Experts in mobile banking offer 10 best practices every bank should consider when building out second-generation mobile services.
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With devices based on Google's Android operating system challenging Apple's iPhone, tablet computing on the rise, and SMS text messaging overtaking email in popularity, banks of all sizes have scrambled to anticipate and meet customer demands for mobile banking services. Among the banks that got an early start is SunTrust Banks.
"Initially, we introduced a downloadable app in 2007," notes Kristen Rankin, mobile channel manager for the Atlanta-based institution. "But we soon decided we wanted a solution that functioned across all three primary access methods: downloadable app, mobile Web, and SMS, while maintaining consistency with our other online solutions."
SunTrust's existing mobile vendor, however, focused solely on downloadable apps, forcing the bank to initiate the usual rigorous vendor selection process in order to add the desired capabilities. Finally, in early 2010, Rankin reports, SunTrust ($170.8 billion in total assets) turned to Fiserv and its partner M-Com, a New Zealand-based start-up that Fiserv subsequently acquired. The bank then raced to roll out the new mobile banking services before year-end.
So what do the experiences of mobile banking trailblazers like SunTrust teach us thus far? Here are the top 10 mobile banking best practices gleaned from discussions with bankers and technology experts alike:
1. Go for the triple play.
While smartphone apps have garnered much of the hype, analysts have been suggesting for some time that banks offer all three mobile approaches--donwloadable apps, mobile browsers, and SMS-based services--and now banks are taking their advice. According to SunTrust's Rankin, mobile Web (also called "Web apps") users began surpassing active smartphone app users at the bank within three months of deployment. "Today, those using mobile browsers on any device are about double our [downloadable] app users," she says.
It's a similar story at Laredo, Texas-based IBC Bank ($12 billion in total assets), which introduced its first downloadable app in 2008 using the mFoundry platform. "Once our iPhone app was made available, our mobile banking adoption rate increased gradually and steadily through 2010," observes Kevin Mullins, the bank's SVP of electronic services. But, "When we rolled out mobile Web last January, adoption went straight up."
2. Invest in versatility.
Ensure that your vendor can adapt quickly. "You need a provider with staying power that will grow with you," advises Aaron McPherson, practice director for payments and security with IDC Financial Insights. "Evaluate vendors, in part, on whether they have a vision that matches current trends: Do they have a good mobile
Web apps strategy? And do they have the staff to support current growth?"
IBC Bank's Mullins agrees. "Being with a nimble, visionary leader is important," he says. "We like that our vendor, mFoundry, is focused on one thing--mobile banking. We believe that type of focus is an attribute."
3. Develop with agility.
To ensure that your mobile offerings evolve rapidly enough, develop with agility in mind. For traditional organizations such as SunTrust, iterative development can itself be trailblazing.
"SunTrust had always followed the waterfall method," affirms the bank's Rankin. "Our team received approval to pursue iterative development and, because it was new, doing so was fairly complex for us from an organizational perspective. We had four or five work packets moving in tandem and didn't perform end-to-end testing until we were within 45 days of going live. But we successfully met our goal to roll out by December 2010."
4. Test, test, and re-test.
As mFoundry CEO and cofounder Drew Sievers points out, with mobile banking there's no such thing as testing too much. "Mobile, by definition, is dynamic, always moving and adjusting," he says. "You deploy untested code at your own peril."
As SunTrust discovered, however, following this advice can take the bank into new territory. "We were accustomed to being able to fully test our digital solutions internally," observes SunTrust's Rankin. "But, to ensure our mobile Web solution rendered correctly across mobile devices, we needed to augment the number and type of devices and tools available for testing.
"For us," she continues, "the solution was forming a relationship with the remote mobile quality assurance provider DeviceAnywhere. Additionally, connecting our regions to the Fiserv SMS gateway to test the message flow all the way through the carriers and to our devices was a new process and learning curve for us."
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