The Great Filter for Digital Challengers

The Great Filter for Digital Challengers

It seems like almost weekly I’m hearing something about a new challenger or digital-only bank brand.  The velocity of news is substantial, but despite years of hype, it seems this class of institution is still largely treading water.

It reminds me of The Fermi Paradox.

The paradox was originally posed as a question by the physicist Enrico Fermi about the apparent contradiction between the probability of life in the universe and the complete lack of evidence to support it. With so many supposed earth-like planets, why haven’t we been able to find success stories?

One of the proposed theories is the idea of a Great Filter in the evolution of life.  The theory goes that as life evolves it must overcome leaps in species advancement, one of which is a Great Filter that almost always stops its progress.

In the universe of banking there’s plenty of “new life,” specifically challenger banks looking to compete with traditional institutions (I won’t compare them to advanced species for obvious reasons). Despite major fanfare within the industry, however, these challengers have largely struggled to adapt and grow. Like life in the universe, could there be “great filter” keeping these new entrants from flourishing?  I’d say there are a few contenders.

Technology

What old technology lacks in flexibility it makes up for in stability.  It seems that for emerging providers, what’s made up for in flexibility is lost in stability. Simple, for example, has had its share of technical issues over the past couple of years. In late 2014, a systems upgrade lead to a number of glitches, including bill payment going down, online banking being inaccessible, and the safe-to-spend feature showing incorrect balances.  Some accounts were locked for more than 24 hours.  The transition process to BBVA also presented issues with integration.  Systems had to be rebuilt, and customers had issues with using debit cards, not being US citizens, and just recently, losing their accounts (Simple said it wasn’t able to transfer everyone before its relationship with The Bancorp Bank ended).

Monzo (formerly Mondo) out of the UK had multiple issues inside of a week.  It had outages with its third party card processor, and then a few days later customers reported not being able to properly view their balances or display transactions.

Traditional financial institutions have long known that trust is an asset, whether it’s trust to keep money safe or trust to keep data secure.  Technology has been built around establishing reliability.  Challenger banks and neobanks may be opening themselves up to risks associated with applying concepts of agility to the complexities of banking, and this may be a strong enough filter for reaching critical mass.

Revenue

In addition to trying to provide an amazing customer experience, almost all challenger banks share the same commitment to fee transparency.  In recent years, many traditional banks have used fee income to supplant lower than usual net interest margins.  Fees have been (often rightly) perceived as punitive and opaque.

The quest for fee relief is admirable, but ultimately emerging challengers need to make money to fuel new investments. For some that’s been an issue. The neobank Moven, after struggling to find a significant core audience in the US or overseas, decided to pivot and start selling its underlying front-end technology to traditional banks, most notably TD Bank. Customers Bancorp recently put BankMobile up for sale, citing profitability concerns stemming from limitations on debit interchange once the bank’s assets exceeded $10 billion.  BBVA also recently reported a total of $89.5 million in goodwill impairment from the acquisition of Simple Bank in 2014.

Challenger banks are fully committed to reimagining financial services, but many haven’t yet reimagined the business model. Banks that are furthest along are the likes of Knab in the Netherlands and Fidor Bank in Germany (acquired by France’s BPCE Group) which have applied subscription-based pricing for consumers.  Similar to Netflix or Pandora, the idea is that consumers will pay for value.  What’s clear, however, is that the complexities of financial services require a scale of investment that presents a bigger barrier to entry than for other platform-based offerings (i.e. movies and music).  If consumers are paying for value, then the question is whether a challenger can persuade consumers that they’re receiving enough value to validate a subscription before it begins to hurt its financial viability.

Acquisition

When confronted with barriers to organic growth, some challengers have found it easier to be acquired. When BBVA bought Simple, CEO Josh Reich said that BBVA would provide them with the resources to grow faster.  Many took this as an admission that customer growth was slower than expected. When Fidor was purchased by the French banking group BPCE, the German bank said that the sale would “…allow Fidor to continue its international expansion…” as well as “…improving our overall financial sustainability.”

