents was rated as having room for improvement.
These categories were considered to be higher in performance:
- “Information most important to me displayed on overview page”: 90%
- “No excessive slowness or lack of responsiveness in past 30 days”: 85%
- “Have not experienced any issues logging in”: 67%
These factors, especially the first, are among the kinds of points consumers will bring up to others.
Unlike other types of apps, generally financial institutions are providing their apps to current accountholders. Generally word-of-mouth, literally or figuratively, holds sway because there’s no way to try out or “test drive” banking apps.
Among the other seven key performance indicators overall rankings can prove quite low in some cases.
These categories required improvement, in descending rank of performance:
- “Credit score monitoring is offered on the app.” 55%
- “Very easy to select navigation links/buttons”: 53%
- “Very easy to find the information I need”: 51%
- “Personal information believed to be ‘very secure'”: 49%
- Very easy to find features or tools”: 46%
- “App provides seamless experience across channels/contact methods”: 34%
- App provides proactive guidance and help”: 24%
Looking deeper into some of these, White notes that the institution-by-institution experience can differ somewhat according to the size of the institution under scrutiny. She points out that the largest banks typically innovate the most, and first, in devising app features. As a result, they tend to make apps that are very content heavy.
“There’s a tradeoff designers must make,” says White. Adding more features creates more for a user to navigate through to reach the features they want, beyond the home page view that typically features all the key balances consumers generally need. (This is the factor which earned a 90% rating, featured in the first listing, above.)
Let’s look more deeply at the two lowest-ranking factors.
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Rethinking the Omnichannel in the Wake of COVID-19
In spite of the many memes that surfaced during the tightest days of the shutdowns, not all of America was torn between learning to bake or bingeing on every series on their favorite streaming service. For many ordinary life not only went on, but grew extra-complicated. White posits an example, to set up an explanation of how omnichannel thinking must improve.
“Let’s go a little Norman Rockwell here,” says White. “Let’s say you had two parents and two kids at home.”
“Consumers want the most common pieces of information and the most common functionality right at their fingertips. And they expect that to be available regardless of what channel they’re in.”
— Jennifer White, J.D. Power
She continues: “The folks are both at home working and everyone’s together. One parent knows that some money needs to be transferred to be sure a bill gets paid on time. So at lunchtime, they jump on the mobile app and can tell from the home screen that there’s enough money to pay the bill. Maybe they even get so far as the transfer screen.
“But then the kids come into the kitchen wanting lunch. Now, whichever parent makes lunch, one or both now realize they are late for a conference call for work. So they go back to work. By the end of the day, they realize they never transferred the money.”
However, by this time, one or both of the parents is back on their computer, working.
“Instead of pulling that mobile app back up, they punch up their bank’s online banking site,” says White. “They want to get that transfer done. And you’ve got to make that seamless for them.”
What consumers want here, says White, is to get what J.D. Power calls “the Netflix of banking.” What the firm means by that is the experience viewer of Netflix, Amazon Prime video and other services have when they start a movie, say, on their tablet. Something interrupts them and they can pick up the same program at exactly the same point on their phone, laptop, tablet or smart TV again later.
Being able to do this means that the experience on all devices needs to be more or less the same. For banking, White believes that the look and feel and the accessibility of information and functionality should be identical from computer to smart device to ATM.
“This is a key to success,” White says, “because consumers want the most common pieces of information and the most common functionality right at their fingertips. And they expect that to be available regardless of what channel they’re in. They want to not only perform the same functions, but to be able to find them in a similar way.”
White means this quite literally: “If something is a button on the institution’s app, that same function shouldn’t be hidden behind two clicks on its website.”
This is so important that J.D. Power ranks it as a best practice.
“The bank’s approach should be truly cross-channel,” says White. If the technology and CX of each channel is the province of a different development team, she adds, then the relationship among them must be structured to provide the utmost in collaboration.
Providing Proactive Guidance, Help and Advice
Ever used an online service that executes transactions well but that doesn’t quite close the loop by saying that your transaction is completed or by confirming that your file has been saved? While it seems a basic, in many cases, including banking apps, that detail is often missing.
Having confirmation, or direction as to what to do next, is usually easily accomplished in person, but this can be lacking in the mobile experience.
White says satisfaction is highest among consumers when that closure or direction comes right during an interaction.
“Reassurance is actually a form of advice,” says White. Strong providers go beyond that and give a measure of user education.
“This includes things like making sure consumers understand that using alerts within the mobile app helps them get assurance,” says White, “but that could also alert them if, heaven forbid, some sort of fraud was occurring with their accounts.”
Ultimately that plays to the demand for financial peace of mind that increasingly seems to be the top consumer desire in increasingly stressful times.
“Once that reassurance is there,” says White, “then people’s minds are free to think about what comes next, with regard to how to improve their financial situation.”