KAREN EPPER HOFFMAN_resized
Karen Epper Hoffman Oct 31, 2011

Multiple Paths to Mobile Acceptance

When it comes to mobile banking offerings, banks cannot afford to be a one-trick pony in supporting just one modality or mobile platform, according to speakers at the recent BAI Retail Delivery event in Chicago.

“I think a lot of folks in financial services understand it’s important to reach all the channels that are out there in the mobile marketplace,” said David Eads, vice president of marketing for Kony Solutions, an Orlando, Fla.-based mobile application platform provider. “A lot of people in organizations ask the question, ‘Do I need to do a mobile Web or do I need to do applications?’”

The answer is that banks need to cover both, as well as SMS alerts, according to Eads and his co-presenter Jeff Dennes, senior vice president and chief digital officer for Huntington Bancshares Inc., Columbus, Ohio. “It’s really dangerous to make a decision that I am going to only choose applications in my mobile strategy, or I’m only going to choose browsers in my mobile strategy, because consumers are deciding day in and day out how they want to interact with us, and it seems largely important to reach them where they are, and in the way they want to interact with you,” Eads said.

Based on his experience working with Huntington and more than 50 other companies on their mobile services, Eads said that typically about half of mobile banking customers choose to access their information through the mobile browser, while roughly the same amount prefer to use an application that is “native” to their smartphone, i.e.,  developed specifically for the phone’s operating system. (SMS texts, often seen as the third modality for mobile banking, tend to be used to relay proactive alerts to customers about account balances, deposit information or other time-critical information.)

This underscores the concept that, even when given the choice, the majority of customers do not prefer one mobile modality over the other – they utilize both mobile browser and applications. “When you look at mobile Web traffic, and you look at native traffic across each of the very same operating systems, on any given day, it’s about half and half,” Eads said, during the session entitled “How to Have Successful Mobile Applications Across Multiple Platforms.”

iPhone and Android Agnostic

Creating a multi-channel approach that appeals to consumers has already benefited Huntington Bank in the past year, Dennes said, noting that Huntington has 700,000 online customers, about 220,000 of whom bank by mobile. While Dennes described himself as an avid Apple iPhone user, he made sure that Huntington’s mobile offerings cover both Apple and Google Android products. In fact, last June, Huntington launched both an iPhone application and Android application on the same day.

Dennes said that he’s been seeing roughly the same amount of mobile access from users of both kinds of smartphone handsets. “I’m a big iPhone supporter, so I always push hard for the Apple products but you know what? Not everybody’s like me; there are plenty of people using Android.”

Just a year ago, when Dennes arrived at Huntington from San Antonio, Tex.-based USAA Federal Savings Bank, the bank was acquiring 1% of its new accounts through its digital channels; that percentage is now up to 12%, he said, adding that he’s aiming for one-fourth. Offering engaging mobile access that appeals to the broadest swath of customers will be instrumental in meeting that goal, he said.

Eads warned that banks need to be prepared for the fact that consumer behavior can change based on changing technologies and trends. For example, Kony is seeing a “significant increase in conversion rates” (people who start a transaction and follow it all the way through as opposed to those who end up dropping off or discontinuing it) from iPhone users on mobile-native applications, as opposed to Android app or mobile Web users. However, he argued, it would be a mistake to make an entire strategy built around iPhone applications because usage and conversion patterns could shift as new smartphone operating systems emerge for both iPhone and Android and new mobile payment, remote deposit capture and financial management services become more pervasive.

Supporting different form factors like the iPad are also important to a sound mobile strategy, Dennes said, noting that Huntington rolled out its iPad application in early October, just three months after launching its iPhone and Android applications. Dennes added that Huntington is piloting the use of iPads in one branch to help introduce customers to online and mobile features of the bank.

Additionally, Huntington rolled out a new SMS program called “24 Hour Grace,” which notifies a customer by text that they have overdrafted their account and gives them 24 hours to replenish funds  before the bank charges any overdraft fees. “That’s another way that we’re taking technology to mobile and creating a much better experience for our customers.”

Ms. Hoffman is a freelance writer based in Lawton, Okla.

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