The question is: do challenger banks need traditional institutions? Well, they certainly need trust, and customers, and data, and  with the pressure to grow and invest in innovation, it’s obvious that the financial incentives of joining a large organization can be attractive.

Challenger institutions have been an important part of the banking ecosystem.  Most notably, they’ve moved the ball forward on what “good” looks like throughout the industry, better assimilating modern concepts of UX and UI design into their front-ends.  At the more extreme end, however, these challengers  were heralded as the white knights that would save consumers from pernicious traditional institutions with outdated technology.  So far that hasn’t been the case.

In the explanation of Fermi’s Paradox, humanity (or a challenger bank) is left with three possibilities, depending on where the Great Filter occurs: we're rare, we’re first, or we’re in trouble. Rare is the challenger that’s made it through the Great Filter.  First is the challenger within a pack of new institutions which has grown because of conditions that have only recently become favorable.  In trouble is the challenger that hasn’t yet reached the Great Filter.  There’s plenty of life in the banking universe, but it remains to be seen who will make first contact.

Needless Controversy in the Branch vs. Digital Debate

Needless Controversy in the Branch vs. Digital Debate

In a previous post I argued for the enduring importance of human, face-to-face contact in financial services. By the reactions I received, you’d think I was purposefully inciting controversy.

  • One influential industry observer thought I was irresponsible in advocating inaction.
  • Another wrote a lengthy and snarky rebuttal.
  • Others took issue with my comparing retail banking to other retail categories, as if there is nothing to be learned by studying the broader digital commerce landscape.
  • Others took issue with aspects of the surveyed retail deposit mix data I cited to demonstrate that branch deposits remain persistently common.

Honestly, I expected a mixed response: push back from those who are invested in advancing digital banking and agreement from branch technology vendors. We all have self-serving tendencies. But, I did not expect – nor intend – to precipitate such controversy. What is so heretical to my digital brethren’s ears that they would be so obviously offended with my advocacy that banks pay attention to both digital and in-person engagement mechanisms? That was, after all, the essence of my previous post which began with “Digital needs to be a top technology priority among financial institutions”.

Needless Controversy

I think part of the issue here was addressed in a previous post, Three Mistakes Banks Make. We are at risk by oversimplifying things that are inherently complex. In so doing, we fail to appreciate diversity of customer needs or preferences. Much of the digital/branch debate speaks to binary outcomes. Reality is much more nuanced.

This tendency reminds me of a well-conducted consumer research initiative that resulted in January 2016 news that for the first time, “mobile banking exceeds branch banking”. It made quite a splash in the press, for obvious reasons. The data is both relevant and important. It offers clear evidence of the growing importance of digital banking. But the common interpretation overstated digital’s current level of influence.

My issue is not with the research, but how it was interpreted. Many trumpeted the research as evidence of the final nail in the branch banking coffin. “See, the branch is dead!” was the nominal conclusion offered by most observers I think. However, a closer look at the data invites a different interpretation. The specific metric being graphed wasn’t explicitly cited in many references to the research. Too bad, because the graph compares the percentage of randomly surveyed banked consumers over time that use the branch or mobile channel in the past week. A graph showing past three month or past twelve month usage would be rather different. It would show that a much higher percentage of banked consumers visit branches. They do – just not in any given week, day or hour! Usage intervals are longer in the branch – shocking!

The enduring relevance of the branch channel is abundantly clear in Federal Reserve Board sponsored research, Consumers and Mobile Financial Services, conducted annually since 2011 and most recently published in March 2016. The graph below from the March 2016 report compares surveyed past 12 month usage among the general banked population (all respondents) as well as smartphone owners. This equally credible research suggests that roughly one year ago, twice as many banked consumers use the branch and ATM channels than mobile banking.

Both graphs present credible research. Only one fits a certain popular narrative.

The take away for most banks in my opinion is clear and transcends the silly, either-or debate: create and sustain a compelling customer experience across all points of engagement. As customer preferences continue to change, banks will need to continually adjust operating models. Easier said than done for sure. The needless controversy isn't helping banks get this job done.

