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The ‘Atomised’ banking app points the way forward for marketing on mobile

By Paul Holland, Content strategist

February 23, 2016 | 5 min read

The days of the mobile app acting as a largely passive icon on your mobile are clearly coming to an end. Apps are developing a much stronger contextual awareness, coming to you when they sense that you need them rather than vice versa, delivering digestible and useful snippets of information, of the sort which Google described as “Micro Moments”.

The most forward-looking brands and industries will embrace the inevitable movement towards the kinds of open architectures and cross-industry information sharing which can provide contextual awareness, or else risk becoming another victim of the P2P marketplace - banks are fully aware that within the financial sector, cryptocurrencies and its associated block-chain distributed ledger are rapidly gathering pace.

Brands such as Spotify, have pioneered alternative approaches to service distribution, retaining brand identity while reaching users across third party platforms, and it appears as though retail banks will shortly, if reluctantly, follow suit.

Digital agencies who have experience in the industry are monitoring developments closely as the proportion of work derived from financial institutions could be set to rise dramatically.

The challenge of ‘opening up’ data

Banking is a fascinating case study for atomised services as it represents the very sector which will struggle most to surrender control of its core identity, in an industry where customer data is famously siloed and software development projects tend to be very laboured.

This is set to change, whether traditional banks like it or not due to European legislation designed to promote competition in the sector through Open APIs (Application Programming Interface).

Back in 2013, Gartner predicted that by 2016, 75 per cent of the top 50 banks would have an API platform, helping them to circumnavigate lumbering core systems and provide a fuller range of customer centric apps; the ability to open this platform up to outside developers would present a chance to breed new innovation into a bank’s digital strategy. As a consequence, it was predicted that 25% of banks would have an actual app store by 2016.

Traditional banks have been reluctant to act as first movers, and this wave of innovation has so far failed to occur which begs the question - what can a bank actually do with the humble banking app to warrant an app store?

For many of us a banking app is a convenient means-to-an-end, from which we require simple balance and payment functionality. Having the kinds of choices presented to us by a “bank app store” might only add to our sense of app fatigue - especially if these digital offerings aren’t well-planned and purposeful.

On the surface of it, if your bank simply broke your current banking app into its component parts and deployed them on different apps, this would generally degrade the user experience. The real proposition is much different.

The strategic use of API platforms will atomise your banking experience into a range of different services, by allowing your banking apps to communicate with third party services, either to initiate payments, to request account information or to deliver offers and services unique to the user; the result being that your app will come to you rather than vice versa.

For example, the much anticipated Mondo Bank app will use an API to automatically send a request to Transport for London in the event that you’ve forgotten to tap out of the London Tube and you require a refund.

The rise of Context-as-a-Service

Harmonising banking services with those of third parties in the manner described above isn’t an easy task, and we may see an increasing number of banks collaborating with “Context-as-a-Service” providers, following the lead of TD Bank in Canada which recently partnered with Flybits.

The addition of Flybits to the TD Bank app will push bits of contextual information to the customer, providing offers and discounts based on numerous inputs including IoT sensors, weather, time and a string of other variables.

Due to Context-as-a-Service and open APIs, it’s conceivable that within the next year your bank will be actively reaching out to every dimension of your life where potential transactions occur, rather than being linked back as it is now through online payment gateways.

This will present a vast array of development opportunities, particularly in terms of smartwatch apps which could be the ideal medium for communicating regular contextual information in the form of discounts and offers whilst on-the-move.

Banks will need help to cope with this new era of user experience and a deepening of their relationship with UX based design-and-build digital agencies seems inevitable. Agencies can help the financial sector to frame technological requirements and get software to market at the pace required to maintain the banking sector’s narrowing advantage.

Paul Holland is a content strategist at Orange Bus.

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