Westpac has tapped a UK rocket scientist for an augmented reality smartphone app it hopes will put customers in control of their credit card spending.
The app, the result of an “app challenge” earlier this year, uses the phone's camera to scan a customer’s credit or debit card and immediately produce a visual representation complete with bar charts showing how the money was spent – say in travel, food or utilities. It also summarises loyalty points, flags how many days left to pay the bill, and allows for payment on the spot.
It was the brainchild of a 20-something rocket scientist who builds apps as a side business. He answered the bank’s call for developers, customers and others to present ideas that solved a personal “pain point” – that’s an ongoing problem someone has with the bank.
Westpac NZ chief digital officer Simon Pomeroy wouldn’t disclose the identity of the scientist but told Fairfax Media he had won the challenge's $NZ20,000 ($18,260) global prize plus a $NZ10,000 ($9130) trip to NZ for his efforts. The scientist would also keep the intellectual property of the app and could benefit further if he chose to use the bank’s partner introductions to implement the concept elsewhere.
“His job is in innovation. He spends his time thinking about apps and saw the ability to create one he'd use himself. He was just really blown away by the fact that he could enter something online and have it taken to this level,” Pomeroy said.
A separate app challenge held in NZ yielded two more apps, which the bank will incorporate into existing online banking solutions also next month.
Stephen Pinkham, a supermarket checkout supervisor, and David Arnold, a retiree, won $NZ10,000 each for their innovative contributions. They will also keep the IP.
“We will give them the tools and the code to take and commercialise (it) around the world,” Pomeroy said, adding their ideas wouldn't be a separate app, but part of a larger rollout of the bank's new internet banking platform.
Banks have been engaged in a technology arms race in recent years, with the pace set initially by the Commonwealth Bank’s Kaching app.
Since then, CBA has launched a number of incremental techno-driven banking facilities, including bumping phones and using Facebook to pay another party. Last month the ANZ Bank launched a wealth management app, Grow. Westpac NZ has also launched Google Glass trials and has rolled out a smartwatch app.
Pomeroy said some 200 customers were already using a Sony smartwatch to check balances and manage their bank accounts. “That’s probably in line with smartwatch penetration in NZ,” he quipped.
The banks are also feeling pressure from non-traditional players, with a number of payment and virtual wallets, like those that process bitcoins, vying for a slice of transactions that bypass traditional banking.
Pomeroy is now working with Samsung and Apple to implement fingerprinting authentication for online banking login in future smartphone models.
“The thing we need to define first is the whole ID management piece,” he said, adding it should be ready to roll out with expected new devices by the end of the year.
Pomeroy said the augmented reality app only works with a customer’s authorised cards, in the same way as linked accounts in online banking. One person’s registered app cannot read another person’s credit card, he said.
The app will be launched next month in NZ, at the same time as the code will be made available to the bank’s Australian network to implement.
Telsyte research director Foad Fadaghi said banks were keen to launch new apps, but their success was dependent on usefulness.
“It comes down to the stickiness of the apps. While a lot of customers might download and try an app, unless it serves a really useful purpose, they might not use it again,” Fadaghi said.
He also wondered if augmented reality technology was really necessary to provide data analytics on bank accounts.
“It’s an interesting idea … [but] do you need to have augmented reality for that?
“Certainly, app developers these days are looking to utilise more the sensors and the other features of smartphones and we do expect more of that.”
Pomeroy urged attendees of a financial services technology conference in Melbourne on Wednesday to look to global technology trends to understand how customers wanted to be served, before devising a digital strategy.
“The world is changing. Customers want access to all of their banking, 24/7, on all their devices.
“[In] our industry we’ve spent 200 years perfecting the art of physical [banking]. It’s always been the customers’ money, and for a long time we dictated how they got access to that money."
He said if banks didn’t grasp the need for true self-service, they would go the way of Kodak, which failed to embrace change.
“It’s not going to be long before we become victims.”