Rethinking the Customer Experience: Themes from the 2017 Model Bank Submissions

Rethinking the Customer Experience: Themes from the 2017 Model Bank Submissions
This is the third article in a weekly series highlighting trends and themes from Celent’s Model Bank submission process. Dan Latimore and Zil Bareisis led off with two great pieces on the evolution of the Model Bank Awards.  Articles from this week on will explore some of the broader themes within each category. Customer experience initiatives are typically the most numerous.  While this makes the category more difficult to judge, it offers immense insight into what’s happening in the market. The standards of customer engagement are constantly changing, and banks are experimenting with new ways to drive increased satisfaction, higher revenue, and greater loyalty.  Three themes stand out this year. Digital banking subsidiaries: Many banks are finding that existing systems are too rigid to accommodate a truly digital experience.  A number of customer experience submissions this year focus on building out separate digital subsidiary brands within traditional institutions. Banks are typically going in two different directions.  The first is a digital subsidiary as an offshoot of the parent bank.  These brands are basically separate products that offer a digital-first experience to a certain demographic, but are closely tied to the main bank. Brands are similar and products/ services are frequently cross-sold. The second type is a completely separate brand ring-fenced under a different technology stack, operating under the umbrella of the parent organization but effectively a separate entity.  These banks may leverage the parent for product support, but are usually sandboxes for “testing” digital.  Submissions were a mix of the two approaches. Fintech partnerships: The shift from disruptive to collaborative relationships between financial services and Fintech startups feature prominently in this year’s award submissions.   They range from standard B2B vendor relationships to more advanced functional partnerships where portions of the Fintech’s offering is exposed within the traditional institutions digital UI.  Initiatives reflect the growing acceptance among the industry that banks can’t be all things to all people.  Institutions are acknowledging the valuable and complementary role Fintech can play in providing a modern, innovative customer experience. AI and bot technology: Bursting out of the gate in 2015/16, Banks have begun a mad dash towards AI and other bot technologies.  This is a broad spectrum of projects that include everything from simple bots to cognitive computing.  Submissions this year show institutions spreading their resources across many different applications.  Like any emerging technology, most institutions are in a “test and learn” phase.   These technologies are at varying levels of maturity, but the potential to revolutionize the customer experience through AI may be truly transformational, and Celent was pleased to see so many projects in this space. This is just a taste of what we’ll have in store at the 10th annual Innovation and Insight Day on April 4th in Boston. We’ll be diving much deeper into the various topics, revealing the winners of all the awards, and discussing how they combined serious innovation with tangible business benefits to stand out from so many strong contenders. I look forward to seeing you all there.

Stop Throwing Money at Cybersecurity

Stop Throwing Money at Cybersecurity

cyber-operational-risk-150x1501 Most cyberattacks succeed because of weaknesses in people, processes, controls and operations. This is the definition of operational risk. Therefore, it makes sense to tackle cyber risk with the same tools you use to manage operational risk.

We continue to prove that the approach of the IT department managing cybersecurity is not working. Cyber risk is typically treated in parallel with other technology risks; the IT department is motivated to focus on securing the vulnerabilities of individual system components and proffers a micro view of security concerns.

My new Celent report on Treating Cyber Risk as an Operational Risk: Governance, Framework, Processes and Technologies”, discusses how financial institutions are advancing their cybersecurity practices by leveraging their existing operational risk frameworks to centralize, automate and streamline management, technologies, processes, and controls for a sounder and more resilient cybersecurity.

The report identifies and examines the steps required to achieve a risk-based approach to a sustainable and, ultimately, a measurable cyber risk management strategy:

1. Establish a long-term commitment to drive a top-down, risk-based approach to cybersecurity.

2. Recognize that the traditional approach of the IT department managing cybersecurity is limited and that most cyber risks are weaknesses in people, processes, controls, and operations.

3. If you have not already, consider deploying the NIST cybersecurity framework and tailor the framework to fit your individual cybersecurity requirements. The framework lets you take advantage of your current cybersecurity and operational risk language, processes and programs, industry standards and industry best practices. Both cyber and operational risk should be informed by and aligned with the institution’s enterprise-wide risk management framework.

