Bank of the West today rolled out new apps for iPhone, Android and iPad devices that include a unique feature: the ability to check balances with a swipe of the app's opening screen, without having to log in first. The bank is the first to use Fiserv's Mobility platform to create Quick Balance.

For the function to work, customers have to log in at least once and turn on a "remember me" feature to associate the device with their credentials.

Response to a soft launch of the apps has been "phenomenal," says Jamie Armistead, senior vice president, digital channels, who visited BTN for an interview Tuesday. The mobile user base grew 50% and the number of daily logins tripled in three weeks.

"There's sustained transaction volume, people are paying bills and depositing checks at a nice, steady rate," Armistead says. Three out of four users who have opted-in to Quick Balance are using it at least once a day.

While feverish balance checking may not sound like a benefit to the bank, "We want something that's convenient for customers," he says. Knowing how much money they have is most people's most basic financial need, he notes. "It's been a customer delighter; it takes away the need to type in the user id and passcode and wait for the whole screen to load."

Other mobile banking innovators such as Brett King have commented in the past on consumers' need for a balance check before they make a purchase.

For security, the Fiserv technology uses the customer’s device itself as an authentication factor. “That combined with the fact that it’s just balances, we feel makes this appropriate,” says Eric Litch, division president, digital channels at Fiserv. This same concept of using the device for authentication and providing balance information happens all the time in SMS banking, he points out. “The notion that balances have been considered low sensitivity is pretty widespread in the financial community,” he notes. “Rather than text, we’re using a simple gesture.”

In some consumer-facing apps, such as Mint, users don’t have to authenticate at all, he points out.  They can select “remember me” and in subsequent visits see all balances and all transactions.

Other features of Bank of the West's new apps are more standard: check balances, transfer funds, pay bills, mobile check deposit.

Armistead was recruited by Bank of the West several months ago for this role from Bank of America, where he headed user experience for the mobile channel. His current digital channel team uses ad-hoc agile development: developers, systems architects and engineers sit among the product managers and other business people on the same floor. "It creates a radical collaboration environment," he says. "We're not quite on top of each other, but almost. You can say hey, look at this screen, I got this done — we're iterating really quickly."

The bank has "a handful of roles still to fill" this year, he says.

The bank has not promoted its new apps, but it has fostered fans among branch employees who talk them up to customers. "Our bankers in the branches were as excited as we were," Armistead says. "They've been huge advocates, they've been talking it up with our customers." In the Rocky Mountain division, all the employees took pictures of themselves using the apps and sent them to Armistead's group.

All told, the bank has just over a million customers, 100,000 of which use its mobile apps; this represents 20% of the online banking user base.

Future features the bank plans to add to its mobile apps include person-to-person payments, expanded limits for small business deposits, and more small business friendly features. It plans to re-launch its iPad app with Quick Balance and design improvements in the fall. The next device Armistead plans to develop for is the Google tablet.

The bank has an advantage in that it can follow work being done elsewhere in Bank of the West's parent company, BNP Paribas. In Turkey, the bank has formed a partnership with Samsung to work with the technology company's smart TVs. "It's a great pilot and we can take lessons learned from our Turkish partners as smart TV adoption grows in the U.S."

Belgian teammates have created a new iPad app that provides a customizable account overview. Armistead plans to learn from this to create the "ideal default state," based on customers' choices.

"There's plenty of stuff to do on the mobile front, we'll do survey work to find out what's valuable to customers," Armistead notes.