9 Strategies for Building a Great Mobile Banking App.

Here is a guest post I did for my good friend Jim Marous at New Control, originally posted at: Bank Marketing Strategy

Pre-orders for my upcoming book Mobile Ready start January 1st on Publishizer.mobile_ready2

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There is no doubt that strategies around mobile banking are in the top five priorities for any financial institution. Even with this focus, many bankers have a difficult time making the paradigm shift that is required to build a great mobile banking application. As a result, I asked Scott Bales, who is currently working on a new book entitled 'Mobile Ready' to share his thoughts on the keys to mobile app development success.

Guest Post by Scott BalesRegional Director for strategic advisory firm User Strategy.

The following thoughts come from the development of my new book, Mobile Ready and are provided to assist banks in driving greater success through the mobile platform. These come with a catch, however. To truly understand mobile, you have to accept that mobile is not the answer. Instead, there are real 'human' factors that create the foundation for mobile as a viable delivery tool for banks.

What I am saying is that you should never embark on your mobile development for the sake of being on mobile. Doing so will only invite doubt, uncertainty and a constant struggle with the ROI of mobile. Instead, you need to view the interactions, engagement and loyalty that mobile can provide.

My list below is not intended to cover the technology aspects of mobile banking, like operating systems, security, transaction or payment capabilities. Instead, I have focused on preparing your mindset, so you can build a better mobile banking application from the perspective of your customer.

After that, the technology components become much easier.

1. Get Out of the Building

Let's face it, banking interactions don't happen at your desk. Trying to craft an experience inside the office, you'll struggle to develop the necessary empathy for the customer, their context and their goals. The best mobile banking applications can't be built in an innovation lab. They need to be built with the input of real people who can validate your design assumptions and engagement potential in the real world.

You need to understand where and why people choose to engage your mobile application. Is it because they want to pay bills on their daily commute, do they need to check how much they have to spend before they go shopping.

Actively engage people in the context in which they need to engage your service, learn through open ended questions the behavioral, psychological and contextual needs of those moments. Only by connecting to the real world can you create truly delightful experiences.

2. Enlist Partners

So you think you know everything about building on mobile, or you're apprehensive to engage service providers. This is typical for most banks. The challenge for most banks is mobile banking applications built by bankers will look like banking on a phone . . . which can be boring, uninspiring and lacking creative thinking of new perspectives.

Engage open application designers, partners and thought leaders early in your journey to help leverage the successes from other industries to build a truly delightful mobile banking experience. Remind your teams that what you build will determine the consumer opinion of your brand over the coming year.

Digitally engaged consumers take experiences as material grounds for evaluating brands, and are less likely to be effected by your advertising messages. So make the effort to include a strong and diverse set of creative inputs into your creation process.

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3. Remove Strings

Think about the apps on your smartphone that you use daily, very few of them required you to pay or make a commitment before you understand their value. Let your customers test your app before they engage, either through trials, open features or freemium models. Clearly show the ease of  navigation, the experience and entertainment appeal of your mobile banking app so they will want to sign-up.

Engaging digitally savvy consumers should embrace friction free value propositions. Creating hurdles for onboarding only works to create frustration. Try to remove the requirements for a digitally engaged consumer to engage on other channels to build a relationship with your brand. Why would you make a new customer that comes through mobile go to a branch to open an account. Why would you require an online banking account first? These are just additional, unnecessary hurdles to engagement.

Put simply, you need to let them understand the value of your offering, before they have to commit.

4. Leverage Personal Context

In the digital world, our lives are bombarded with clutter, whether its organizations trying the 'one-size fit all' model, or advertisers trying to get our attention. Not everything is relevant to everyone. So why not support some intelligence in ensuring you understand some context before jamming credit card ads in someone's face.

Create experiences that support the user’s expectations for personalization. For example, users of a new mobile app assume they can set their location or decide what information should appear on the primary screen. If those options are not available, dissatisfaction will outpace adoption. Location-based rewards and offers also can leverage what you know about the customer and what you know about where they are. People want to make the mobile banking site their own, not just the same as everyone else experiences.