4. Move your organization along the cybersecurity maturity curve by building dynamic risk models, based on shared industry data and assumptions, to measure and monitor cyber threats and pre-empt those attacks.

5. Stop throwing money at the problem. Educate decision-makers on why and how breaches happen. Do not purchase in siloes or under pressure, select the right expertise to identify the issues and carry out due diligence on products.

6. Use the NIST’s five functions to navigate and manage cybersecurity technology requirements and purchases.

7. Know what technology you want from your vendors; know what advice to seek from your consultants.

8. Acknowledge that cybersecurity is the responsibility of every employee and human behavior is the most basic line of defense. Institutions cannot hesitate in the goal to educate their employees, third parties and customers.

Passwords Suck – Bring on Biometrics!

Passwords Suck – Bring on Biometrics!

Now that I have your attention. Let me be clear: I hate passwords, particularly when they are increasingly required to be longer, more complex and frequently changed. Apparently, I am not alone in this sentiment.

At a conference in 2015, a small start-up, @Pay, a low-friction mobile giving platform, offered attendees a free t-shirt in return for seeing a brief demo. I must confess that I was more interested in the t-shirt than @Pay’s product demo. The line went out the door! Here is the t-shirt.

@Pay's Sought After T-shirtWorking from a home-office means t-shirts are staple part of my daily wardrobe. I have tons of them. None of them, however, engender such predictable responses from complete strangers than the one above. Responses range from a simple thumbs up or high-five, to an occasional, “You got that right!” Passwords do suck.  I have so many to manage, I use Trend Micro’s Password Manager to ease the pain.

That’s why I am excited to see more institutions migrate to biometric forms of authentication. Dan Latimore blogged about the rapid increase in the number of US financial institutions employing biometrics within their mobile apps here.

Banks shouldn’t stop there, however. In a June 21 New York Times article, Tom Shaw, vice president for enterprise financial crimes management at USAA was quoted as saying, “We believe the password is dying. We realized we have to get away from personal identification information because of the growing number of data breaches.”

I agree with Tom’s sentiment, but if passwords are dying, it appears to be a very slow and painful death. Here’s one example of why I say this. The chart below shows surveyed likelihood of technology usage in future branch designs as measured by Celent’s Branch Transformation Research Panel in late 2015. More than two-thirds of surveyed institutions thought the use of biometrics in future branch designs was “unlikely”.

Branch Tech Usage Liklihood

Authentication and identity management may always involve a trade-off between security and convenience, but the industry’s overreliance on personal identification information is failing on both counts.

  • At ATMs – it contributes to skimming fraud
  • In digital customer acquisition – it contributes to unacceptably high abandonment rates
  • In the mobile channel – it contributes to its slowing rate of utilization growth
  • In the branch – banks deny themselves the ability to delight customers with improved engagement options made available by skillful digital/physical integration

We’ll be looking into the topic of authentication and identity management in our next Digital Banking Research Panel survey in the coming weeks. If you’re a banker and would like to participate in this or future Digital Panels, please click here to fill out a short application

Taking the ‘Madness’ out of Customer Onboarding

Taking the ‘Madness’ out of Customer Onboarding

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel discussion on the topic of omnichannel customer onboarding sponsored by Kofax. It was a heavyweight panel, including:

  • Jim Marous, Co-Publisher/Author, The Financial Brand
  • JP Nicols, Director, Next Bank
  • Brant Clark, Sr. Director, Mobile Solutions, Kofax, Inc.

March Madness

Kofax is making a recording of this informative panel here.

It’s worth a listen. Why?

Customer acquisition is obviously important because it is a prerequisite to top line sales growth. Offering a low-friction digital capability is increasingly important because customers are becoming increasingly digitally-driven. Omnichannel customer acquisition matters because multiple channels – digital channels in particular – are influencing consumer’s choice of banking relationship. Banks therefore need to close the deal whenever and wherever customers make the decision to onboard. To do otherwise is inconvenient for potentially profitable prospects, and disadvantageous for institutions wanting them as customers.

