Banks sharpen focus on mobile, tablets
St Seorge's CIO Dhiren Kulkarni (left) with the bank's head of mobile Travis Tyler. Photo: Nate Cochrane
Australia's first internet bank is shifting its focus from websites to mobile apps as it seeks new ways to serve customers – especially those with tablets.
St George, now part of the Westpac group, was the first to offer internet banking in 1995, when fewer than a handful of banks worldwide were online. But as consumer preferences shift, St George is now prioritising mobile devices as the simpler, more powerful way to reach customers. St George has 1.1 million digital customers, half of whom use mobile platforms, said the bank's head of mobile Travis Tyler.
"The big piece of work at the moment is transforming the mobile and tablet experience," Tyler said of the bank's mobile redesign project which needed to capitalise on tablet features such as cameras and gesture control.
The bank is also reportedly looking at smartwatches as a possible new avenue for mobile baking and payment apps, and a budget planner populated with Australian Bureau of Statistics data, more use of geolocation, better integration with the group's BT superannuation products, and video conferencing with bank experts.
St George chief information officer Dhiren Kulkarni said the bank was focusing on Apple iOS, Google Android and Windows 8: "Mobile has exceeded all our expectations". Kulkarni said BlackBerry would not be catered for as very few customers now wanted services on the platform.
Much of this effort was providing self-service applications to augment the call centre, he said.
"The contact centre does a thousand things – we want to do those 15 things that matter to customers in terms of volume." That may include "get out of trouble" apps such as lifting the limit on a credit card in an emergency.
Kulkarni said the bank had a "fast fail" development philosophy, which factored in customer feedback. An example was the Money Meter app that was used about 2000 times a week and which displayed a customer's financial situation on a simple fuel gauge.
St George is also investigating how to become a trusted financial platform so other financial services providers can serve its customers. Financial services organisations were among the leaders in offering mobile services, this year's Optus Future of Business report found. The number of financial services organisations that engage customers through mobile was expected to grow to 92 per cent within five years, up to 62 per cent currently.
Meanwhile, NAB is not standing still. It introduced a new app, Flik, for social media payments in an area pioneered by Commonwealth Bank's Kaching and its peer-to-peer payment facility Bump. Kaching has been downloaded a million times and processed $9 billion since its October 2011 launch. ANZ also offeres a pay-anyone mobile facility through its goMoney app.
In addition to sending money through email and Facebook, NAB's Flik creates and scans QR codes and communicates wirelessly with nearby devices using near-field communication. A $1000 daily limit is geared to smaller transactions between friends, such as paying for social outings, said NAB executive general manager for digital and direct banking, Antony Cahill.
"NAB Flik offers customers another way to choose how and when they do their banking and removes the need for any awkward conversations about who owes money," Cahill said.
Branch of the future
St George was also changing its branch formats to put "technology at the forefront", Tyler said. It joined the likes of NAB that last week unveiled its vision of the branch of the future, which will replace tellers with touchscreens.
In a speech to the Trans Tasman Business Circle last month, Westpac CIO Clive Whincup said the convergence of mobility, digitisation and social media had "radically shifted the balance of power, placing the customer in control".
"Continuous, ubiquitous connectivity is changing the way customers think and act ... [as they are] comparing and contrasting expert opinion with social experience," through platforms such as Facebook, Whincup said. This will have deep consequences for how banks provide services in the future.
Westpac has 3.6 million active online and mobile customers across the group transacting about $280 billion a month, and has 254,000 active mobile business customers, Whincup said.