Listening to Facebook for Design Clues

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Centier Bank found out in mid-August last year, almost immediately after posting its own Facebook page for the first time, what service customers wanted most that the Merrillville, Ind., institution had yet to offer. Commentary made it clear the community bank should prioritize mobile banking. Handheld delivery was a top, often fervent request among customer posts.

Customers began posting about their mobile desires in the weeks after the bank's Facebook page debut, during which Centier garnered more than 5,000 "likes" over a single weekend. "In the old days you'd put a dozen people together in a roundtable in a room some place and ask them what they thought," says Bob Buhle, senior partner at Centier, about the power of social networking. "Today a couple thousand people will just tell you what they think."

Determined to swiftly satisfy the pent-up customer demand for services yet to be rendered, the bank jettisoned a go-slow approach and embarked on what would be its fastest release, from development to deployment, ever. Centier's chief executive, Michael E. Schrage, promised publicly that a mobile banking solution would be released by yearend.

That ambitious goal was partly informed by circumstance: the Austin, Texas, mobile application developer Malauzai Software had moved forward on a partnership forged in 2010 with Centier's core bank provider and host processor Computer Services Inc. of Paducah, Ky. CSI had invested in the mobile vendor; both were set to release in October a mobile banking application called SmartApp that's integrated with CSI's core banking system and compatible with the customer verification process of CSI's security affiliate, Attus Technologies. A prototype was unveiled in August at CSI's customer conference in Indianapolis, Buhle says. By late September, Centier committed to use the system, and a development team convened at the bank on Oct. 12 to discuss testing.

About three months later, on Jan. 19 at 2 p.m., Centier offered its first mobile app to customers for download from Facebook. An in-app enrollment feature enabled users to sign up for mobile banking directly from their phones. To tap mobile, customers don't have to use or even be registered to use online banking.

Facebook again became "a good sounding board," Buhle says, this time helping Centier prioritize improvements the bank wants the vendors to make to the app, based on "what people said they liked, and what they didn't." Coming releases of SmartApp are aimed at rectifying the difficulties Facebook posters and some commenters on iTunes and Google Play app stores described having with the service initially. Some posts alleged prolonged difficulties in registering to use the tool. Others professed confusion over needing separate log-ins and passwords for mobile, versus those for their online banking accounts. A few were annoyed with having to choose account aliases during enrollment. Still others cited performance issues with certain mobile devices.

"We hear what they are saying," Buhle emphasizes. "So we are enhancing our registration process in our next release to remove some of the unnecessary fields and streamline and shorten the process without compromising the integrity of the identity validation process. The next release will allow users to change aliases within the application."

"A pending release will resolve some known Android issues," Buhle says. "We are also exploring a quick-look feature that would let consumers get to balances without signing on. We currently have a limitation where [the online] password requires a special character [that the mobile service] cannot currently incorporate. Online and mobile banking are independent applications requiring separate enrollment. [These] features will become more similar. So a future release may accept special characters."

Centier has more than 5,600 SmartApp adopters who can use their iPhones or Android devices to check balances, locate a branch or automated teller machine, and move money between checking and savings accounts. Real-time alerts, bill payment and mobile remote deposit capture are features included in coming SmartApp updates, Buhle says. The bank is also mulling adding an on/off debit card function under development at press time at Malauzai and CSI, which would enable Centier customers to effectively turn their debit cards off via their phones to avoid unwanted charges if, for instance, a card is lost or stolen.

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