Best of breed applications add active contextualisation, drawing from the 'moment of engagement' before deciding what to present before a user. Think about where and why a user is engaging your brand, what value or insight can you show to heighten the delight of engaging your brand.

5. Build Engagement

If you've been in the industry for some time, then there is a fair chance your psych is used to traditional engagement models, full of push messages, brand campaigns and sales messages. In the digital world, brand becomes a two way conversation, and consumers only want to hear form brands when they can add value.

There is a difference between being engaging and being intrusive. Allow customers to set their alert notifications based on their needs and the way they will use your app. Don't use the app to push unnecessary communication to the customer, but leverage insight to provide valid offers as needed. Think about learning a users engagement levels over time, so you tune the engagement frequently to suit their expectations. Sure some consumers want daily engagement, but some find that too aggressive, opting for only a few times a month. Simple metric tools can help you understand what relevant for each customer.

6. Make Mobile Banking Simple

This one is linked very closely with point 4. Complex, over communicating apps tend to scare off people. In the digital world, people only want to see or experience what's relevant to them. Banking as a whole is a complex industry, so mobile banking apps can quickly become too complicated, risking lost customers.

Mobile banking apps should be driven from a simple platform of what the customer is looking for and executed flawlessly against that concept. Start with the functions that provide real value to potential users and then deliver that value in the easies, most intuitive way possible.

Think about how easy it was when you first experienced the iPod, the controls were simple, with few choices, but still super intuitive. Customers should know how to achieve their goals in milliseconds.

7. Build an App Unlike Your Website

This has been banking's biggest mistake . . . replicating the content and feature of their web presence on mobile. Mobile applications should not just replicate your website. If you’re thinking that your app should just be your website, in app form, just create a mobile-optimized site.
Use of mobile applications is fundamentally different than use of websites. Take advantage. Mobile is about an contextual ecosystem. Use that ecosystem as an input to driving value. Each and every pixel on the mobile screen is vital, so use it efficiently, yet elegantly.

8. Test and Learn

The best quote for mobile development comes from boxing bad boy Mike Tyson, "Everybody has a plan, until you get punched in the face". Each punch may come as a setback or challenge, but real opportunity lies in the punches you take.
Each is a valuable lesson that helps you understand your customer deeper, giving you the best chance to delight them in the future. Mobile banking users change the way they interact with their apps over time. So ensure that right through the development and ongoing evolution of what you build, everything is driven by numbers from the market.
Whether its flow analytics, customer behaviors or simply customer discovery, each has valuable input into the directions, decisions and designs you pursue. Use hard numbers to see what components of your site they use the most, their travel path and the time they spend on your site.
Your mobile application is never done. When you stop making it fresh, stop pushing the bar and stop updating it, significant falloff will begin.

9. Focus on Performance

Guess how many banking apps there are on the mobile app stores . . . thousands. Mobile banking users have a bewildering number of choices for conducting business. Your mobile application has to compete with traditional and non-traditional mobile banking sites as well as function-specific sites like PayPal, Square, Google, etc. Therefore, performance is the easiest and best way to stand out.
Digitally savvy users have no tolerance for slow performance, but a strong appreciation for mobile sites that get the job done. Ensure you take the time to ensure quality outputs. Build beta communities if you want to test things in the wild, therefore protecting your core mainstream users. Users that opt for beta programs have higher tolerances for bugs and performance, and often will passionately help you fix issues.
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Jim Marous pic 2013Jim Marous is an industry leading direct marketing strategist and Senior Vice President of Corporate Development for direct and digital marketing agency New Control. Jim specializes in creating innovative, multichannel solutions that drive revenue through acquisition, engagement, expanding share of wallet and retention, and is a frequent industry speaker and author of the award- winning ‘Bank Marketing Strategy’ blog.

© Scott Bales 2014. All Rights Reserved.