When it comes to deploying new digital banking applications, timing is just as important as function and content.

As KeyBank's senior vice president of consumer and small business innovation, Dean Ilijasic is required to keep abreast of what consumers want to use and are using and to tailor new mobile and tablet apps accordingly.

The bank just rolled out a suite of new mFoundry-based mobile banking apps, a major upgrade from its browser-based mobile banking past. The new upgrade will expand the bank's mobile presence to native apps for all major smartphones, with tablet apps to follow. Products enabled by the new apps will be deployed in phases as the bank weighs customer use and demand, and what's worked across the industry. The bank is particularly focused on reaching small business and the mass affluent, two segments it sees as fast growing, lucrative and in need of the control and remote function provided by mobility.

KeyBank (KEY) is hardly a tortoise, but it's not blazing a trail here, either — some functions like person to person payments and remote deposit capture will come years after other banks, such as Chase (JPM) and US Bank (USB) introduced them. But KeyBank's strategy of assessing the market, then deploying quickly, seems to be working: In the first week following the launch of its new mobile banking apps, for example, half of KeyBank's existing Android users upgraded to the new app.

In a recent interview with BTN, Ilijasic discussed the bank's deployment and time to market strategy.

BTN: What market segments are you looking to reach right now?
Ilijasic: Our work has been focused on the small business space and the banking needs of the millennials. These are the largest and most affluent segments. If banks aren't thinking about them, they should be.

How does that work for each segment?
For small business, it's about cash flow, payments, etc. People who are launching a small business are passionate about their field, but don' t have the time to manage their books. They have to be CEO and CFO. By giving them the ability to manage cash flow, we're reducing a few hours from their schedules.

With the mass affluent, the needs are similar but more sophisticated…they are taking more active roles in managing their finances, so we want to provide more direct client support and the tools that allow them to manage money remotely.

How do those needs match what you are putting on the new mobile apps?
The common threads between the segments is the need for an assurance that what we're offering is secure and easy to use, so those are the foundational elements. With small business, we're putting features such as accounts payable and accounts receivable information on to the apps to help with cash flow and payments. With consumers, they want to know their net worth and where their money is going and how to adjust…we've put a PFM [personal financial management] tool and a dashboard that allows that visibility and access to transaction functions to respond to market conditions.

What is the mFoundry deployment replacing?
We had mobile banking through a browser, which was a smaller version of online banking. One of the demands of our clients was to offer an app that allows them to use the smartphone's inherent capabilities, to allow you to use transaction capabilities and other functions on the phones, such as GPS.

Does that include using the mobile phone as a payments device?
The use of phones as a device for payments is only going to grow, and we are looking at things such as person to person payments and remote deposit capture, as well as developing a digital wallet. And today, you can do transfers and pay bills on the app.

How do you determine the timing of new feature deployments such as mobile payments and remote deposit capture, given there are banks offering some of these services, such as RDC and person to person payments?
We balance out what are clients are asking for and their needs, along with industry best practices. The reviews that we have gotten so far have been good, and people have been asking for more: We've been getting asked questions like 'when are you going to have the app where you can take a picture of the check.' The tech to accomplish that successfully is advancing. Being first to market isn't necessarily the best. With patience you will see the [quality of the] technology get to the point where it makes sense to jump in.

How do you research client demands?
It's a combination of things. We do proprietary research, and we do ethnographic research where we interview them and listen to their wants and needs. And we take that feedback and combine it with quantitative data, then develop some prototypes and models. We also do focus group testing.