Making smartphone banking even smarter

More supportive mobile technologies make it easy to talk with a real person, helping banks reconnect with customers in the digital age.

It’s second nature for many of us to check our current account balance or make a payment via our smartphone. Mobile banking is hugely popular – the British Bankers’ Association says that customers use mobile banking apps four billion times a year. But it is not yet as popular as desktop PCs. The 2016 Youbiquity Finance research carried out by BT[1] and Avaya found that while 27 per cent of customers used a smartphone app to access their account two to three or more times a week, 50 per cent used a PC or Mac. Mobile banking needs better functionality to grow.

When it comes to more complicated transactions or researching products (where users need to compare multiple sets of information), people still choose to work on a larger screen or use other channels, such as visiting the branch, writing or phoning.  Eighty per cent of us still prefer to use our PC or Mac for tricky tasks such as applying for a loan or comparing interest rates on different accounts. If banks are serious about extending the reach and capability of their mobile services, then they must look at introducing new tools that allow customers to communicate and transact more easily and freely via smartphones.

Consumers want help from real people

What’s more, despite the wealth of information available online about financial services, consumers say that making choices about financial products is difficult. When it comes to buying banking products using self service, nearly three in four consumers experience difficulties and need help to complete transactions successfully. Common problems include: the small print is unclear (40%); questions about the quote or price or rate (29%); did not have all the information required for the application (26%); a problem with the online process or found it too complicated (23%).

In order to make the right choices, customers want more guidance and advice. They’d like to get that help from real people, from knowledgeable, friendly bank staff. So they will ring the call centre, or visit the branch. But by introducing technologies such as video, webchat and visual IVR into their mobile apps, banks can begin to give their customers the right balance of automation and human interaction in their mobile services.

The better the mobile experience, the more customers will choose it over higher cost channels. Improving the overall online experience must also be a key factor in helping banks respond to pressure from the Competition and Markets Authority and make it easier for customers to open new accounts or switch providers.

Face to face financial advice

Video has big potential. The wealth of video content online and growth in video apps means that consumers are now more aware of how it can be used and what the benefits might be. There has been a jump in the number of consumers who say they’d welcome a video chat with their financial service provider. Two thirds (66 per cent) like the idea of video chat as it means they wouldn’t have to make an appointment. More than half (59 per cent) agree that a video conference would be a good way to resolve disputes or complaints with their bank. And 55 per cent of people agree that having a video conversation with a financial adviser would help them understand the advice being given.

If customers know they can get high quality face to face advice via video that might be enough to deter them from ringing the call centre or visiting the branch. Of course, two way free flow video is not always appropriate for a mobile user – a successful video conversation requires the right time, place and bandwidth. Yet video can still be used for one way communications – to explain a new product perhaps, or to welcome a new customer with a personal message. 

The value of webchat

According to the Youbiquity Finance research, there has been a leap in the number of people who would welcome smartphone apps with built webchat services. Around one in six consumers in Germany, Spain and the UK have already used webchat to contact their bank. Webchat can help build consumer confidence too. Fifty four per cent of people say that being able to see things on the screen makes webchat more valuable than a call and 57 per cent like having a record of the conversation.

Visual IVR would also be welcome. People will always have a need to phone the bank but those phone interactions need to be easier and faster. The traditional IVR interface (“press one to check your balance, press two to speak to a customer service representative…”) is clumsy to use, especially with a smartphone as the caller has to keep switching from listening to the message to pressing the keypad. Visual IVR replaces all that with a visual overlay on the smartphone screen, so the caller can rapidly click or swipe through the options. Visual IVR is easy to add to a mobile app and can use existing IVR scripts.

Reconnect with customers, rebuild confidence

The global financial crisis left banks grappling with the need to rebuild consumer confidence. More than any digital technology, it is person to person contact that creates emotional engagement and trust. There will always be a need for customers and their banks to talk to each other. More supportive mobile technologies that make it easy to talk with a real person have an important role to play in helping banks reconnect with their customers and build more confident relationships for the digital age.


[1] BT and Avaya carried out consumer research on attitudes towards digital banking from 3000 customers across the UK, Germany and Spain.