As banks debate which features to add or omit from their banking apps and websites, BB&T is taking a unique approach: let customers decide.
The appropriately named U platform — which was built in-house and rolled out in late September by the Winston-Salem, N.C., bank — lets customers set color schemes, profile pictures and which features they can access after logging in.
There are 13 different "tiles" customers can add to their digital banking dashboard. For instance, users could add a "My Receipts" tile to see sales slips they have photographed with their phones. There are also tiles for credit card rewards, a mortgage rate tracker, a tip advisor, budget tools, spending by category, "Pay & Transfer Favorites" and others.
"U is where we think online banking is going," said Ricky Brown, president of community banking for BB&T, who was a leading proponent of the project. "I see my information the way I want to see it. At the end of day, we thought this was really good for customers."
Many banks let consumers set their own mobile alerts or change their preferred language to Spanish. But customers have rarely been given the level of control of the banking experience that BB&T has granted. The vast majority of financial institutions, after all, rely on the same vendors, and the application programming interfaces that would facilitate customization are still uncommon.
There are exceptions.
Garanti Bank in Turkey, for instance, has let customers select which features appear in their mobile banking apps since 2013. Credit Agricole in France launched an app store of sorts for customers. Wells Fargo's ATM screens display tiles of data that reflect the most common transactions– a personalization feature slated for its mobile banking app next year. And most recently, Alfa Bank in Russia has been testing an app that displays information it thinks each customer needs to know (think upcoming bills) in a newsfeed format. USAA has also been working on personalization.
The slow but growing trend toward customization of digital banking is viewed as a smart strategy to avoid overwhelming customers of brands that often sell more than 50 products and services.
"People don't do every single thing," said Stessa Cohen, a research director at Gartner.
BB&T's offering is suited for the quick, personalized information sought by smartphone users, Cohen said.
Mark Schwanhausser, director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research, says BB&T's update is an example of a notable bank demonstrating how mobile is influencing the design of its older sibling: online banking.
In the future, he imagines a digital banking world that extends the personalization concept into helping consumers who do not know exactly what they want. Digital banking could, for instance, guide individuals who live paycheck to paycheck to build a savings habit, the way LinkedIn reminds users to take actions on the professional networking site.
"Personalization has many fronts," Schwanhausser said.
Alfa Bank, for instance, is taking a different approach to customization. It is testing a mobile app that displays information in the order its algorithms determine will be most relevant to each customer.
Its new app, called Sense, was demonstrated at Finovate in September. It is an attempt to help consumers navigate quickly to what they are likely to need next rather than deal with the labyrinth of links and products that clutter mobile experiences.
"We are trying to solve one of the bank's problems," said Vladimir Urbanskiy, chief executive of Alfa-Lab, a unit of the Russian bank.
BB&T believes it is just at the beginning of its newer digital strategy even though the overhaul was already a big undertaking. Beyond customization, the bank has added account aggregation, the ability to view account balances without logging in, a tool for scheduling in-person appointments with bankers, and the ability to turn credit cards on and off.
Up next, financial education tools, credit scores, favorite stock tickers and weather forecasts are among the additions the bank expects to offer interested U users. And down the road, Brown wants branch and call center employees to be able to view the same things customers are seeing when providing them service.
"This is not the end," Brown said. "This is the beginning. The bank of the future may be in your pocket."