What do Americans want most from their financial institution’s mobile banking app?
Chatbots and virtual assistants powered by artificial intelligence might come to mind, given that both are such hot topics in banking. But a two-way conversation with an automated — or even a human — customer service representative is far down the priority list for U.S. consumers, according to a survey conducted by the consulting firm iSky Research. It ranks at No. 25.
“Initiate a local person-to-person payment” is No. 40 on the list and “Initiate application for personal secured credit with data pre-population,” such as for a home or auto loan, comes in at No. 60.
Instead, people are mainly focused on everyday transactions. In fact, iSky’s survey found eight of the top 10 priorities for U.S. consumers had to do with either basic account details or card-related activities.
Where The Cards Fall:
Mobile banking apps should prioritize making the ability to access account details and to perform card management intuitive and easy. Gleaning useful insights from that information to share with users should come next.
Many financial institutions offer these types of features to customers, but few do it well, says Mark Donohue, the founder of iSky Research, which specializes in digital user experience. And only a small percentage of banks and credit unions analyze those simple interactions to generate useful insights for customers.
“The day-to-day interactions, those high-volume interactions, most banks tend to have a reasonable grip on that experience,” Donohue says. “Where they really struggle is understanding that customer in a way that can inform a discussion around ‘what to do next.'”
Read on for insight into the mobile banking capabilities U.S. consumers cited as most important and iSky’s analysis of how financial institutions are falling short. Scroll to the end for a chart of their top 15 priorities that also shows where these rank for mobile banking users in Canada, the U.K. and other countries.
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What Are the Most Important Features for a Mobile Banking App to Have?
iSky polled 5,149 adults in 10 countries in the first quarter of 2023 for its report, including 500 from the United States.
According to the research, the top five mobile banking priorities for U.S. users are:
(1) View account transactions, including transaction detail
(2) Cancel lost or stolen card
(3) View account balance
(4) Access digital account documentation e.g., statements, proof of balance
(5) Suspend or block all debit or ATM card transactions
These priorities have remained fairly consistent through the last several years, says Donohue, whose Hong Kong-based research firm first fielded its annual consumer survey in 2018. Even through the pandemic, the features people used most hardly changed, he says.
What does stand out to him, though, is a new focus on cards as a payment vehicle. “The management of cards is a super high priority for consumers, and that’s pretty much a global phenomenon,” he says.
Of the top 10 mobile banking capabilities that users cite as most important, half have to do with card management in some form, including two of the top five listed above.
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Avoid a Chatbot-Heavy Mobile Experience — Keep It Intuitive
Tools that rely on generative artificial intelligence — and ChatGPT in particular — are getting a lot of press coverage in banking and other industries.
But while chatbots can be useful, Donohue says many of the ones he has seen tend to generate more friction than help for users on a mobile banking app. “By and large, bots and conversational banking interfacing is still friction-filled,” Donohue says. “It’s not that easy to engage with a lot of, if not most of, the bots.”
He argues that JPMorgan Chase’s approach to the “human vs. chatbot” dilemma is evidence of this shortfall.
According to Donohue, Chase provides newly onboarded customers with a human customer service representative for their first 90 days after opening an account. However, after that first 90 days, their customer service inquiries go to the chatbot.
“From a user experience component, [chatbots are] generally pretty rubbish.”
— Mark Donohue
“They feel like they’ve probably got them embedded enough that they can start to lower the expectation around engagement,” Donohue contends. “If you felt your bot was capable, why wouldn’t you put it at the front of your experience? Why would you use a customer service rep?”
He sees the problem as “failing to communicate” via the mobile app what the chatbot is (and isn’t) capable of, leaving the consumer to get frustrated by the experience of seeking a solution to whatever their issue is.
Even though, in most cases, people are seeking out simple answers to simple questions — transaction history and information about their debit card — chatbots still manage to be clunky, he says. “From a user experience component, they’re generally pretty rubbish.”
Customer support turns up in the next five top priorities for U.S. mobile banking users, but in this instance, for a specific use case. The priorities that ranked sixth through tenth in the iSky survey are:
(6) Access support for customers logging in when login credentials have been forgotten
(7) Activate new physical cards in secure channel
(8) Order a new/replacement virtual or physical card independently of cancelling an existing card
(9) View complete card details so as to enable the ability to make an online payment (card number, expiry and CVV)
(10) Edit login or profile password and/or PIN after login
Is There Such a Thing as Being ‘Too Secure’?
Security is another source of friction and frustration with mobile banking apps. Many financial institutions have yet to strike the right balance when trying to create a user experience that is secure without being abrasive, according to Donohue.
“Most banks tend to go too heavy on the secure side of things,” he says.
For instance, accessing mobile banking typically requires a password or biometric login. But users could also see certain features before logging in if they opt in for that. One example is: Santander Bank customers who look at their mobile app several times a day might choose to have “Quick Balance” appear without them having to log in.
Donohue argues that mobile banking apps should let users start out by seeing their balances and their transaction histories. “Then, if we need to move them up because their risk around activity has increased, then we start to authenticate,” he says.
Friction also comes in the form of how many times a person needs to tap the screen to get to the feature they’re looking for and whether the steps involved in overcoming a challenge take the user to another banking channel.
If Wells Fargo customers, for instance, need to change their PIN to get into the mobile banking app, a prompt tells them to use their current PIN code to make the change, Donohue says. Only then do customers see a prompt that says: “If you don’t have your existing pin, call this number,” thus sending them outside the app for a solution.
The ability to have access to certain features without having to log in turns up at No. 12 in the iSky ranking. The next five priorities for U.S. mobile banking users are:
(11) Request new debit or ATM PIN, or view current PIN
(12) Initiate transfers, payments or similar, pre-login in-channel
(13) Manage recurring or future dated transfers or payments
(14) Manage which accounts are linked to a card
(15) Edit customer profile including phone, email, address, tax or other personal information
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How U.S. Mobile Banking Priorities Compare with Those of Canada and the U.K.
The top six U.S. priorities are consistent with consumer surveys from other countries, though not necessarily in the same order.
For example, “view account balance,” which is at No. 3 for U.S. consumers, ranks as No. 1 for Canadian, U.K. and Australian consumers.
But, after that initial handful of similarities, the results start to become more varied.
Canadian and U.K. consumers give high priority to being able to initiate a bill payment (putting this at No. 6 and No. 8 in the ranking, respectively, compared with No. 18 for Americans). Canadians also consider having access to benefits and rewards without extra fees to be much more important than Americans do (No. 7 versus No. 30).
Conversely, Americans care a lot more about being able to make transfers and payments before logging into the app than their counterparts elsewhere (it’s at No. 12, compared with No. 25 for Canadians and No. 29 for people in the U.K.).
Such variations are important to recognize, as the “ideal” user experience in mobile banking might be different from one country to the next, Donohue says.
“There’s an inherent assumption in a lot of these conversations and presentations that the customers are generally the same around the world,” he says. “They’re just not.”