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Tablet Banking: The Quest for Functionality

Consumers are increasingly using their mobile phones to interact with their financial institution; the 2011 Fiserv Consumer Trends Survey shows that more than a quarter of U.S. online consumers have used mobile banking. Interest in tablet banking is bubbling up as well, setting the stage for key strategic decisions on how to support these similar but actually very different devices. Take, for example, the reasons why consumers use these devices – is it due to preference or necessity?

An evaluation of common use cases supports the idea that consumers are “driven” rather than “drawn” to their mobile phone for banking functions. Typically, it’s an immediate need– to check their balances, locate ATMs or make last minute payments – that drives consumers to a phone-based interaction versus using a laptop, desktop or tablet. In addition, most consumers are not expecting visually stunning, multi-layered experiences when they pick up their cell phone. So what does this tell us about the future of phone-based financial services? It tells us that we need to keep interactions simple and ensure that consumers have quick access to the most-used functions.

Now, let’s consider the world of tablet computing. Responses to the same Fiserv survey showed that 39% of consumers either own a tablet today or plan to purchase one in the next 12 months. When asked what financial functions they were seeking from a tablet-based experience, the top answers were: view monthly statements (69%); pay bills online (56%); view real time account information (50%); and transfer money between accounts at the same financial institution (49%).

Clearly, consumers are drawn to using a tablet for tasks they could readily accomplish on a personal computer, desktop or laptop, which suggests that tablet usage is a matter of preference rather than necessity. Further, at least two distinct tablet user segments are emerging. The first, commonly referred to as “lean-forward” users, views tablets as replacements for laptops. The second segment, known as “lean-back” users, views tablets more casually and see them as entertainment devices or supplements to laptops or mobile devices.

No single segment has emerged as dominant and while these different segments currently use tablets for different purposes, it is fair to assume that one or both will come to expect more capabilities tailored to tablets. Consumers expect a tablet experience to be more intuitive than the traditional online experience and many will increasingly expect the same level of detail. Currently, it is rare to find the same level of detail or functionality in a tablet application for banking as can be found in a traditional online interface.

While consumers may be willing (for now) to accept tablet functionality similar to the functionality they now find on their phones, many will expect deeper tablet functionality in the future. And, while consumers may not expect to fully replace their online banking experience with a tablet-based experience (for now), they will grow frustrated if they continue to have to stop and find a computer to complete particular functions. This will become especially problematic if significant numbers of consumers move into the lean-forward segment and choose to replace their computers with tablets.

Garnering support for tablet initiatives requires balancing information delivery with feature specialization to give consumers access to desired information across channels in ways that take advantage of the unique attributes of the device in hand. This requires viewing tablets as more than just giant mobile phones and will continue to be a challenging task as new devices and new consumer usage habits emerge. Financial service providers that deliver a simple user experience along with functionality and detail appropriate to the medium will drive usage and satisfaction among mobile banking and tablet banking users alike.

Mr. Grimes is a mobile solutions manager at Brookfield, Wisc.-based Fiserv, where he oversees product strategy and direction for licensed mobile banking and payments solutions. He can be reached at [email protected].