Westpac New Zealand announced two moves Wednesday that digitally minded U.S. banks may want to watch closely.
First, the bank is rolling out a digital banking program called Westpac One that will offer customers the same experience, look and feel across smartphones, tablets, PCs, smart watches and smart TVs.
The effort comes as U.S. banks strive to make their digital channels more appealing to a mobile-addicted consumer base including a generation of people who have never set foot in a bank and to create "omnichannels" that present the same look and feel at every customer touch point.
Also, Westpac is the first bank to incorporate New York startup Moven's money management tools into a banking app.
To create Westpac One, the bank used responsive design. That means it built one set of web pages that automatically detect the kind of device they're being viewed on and accordingly adjust the screen size, orientation and layout.
This is a choice few U.S. banks have made. Many stateside banks have invested quantities of time and resources developing and maintaining dedicated iPhone and Android apps, at the cost of their web presence. Many view native apps as higher-performing and better able to accommodate rich features like remote deposit capture (which is tough to do from a web page, due to the challenges of controlling the phone camera and the security risk of storing check images on a phone).
Westpac made the commitment to a responsive platform for two reasons. The first was to create a consistent banking experience across any device, said Simon Pomeroy, its chief digital officer. The second was more practical.
"We used to have an online team, a mobile team and a tablet team," he said. "We even had two mobile teams because we had an iPhone team and an Android team. Now we have one team working on one platform that powers all devices. If that looks a very straightforward and logical strategy, it is."
The bank can now develop new features five times faster and five times cheaper that it could two years ago, he said.
And the overall offering to customers is stronger, he said. "When you look at most organizations, you have the most capabilities to do things on the computer. It gets dumbed down for the tablet and dumbed down even further for the mobile," Pomeroy said. "We've created now the ability for customers to have access to all their banking in their pocket, which is completely different to where we were previously."
The bank has woven Symphony, its customer relationship management program, into Westpac One, to allow private instant messaging, live chat, email, and phone conversations on any device. A conversation can start in one channel and continue in another the Holy Grail for many banks. And Westpac One takes advantage of the real-time infrastructure the bank has been building with IBM.
Jacob Jegher, senior analyst at Celent, is also an advocate for responsive design.
"Folks use their mobile browser for all kinds of things," he pointed out. "Banks should be able to serve customers regardless of how they access services. Don't present a desktop version of banking when they come in on a 4.5-inch screen. That's not a lovely experience. Few banks are paying attention to that yet."
Jegher has little sympathy for U.S. banks when they complain about the cost of building and maintaining mobile apps and a website presence.
"If you're going to accept digital is the way of the future, this is part of your cost of doing business," he said. "I think we'll see a lot more responsive design. It will take a few years to fully catch on."
One unique feature of Westpac One is "quick services," a series of tasks customers can perform without having to log into the app. Customers can check their balances, move money between accounts, and view their spending patterns without typing in credentials.
Mobile check capture has not presented a challenge because Westpac doesn't offer it check usage is declining in New Zealand and Westpac has been concentrating on getting customers to use alternatives to checks. The bank is more interested in adding ATMs to Westpac One so that, for instance, customers can set up an ATM withdrawal from their phone.
Westpac One has been under development for 18 months; for the past year it's been tested by staff and about 50,000 customers.
The Moven software Westpac rolled out Wednesday provides simple tools for monitoring and managing spending.
"Moven is a really big thing for us," Pomeroy said. The bank has integrated Moven's Money Meter tool, which tells the user how much he is spending this month compared to last, with the mobile phone portion of Westpac One. The customer doesn't have to log into the app to see this information.
Over the next six months, Westpac will upgrade the Moven features with spending categorization and real-time receipts. It will also incorporate Moven into its PC banking.
The customers who have tested Moven are not necessarily budgeters, Pomeroy said. "They report a sense of empowerment, in that they can see how their spending patterns are changing and get satisfaction out of knowing they're spending less," Pomeroy said. "People just don't have awareness of what they're spending money on."
Moven's real-time receipts feature will be a game-changer when the bank adopts it, Pomeroy said. "We'll be able to communicate with our customers multiple times in a day to give them real-time updates as to how they're spending and what they're spending money on."
Having a live bank customer up and running is a big step for Moven, Jegher said. "Customer reaction will determine its success," he said.
Money management tools have been around in one form or another for at least a decade and have failed to find broad adoption. "I'm always looking for personal financial management success stories," Jegher said. "There haven't been a lot of them."
Banks also need to offer some way to act on the information, he said. "Now that you've told me all this terrible news about how I spend my money, how am I going to fix it?" he said. "Banks need to talk to customers about their cash and debt problems. An app is a good start, but what comes next?"
Another area in which Westpac has pioneered and that Westpac One embraces is wearables. Westpac was one of the first banks to offer smart watch and Google Glass apps, it still supports smart watches, and it's likely to include Moven in that.
"The Westpac team sees the value of a start-up in being able to incubate new capabilities like smart-watch banking," said Moven founder Brett King. "They get it that we can do it faster and cheaper in our sandbox and that's where the collaboration will really pay off."
The bank has been forced to drop Glass, at least for the time being, as Google has shelved the eyewear.
"I'm not giving up on Google Glass yet I'm one of those people who believe it will come back and it will come back with a vengeance," Pomeroy said. "I have this feeling that Google hasn't given up on it. I think it will come back and we'll all be surprised. It will be more mainstream and look less geeky than it did before."