The problem is, omnichannel customer acquisition remains largely aspirational for most North American financial institutions.

I’m looking forward to sharing two forthcoming research reports devoted to this important topic in the coming weeks.

Security, fraud, and risk Model Bank profiles: Alfa Bank and USAA

Security, fraud, and risk Model Bank profiles: Alfa Bank and USAA

Banks have worked hard to manage the different risks across their institutions. It has been and will remain costly, time consuming and a top priority. Celent profiles two award-winning banks who have modelled excellence in their use of risk management technologies across their banks.

They demonstrated:

  1. Degree of innovation
  2. Degree of difficulty
  3. Measurable, quantitative business results achieved
(Left to right, Martin Pilecky, CIO Alfa-Bank; Gary McAlum, SVP Enterprise Security Group USAA; Joan McGowan, Senior Analyst Celent)

(Left to right, Martin Pilecky, CIO Alfa-Bank; Gary McAlum, SVP Enterprise Security Group USAA; Joan McGowan, Senior Analyst Celent)

ALFA-BANK: SETS THE STANDARDS FOR BASEL COMPLIANCE IN RUSSIA

Alfa-Bank built a centralized and robust credit risk platform to implement Basel II and III standards, simultaneously, under very tight local regulatory deadlines. The bank decided to centralize all corporate credit-risk information onto a single platform that connected to front office systems and processes. Using Misys FusionRisk, Alfa-Bank was able to implement a central default system with a risk rating and risk-weighted asset calculations engine. The initiative is seen as one of the most important initiatives in the bank’s history. The successful completion of the project has placed Alfa-Bank at the forefront for setting standards and best practice methodologies for capital management regulations for the Russian banking industry and Central Bank.

USAA: SECURITY SELFIE, NATIVE FINGERPRINT, AND VOICE SIGNATURE

The game-changer for USAA is to deliver flawless, contextual customer application services that are secured through less intrusive authentication options. The use of biometrics (fingerprint, facial and vocal) to access its mobile banking application positions USAA to be able to compete with Fintechs across the digital banking ecosystem and offer exceptional service to its military and family members.

USAA worked with Daon Inc. to provide biometric solutions paired with its “Quick Logon” dynamic security token technology, which is embedded in the USAA Mobile App for trusted mobile devices. Biometric and token validation focus on who the user is and who the verifiers are and it addresses increasing concerns around the high level of compromise of static user names, passwords, and predictable security questions from sophisticated phishing attacks, external data breaches, and off-the-shelf credential-stealing malware.

For more information on these initiatives, please see the case study abstract on our website.     

Why are credit unions changing vendors at a higher rate than banks?

Why are credit unions changing vendors at a higher rate than banks?

Credit unions are almost twice as likely to change vendors as banks, with competitive churn rates of 7.6% compared to 2.7% for banks.  Churn Rate measures the number of institutions in a given time period that either change or drop a vendor contract.  Churn is broken down into two components: competitive churn, which measures the rate at which institutions are opting to change vendors, and consolidation churn, which measures uncontrollable factors like acquisitions or liquidations. The figure below (powered using data from FI Navigator) references total churn for the year ending March 31st, 2016.

FINPic

The figure reveals significant differences in churn between banks and credit unions.  But why is this difference so large? There are two possible drivers:

