Dear Bankers: Mobile Customers On-Hold

Americans travel, shop and conduct business on their smartphones. Banking? Meh.

The other day I opened my bank’s mobile app to deposit a check. I love this feature as it saves me from having to make an unnecessary trip to the actual bank. This time, however, the app rejected my deposit, again and again. The fine print I had failed to notice prior to the deposit attempt clearly pointed out my mistake — deposits over the amount of $2,500 must be made in the branch, or at an ATM — foiled!

I left home for the bank’s branch in a bad mood, frustrated with the app and the bank itself. My banking behaviors did not change as a result of the experience as I still hoped for a unique and useful mobile experience. Almost every industry in the world has embraced the impact of smartphones — why not banking?

Let’s use the travel industry as an example. I can now book and check in for my flight, reserve a hotel, order a ride to the airport via Uber, pre-order a coffee at the terminal via the Starbucks app, and pay for it all without ever having to whip out my wallet. That type of holistic customer experience is something the banking industry should strive to mirror.

The problem with the industry’s approach to mobile, however, is not related to effort. There are tons of banking related consumer apps and fintech startups working hard to improve the banking customer experience. Rather, it is a problem all-too-common in the banking industry: not understanding the needs of customers. As a result, many of those apps misfire. Where startups and established players in the travel industry have worked to improve the lives of its users by studying user behavior data, the banking industry seems a bit deaf to its customer wants and needs. My example is just one of the many UX bugs in my bank’s app that make me, as a customer, less efficient and unhappy. It is high time for a change.

Rob Berini, vice president for omnichannel customer acquisition and servicing at Genpact, was recently quoted in an American Banker article stating that banks ought to “treat the smartphone as experience glue because it is the device that is always with your customer. It’s connected, it’s powerful — more powerful than the huge supercomputers. It’s identifiable, it’s ubiquitous.”

Mobile Customers Are Waiting

Last year, the Federal Reserve reported the following data:

  • 87 percent of the U.S. adult population owns a mobile phone, the same as in 2014 and 2013
  • 77 percent of mobile phones are smartphones (Internet-enabled), up from 71 percent in 2014 and 61 percent in 2013
  • 43 percent of all mobile phone owners with a bank account used mobile banking in the 12 months prior to the survey, up from 39 percent in 2014 and 33 percent in 2013
  • 53 percent of smartphone owners with a bank account used mobile banking in the 12 months prior to the survey, up from 52 percent a year earlier
  • Among mobile banking users with smartphones, 54 percent cited the mobile channel as one of the three most important ways they interact with their bank


  • Of those not using mobile banking, the primary reason respondents cited was a belief that their banking needs were being met without the use of mobile banking (88 percent)
  • Concern about the security of the technology was a common reason given for not using mobile banking or mobile payments (73 percent and 67 percent, respectively, of non-users)

The Federal Reserve’s report lays out the mobile landscape clearly for the banking industry. Americans eat, sleep, shop and breathe with their cell phones in close proximity, according to the data. Yet, as customers they feel that banking needs are not being met through mobile, they find it difficult to use mobile payment systems and they have legitimate privacy concerns. A smart executive at an established banking institution might look at the Fed’s data and think, ‘Here’s a potential list of new features to add to our app! Let’s add a layer of security to make our customers feel more secure, and then make mobile payments a two-click process!’ The marketing/PR department might look at that data and realize it has a serious education campaign on its hands.

As customers navigating a newly digital world, we did not gravitate to Uber overnight, nor did we start checking in via our airline’s app when the feature was first announced. Technology adoption takes time to develop, especially with the masses. No industry is immune to that. The banking industry will get there eventually, but in the meantime it faces harsh measurement of its mobile customer experience and risks being viewed as a dinosaur. However, if the industry’s players spend some extra resources to execute a sprint building those features into the mobile experience that address the needs and apprehensions of its customers, that moment of ubiquity might come sooner.

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