Since 2010, Chelsea Apps Factory has helped businesses innovate fast and gain sustainable value from mobile; whether that’s through mobile apps to drive improvements in employee productivity, client retention, or incremental revenue from digital channels.
Creating an Award-winning, 5 Star Banking App for Vanquis Bank
This case study documents the work of Chelsea Apps Factory and Vanquis Bank in developing a new banking app. The app was awarded Fintech App of Year 2018 at the UK App Awards and continues to delight customers who regularly provide 5 star reviews of it on the App Store.
About Vanquis Bank
Vanquis Bank is part of the Provident Financial Group, a FTSE 250 lender established in 1880 with a history of operating in the home credit market. Vanquis Bank was established as the credit card issuing arm of the Provident Financial Group in 2002 and now has 1.7 million customers.
Vanquis is the largest dedicated specialist ‘low and grow’ credit card issuer in the UK credit card market, helping customers with low credit ratings to build their credit profile.
Adopting Agile Practices
Vanquis approached Chelsea Apps Factory to replace their current mobile banking app with a cross-platform native application, and to act as their digital partner. The aim was to provide customers with a better mobile experience from an app that could also be brought back in-house and managed by the bank’s digital team.
Vanquis was finding it costly and difficult to evolve their off the shelf product and its limitations were starting to have an impact on their service offering. With a growing need to develop digital skills and capabilities, Vanquis took the long-term strategic decision to develop a new app and to bring the app development in- house, and they turned to Chelsea Apps Factory to help make this happen.
Esther Coleman, Head of Digital, takes up the story:
“We wanted to join the digital movement, adopt Agile practices and recognised that it was the key factor in progressing the business. The problem was, we didn’t have all of the skills we needed in-house, and we hadn’t attempted a project of this scale before, so we decided to get some external support.”
Chelsea Apps Factory provided an approach that showed how Vanquis could develop a new app and transition through knowledge transfer to a point where the app could be taken back in-house and managed by their team. Several competitive bids were considered to carry out the work but, following an inspiring workshop run by CAF, Vanquis decided they were the right partner to help, and appointed them as Digital Partner.
Quite apart from skilling the team, Vanquis knew that their current app was not providing the intelligence needed for the business to measure the impact of its current propositions and identify customer pain points. They wanted a solution that would help them conduct benefits realisation exercises and be able to measure and apply validated learning techniques to enhance the customer experience across digital.
“The old app didn’t provide us with much data so it was hard to get any kind of learnings from it to understand the kind of impact it was having. This was obviously a missed opportunity for us.” comments Esther.
She continues, “Our customer base is unique. We help people build their credit rating. People who may have fallen foul of credit ratings for one reason or another previously – or those who just have had so little credit that they don’t have a rating at all,” says Esther. “We needed an app to help customers control of their finances, and it needed to be simple and compelling to use.”
Customer-first and user testing
One of the main business objectives for Vanquis is to reduce friction for their customers; helping them to pay their bills on time, to steadily improve their credit rating - and the new app provision was central to achieving that.
As a result, there was a big emphasis on user testing, as part of the discovery process, in order to apply design thinking to the product. In practice, this involved the setting up of a highly collaborative environment comprising Vanquis SMEs and UX/ UI, where the team would ideate based on input from the business and validate assumptions with users. This user testing was built into the bi-weekly sprint cycles. It was a rigorous process involving multiple tests for each feature, to ensure it was the best possible solution for the customer, whilst also achieving business goals.
Later, once the app was launched, CAF used a ‘test and learn’ approach in a live environment to answer questions that required more quantitative data.
“Testing is something CAF does very well. It has given us enormous confidence in the app design, having customers come in and test different design iterations. There’s nothing better than that first- hand feedback and CAF has added enormous value to that process.”
Esther Coleman adds, “It’s useful validation, and it’s a lot cheaper to do upfront than after the event. Customers find it a positive thing too. We care about their opinions to help drive our roadmap. It’s definitely something we want to encourage. We want to be able to offer our customers the right products - and the app helps us do that. It’s about having a customer-first attitude and we’ve tried to put that feeling into the app – because I think you can still be human in your provision of a digital channel for customers. And that sets us apart.”
Building an app using Xamarin
To build their new app CAF and Vanquis identified Xamarin as the preferred technology. Xamarin Forms was selected as it can write both native for Android and IOS applications using C#, a language set of Microsoft’s .NET framework. The project plan was to operate dual teams; Vanquis on the back end and CAF on the front end and together they would deliver the new app. CAF worked within, and was sympathetic to, the numerous constraints and regulations of the financial services sector, whilst applying the ‘customer-first’ approach applied by product design to both the front and back end of the project. The teams then worked collaboratively, from a technology perspective, to pull together API strategies that would enable the design solutions for the app now,.
“We knew that there would be a heavy amount of up-front work and eventually we would go solo. The expectation was to deliver a mobile-first banking app – with a delivery objective of H1 2017
– and one that we would be able to move all of our customers over to as well as generating incremental business value,” comments Esther.
The app launched with a minimum marketable product (MMP) in June 2017 then proceeded with agile release practices to deliver iterative and continuous value to the customer every four weeks.
Dual team challenges
This was a big project of over 50 people, involving teams across front end, apps, middleware and infrastructure
Enterprise projects present unique challenges pertaining to their scale and complexity. One of these challenges relates to the practicalities of administering Agile across product teams. Whilst Agile principles recommend co-location this isn’t always practical in enterprise projects, so overcoming this challenge was paramount to success.
CAF solved the issue by developing a communications strategy that bridged the geographical gap and a systemised approach to communication across product development. Through virtual stand-ups and regular onsite workshops, the teams bonded and good working relationships were established. Strong project management, daily catch ups and weekly face-to-face meetings at Vanquis in Chatham helped coordinate team efforts, manage any issues and set project expectations.
“My relationship with CAF has been awesome! I feel like they are an extension of Vanquis. CAF has a great team of people, and everyone was clearly very knowledgeable, skilled and engaged. They were all emotionally committed to a successful project outcome. They were sympathetic to the constraints of our business, working within a highly regulated sector.
To find out more about our work with Vanquis Bank or to talk to us about your own digital project email firstname.lastname@example.org