When smartphones hit the scene, the reaction in the financial services industry was predictable and practical. Innovative financial institutions rushed to roll out a user experience that mirrored what customers had come to expect from their online channels. In too many cases, though, that led to a lot of squinting and fumbling. Then came the iPad, and the quickest financial institutions responded initially with a “2x” magnification of their iPhone apps that led to over-sized and over-pixalated keys. This past weekend, though, consumers got three pieces of evidence from USAA, Wells Fargo and BB&T of how far and fast things are evolving in the opposite direction – and how mobile banking is redefining online banking for the better.

All along, it was clear that the early stop-gap approaches to mobile design weren’t going to cut it for long. Instead, the wiser course was to design mobile banking to suit the strengths of smartphones and tablets – focusing smartphones on always-on, real-time monitoring and management, and tablets on more of a layback type of transaction. And all along, we predicted the result would be a cleaner, simpler, more intuitive user experience that would force financial institutions to recognize that customers would quickly respond by asking, “Why can’t online be as easy as it is on mobile?” In short, one outcome of rethinking things for smartphones and tablets is it exposes the need to remodel online banking. It’s the banking equivalent of a home remodeling.

Once you upgrade the master bath, you recognize the need to upgrade everything around it – the floors and baseboards, then repainting, and suddenly you’re looking at a kitchen remodel, too. This past weekend I spotted three examples of this trend, which is likely to accelerate throughout 2013. Financial institutions that fail to keep pace will be as out of date as an avocado green stovetop.

USAA has rolled out a new way for members to oversee their accounts that evokes Javelin’s “view + do” approach to personal finance management. USAA sports a Yodlee-powered widget look (similar to what Intuit/Mint rolled out this spring), and it allows members to do some limited adding, deleting and moving around. (See adjacent screenshot.) I suspect this is the foundation for an app-store approach that will enable members to turn on/off some free features, then one day opt to pay for specialty features. The most useful thing about the new design is it invites users to aggregate outside accounts – the No. 1 desire among consumers according to Javelin data – and it worked easily and quickly when I tried it. It also invited me to add an appraisal for my home and autos to develop a more accurate net worth. The former worked fine (although I was disappointed the appraisal wasn’t higher). The auto appraisals did not work out because I do not hold auto policies with USAA. Overall, the makeover looks good, the aggregated view is handy, and I have no reason to believe USAA’s transfers and payments won’t continue to be a 1-2-3 snap.

Wells Fargo redesigned its home page. Wells says its redesign was done with a tablet user in mind, buttressing executive comments about how critical the tablet is to their customers. From what I can tell as a customer, though, the user experience for regular banking chores remains the same kinda blah, kinda clunky experience. I noticed today, for instance, that the bill pay tab in my personal online banking does not reflect the bill pay transactions that I conduct for the same checking account when I log into my wife’s small business online banking. Wells Fargo still has work to do.

BB&T launched a new home-grown digital account opening process. Aleia Van Dyke and I got a sneak peek of it last week when researching an upcoming report on digital account opening, and I came away impressed by the bank’s emphasis on user testing and reiteration. BB&T offers one view for computers, whittles it down for tablets, then whittles it further for smartphones. There are a number of smart touches to keep things simple, reduce abandonment, and get accounts funded and functioning. I think BB&T has a winner.


About Mark Schwanhausser

Mark strategizes how financial institutions can track and serve customers across the channels they use, and provide a consistent, integrated brand and user experience. Mark helps banks and credit unions profitably enable customers to monitor and manage their money more intelligently through technology such as online banking, mobile banking, personal financial management, financial alerts, and technologies on the horizon. 

Mark led the development of Javelin’s Digital Banking Maturity Path, a strategic framework for assessing a financial institution’s ability to deliver advice in digital channels, and the Financial Journey Model, which builds digital banking on a foundation of time-tested personal finance principles. He has also mapped out strategies to upgrade online banking, digital account opening, and financial alerts in a mobile-first era. 

Before joining Javelin, Mark was a personal finance reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. He covered money and emerging trends in financial services and payments technology.

Mark has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri at Columbia and attended Antioch College.

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