  1. Customer centricity: A focus on the customer could be a driver for higher churn. Banks and credit unions operate differently, and Celent has explored the variations in blogs and publications.  The mission statement of the credit union market has historically revolved around extreme customer centricity.  Over the last decade, mobile has become a critical component in quality customer service.  Emphasizing the needs of the customer could be driving credit unions to take more concerted efforts to maximize mobile/ digital, exploring competitive options more frequently than banks. Credit unions are low margin businesses that often give higher interest rates for products like auto-loans or deposit accounts through non-profit tax breaks.  Being member-owned, most of the smaller profits also go back into the business.  This creates a natural incentive to streamline the back-office, and credit unions have adopted cost effective technologies at higher rates. Thin margins combined with a focus on customer service could mean credit unions are more likely to evaluate provider options more frequently.
  2. Solution providers: Another perspective is that it’s the vendor market, not the CUs that are driving the churn. The vendor spectrum for credit unions in the US is much more diverse, with 43 vendors compared to 22 selling to banks.   This would reinforce the argument that competitive dynamics are more intense, and it would be reflected in sales cycles. With cost pressures that originate from their smaller size and lower margins, credit unions are more likely to look for alternative ways to provide products and services, leveraging mechanisms like Credit Union Service Organizations (CUSOs) to enhance the business.  Other similar joint ventures leverage cooperative arrangements to develop homegrown software products.  Consortiums not present in the banking market would introduce more competitors into the market, and as a result impact competitive dynamics.

Credit unions skew much smaller than banks (the mean credit union asset size is  $200 million vs. banks with around $2.5 billion), leading to a noticeably higher consolidated churn. Celent examined the pressures on credit unions here. As minimum viable institution size continues to get bigger, smaller institutions will be challenged to stay afloat. Vendors will face the risk that their customers are becoming targets for M&A activity resulting in more vendors competing for a shrinking demographic.

Credit unions need to think about how to best streamline their operations to remain viable.  This includes a mix of cost-effective customer service technologies like mobile banking.  Vendors need to have a better understanding of the competitive landscape into which they sell, as competition is intense.  Better data and detailed benchmarks can help vendors plan their strategy.

Celent is collaborating with FI Navigator to analyze the mobile banking market in financial services (in fact, FI Navigator wrote a great piece about credit unions and banks last year).  FI Navigator assembled a platform that leverages a proprietary algorithm to track every financial institution offering mobile in the US, as well as nearly 50 vendors.  Beginning with the first report at the end of April, Celent will be releasing a biannual examination of the mobile market. FI Navigator will also be making the platform available for further custom reporting and data analysis.  For more information on the nature of the collaboration and availability of data, go here.

Getting to digital while missing the point

Getting to digital while missing the point

Digital banking is so hot right now – for good reason. The recently published research sponsored by the Federal Reserve, Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2016, reported that 87% of the U.S. adult population has a mobile phone and 77% of them are smartphones, up from 71% in 2014 and 61% in 2013. Admittedly, it is getting hard to find a phone that’s not internet-enabled. But consumers are acquiring them for a reason – and it’s not telephony. The same report documented the rise of mobile banking: 43% of all mobile phone owners with a bank account had used mobile banking in the past 12 months, up from 39% in 2014 and 33% in 2013.

Digital Banking Not surprisingly then, the significant majority of US financial institutions now offer digital banking capabilities to their customers. But, most were designed to migrate transactions away from the more expensive branch channel to lower-cost self-service mechanisms. A worthy objective, but it misses the point (more on that later).

Celent has research in the field now designed to understand just how far US banks and credit unions have come in achieving digital channel adoption targets. The short (however preliminary) answer: not very far. It’s not for lack of trying, however. Two-thirds of responding institutions said they have specific, measurable digital channel adoption goals.

Digital adoption goals Mar 16
Source: Celent Managed Research Panel, March 2015, n=32

Beyond Transactions More recently, a growing number of banks and credit unions are thinking beyond transactions toward digital sales and service. Another worthy objective, particularly among the large number of institutions that are, frankly, desperate for revenue growth. A minority have specific , measurable goals to increase digital customer acquisition. We expect that to change as more banks embrace the imperative for omnichannel delivery. Institutions thinking beyond transactions are paying close attention to the state of digital customer acquisition – for good reason. About three-quarters of banks in Celent’s survey track completion rates, but far fewer systematically follow up on incomplete applications. This is a problem! The apparent disconnect seems to reflect a bias towards digital delivery. If cost reduction is the primary objective (it rarely is) than good. But if revenue growth and customer engagement are what banks are after (I believe that to be the case) then many are missing the point.

