Corporate cash management and sleek mobile banking apps don't generally go together. Until recently, Deutsche Bank's digital offerings to business customers were no exception. Clients had to dip in and out of multiple systems with different URLs and logins to get their banking transactions done.

The bank rewrote its corporate banking applications in small pieces, app-store style, and posted them to what it calls the Autobahn App Market. It's one point of entry from which clients can manage cash, make payments, pull reports and perform other corporate Treasurer duties. It can be accessed via tablet, workstation toolbar or URL (however, in the bank's experience, the people who do cash management are usually on a desktop at work or at home). Some iPhone apps are available on Apple's App Store. So far, the bank has built 150 apps.

"Traditionally, banks have gathered their product managers together to develop a new solution and a year later unveil it to their clients with a flourish," observes Graham Warner, Americas head of Client Access Product Management, Global Transaction Banking, at Deutsche Bank. "That can be short-sighted. Our clients know best what they do every day. The experience should be driven by their requirements."

Deutsche Bank's corporate clients are large, global multinational companies and some middle-market companies in Netherlands and Germany.

Deutsche Bank's Client Access team visited with more than 60 clients and spoke with clerks and Treasurers to find out what they like and dislike about the bank's systems. "There was lots of positive feedback about our products and also areas we needed to improve," Warner recalls. "We came away with a vast body of research." This data-gathering process was worth adding a year to the project, he says.

One thing the bank realized was that corporate customers' mobile banking expectations are in line with consumers' requirements. "More technology savvy people are taking senior roles within Treasury and they're not okay with a clunky experience," Warner says. Just like consumers, they seek simplicity and ease of use.

The bank came up with 23 specific design principles from these conversations with clients.

One example is "get a memory." Clients have requested, "When I come back to the system, it had better remember who I am and how I function; I don't want to have to start from scratch." Warner says, "We should have products that let you go straight to the portion you use most." For instance, if a customer's most common task is to approve payments, the payment approval app should be the first item present on the screen upon login. A second is, "let people be robotic." Meaning, let people go in and do exactly what they need to do, without any extra steps. A third is "slice and dice." In other words, let people use their own data. The bank exports account activity data to Excel for customers.

Rewriting corporate programs for mobile devices has been tricky. "It can be a challenge to get a rich environment onto small real estate, particularly with the requisite security requirements," says Warner. Deutsche Bank has been hiring mobile app designers from outside the banking industry.

For the Autobahn App Market project, Deutsche Bank adopted agile development methods, "atomizing delivery into discrete pieces," Warner says. "If issues appear, it only takes a short period of time to resolve them" where in the past it might have taken as long as months." New features can be pushed out quickly because they are being written in small chunks.

The bank built a common architecture to be shared by all corporate software. Needed changes can be made once and applied across the board. One engine for processing payments is shared by all the apps.

The bank sets customers up to receive bundles of apps that match their needs. A sliding carousel at the bottom of the home page suggests new apps customers don't have that they might want, based on recent activity. The customer also sees a list of "trending" apps. Customers can watch demos of apps they haven't used in the past or buy them directly from the Autobahn Market. Some of the most popular apps are Cash Manager and Liquidity Manager.

"In the last five years, the Treasurer's job has become more challenging," Warner observes, largely in follow-up to the financial crisis and recession. "Treasurers have been raised almost to the board level. In the past, they needed to focus on buying things and investing. As the Treasurer's importance rises, so does the value of our ability to serve them."