We heard it again and again from Charaka Kithulegoda and other bankers honored in our Mobile Banker of the Year package this year: simplicity and ease of use are the keys to sound mobile banking app design.

"People don't live to bank, financial institutions exist to serve their needs," observes Hari Gopalkrishnan, a managing director at Bank of America.

This year we've seen many iterations of this theme. Bank of the West's new Quick Balance feature lets customers take a peek at their account balance before making a purchase or paying a bill, without having to log in to mobile banking. This is great for those who feel less than flush and need to be able to quickly check how much money they have before buying a sofa or flat-screen TV. Three banks (U.S. Bank, City Bank Texas and FFIN) rolled out the ability to pay a bill by snapping a picture of it with a smartphone camera, making a painful chore much more palatable. A few banks introduced mobile enrollment, letting customers sidestep the common requirement to sign up for online banking first.

ING Direct is letting people log in to their bank account through Facebook and is testing voice biometrics as an alternative to passwords.

(To keep up with the new features banks are introducing, we've launched an online Mobile Banking Intensity Index. This composite index measures adoption and utilization of mobile banking. Index scores are calculated from the results of American Banker's monthly mobile banking survey of 300 bank executives.

We see the quest for simplicity being extended, in some cases, beyond mobile banking to the entire IT infrastructure.

Bank of America, for instance, is redesigning its IT framework "so that in every element of architecture we're making the shortest possible distance between two points, not making four points if only two points are needed," the bank's global head of tech and ops Catherine Bessant told us recently. "We've been monomaniacally focused on simplification. In the last year we've reduced our number of apps by 17%."

Anywhere two or more platforms are being used for the same thing — for instance, eight teller systems — the bank is settling on one.

This concept can be applied in our work and personal lives, by discarding unessentials such as worrying about problems outside our control or being concerned about what others think.

To simplify, in work and in life, we need to de-clutter our brains of useless junk. Albert Einstein had three rules of work: "Out of clutter find simplicity, from discord find harmony, in the middle of difficulty lies opportunity."

Penny Crosman
Editor in Chief
Bank Technology News