In my opinion, the objective of omnichannel banking shouldn’t be tied to migrating an arbitrary percentage of customer interactions to the digital realm – whether transactions or sales. Consumers are becoming increasingly digitally-driven without bank’s involvement! The point of omnichannel delivery is to offer customers consistent and convenient ways to engage with your bank whenever and wherever they so choose, not to achieve some arbitrary channel mix.

The fact is, most consumers don’t want to open accounts on their mobile devices, even though they are very likely to be researching banking products and services online. That’s why banks need to offer a variety of low-friction ways to engage with customers and prospects. Click-to-call and digital appointment booking are two examples. Digital appointment booking (DAB), in particular, has emerged as “low-hanging fruit” among banks seeking to better integrate digital and in-person engagement. Although impressive results can be obtained from relatively modest effort, few institutions have taken this step.

Digital Appointment Booking First and foremost, DAB is not about driving branch traffic or somehow prolonging its relevance as some have suggested. Rather, DAB is about improving omnichannel customer engagement. Best practices suggest it is not a silver bullet either, but one of many customer engagement mechanisms that leading financial institutions are learning how to orchestrate to better serve customers. DAB is also not simply about booking appointments. When integrated with lobby management systems, DAB solutions help customers efficiently and effectively accomplish what they want and when they want it. Done well, DAB is very much a win-win. This is the point, isn’t it?

I’ll be presenting on best practices in digital appointment booking at American Banker’s Retail Banking 2016 in Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon April 6th. The presentation is part of Innovations for Credit Unions from 1:00 – 4:00 in the afternoon. If you’re planning to attend, feel free to stop by and say “hello”!

Mobile in the time of digital

Mobile in the time of digital
Bank of America recently announced that it would triple spending on its mobile app. While no exact dollar amount was given, it made me wonder: what exactly does that entail? In the past, Celent has praised the Bank of America mobile banking apps as some of the best out there. The bank has been going strong with its digital strategy for years, even closing branches and reducing overhead to drive adoption. Bank of America recently added features like touch ID, debit card toggling, two-way fraud alerts, and more to its app, and has been outspoken about the desire to personalize the digital experience. Its commitment to new features and functionality is reflected in the comments and ratings on iTunes and Google Play. Shown in the graph below, the bank´s mobile banking adoption has been steadily growing, with a growing share of deposits. Pictureforblog                     Source: BofA Annual Reports/ Investor Presentations So again: what does “tripling” mean when talking about an app that has obviously been well-funded for quite some time? As digital assumes a larger role with the business, the funding required to build a digital customer experience will extend beyond the reaches of mobile. The capabilities many consumers demand can be difficult if not impossible without significant effort on the backend to align technology. Banks are starting to realize this, building out unified digital platforms that streamline the architecture and better position institutions to offer truly modern, data-driven, and value-added consumer experiences. These kinds of initiatives can often run in tandem with larger cultural and multi-channel efforts. In the press release for the announcement, Bank of America said it was launching a digital ambassador initiative which, similar to the Barclays Digital Eagles program, will see front-line branch staff reskilled to be able to assist with digital channels. The bank is also launching cardless ATMs later this year. I´m assuming the coincidence of these announcements is anything but, and that the funds for “mobile” will largely be dispersed over (or fit into) a wider array of strategic digital initiatives. Institutions need to create a solid digital base within the institution, bringing in culture, personnel, and technology across all channels and lines of business to start transforming digitally. Banks are being challenged by the notion of “becoming digital.” Many have reached the point of recognizing the inevitable digitization of the business model, and are in the throes of decision making that will determine how equipped they are to appeal to the new digital consumer. Most institutions are experiencing these growing pains, and very few have committed to digital at the level demanded by customers. If Bank of America is indeed tripling its budget just for mobile, then I´ll be very interested to see the kind of features the bank develops over the next few years. Yet there´s a lot that goes on to make the front end look good and spending more on the front will mean more spending on the back. Mobile banking is a significant part of digital banking, but remember that it’s only ONE part. While new functionality gets the headlines, it’s what’s under the hood – culture and backend – that truly matters.