The challenge of developing and maintaining mobile banking applications that will run on an iPhone, an Android phone, a BlackBerry or a Windows phone, as well as browser-based or wireless application protocol apps that will run on anything, is daunting even for large banks with massive IT budgets, never mind the rest of the banking world. But Jeff Dennes, who led the development of some of the first mobile banking apps at USAA and was recruited to Huntington Bancshares, Columbus, Ohio, a little over a year ago, says a multi-platform strategy is necessary. And HTML5, the latest version of the hypertext language for structuring and presenting content on the internet, is the next development frontier for banks to ignore at their peril.

"When I came to Huntington, the challenge was they really didn't have a strategy," Dennes shared at the BAI Retail Delivery Show in Chicago this week. "I had learned from my days at USAA that you have to provide apps across Android, iPhone, WAP, Windows, and BlackBerry, but you end up with a pretty big maintenance challenge." Confronted with a limited budget at Huntington, Dennes turned to Kony, a provider of a multi-platform mobile app platform that lets the bank develop one application and launch it across several device operating systems, for help. In June, using the new platform, the bank was able to roll out its Android and iPhone apps on the same day. Since then, Dennes has observed that the adoption rates of the Android, iPhone and WAP apps are about the same. "The customer is already using all our channels, and because he's using them, you can't close your eyes to any one," he says.

Building all mobile apps from the same platform has the advantage of freeing up developers who were formerly dedicated to specific native and browser apps and it eases and accelerates the process of adding a new feature, such as remote deposit capture, across the board. The downside, Dennes acknowledged, is that it's hard to create unique offerings on new platforms. For instance, Huntington's forthcoming iPad app, which the bank plans to launch next week, is essentially the iPhone app retooled for the tablet. "I didn't have to start over, I just took the same app and rebuilt it for the iPad," Dennes says. "Cost to market was minimal and the success the team is having is awesome." Today, 220,000 customers use the bank's mobile apps, and it acquires 12% of new accounts through digital channels, a huge jump from last year, when this number was 1%.

There's also been a drop-off in calls to the call center. "More than 50% of the calls are coming from a mobile device," Dennes says. "If you can put the information they need on the device right then, you see a correlation of increased mobile traffic and a decrease in call traffic."

A self-service loan origination app for the iPad is in Dennes' roadmap for future development. "Our bankers are excited to use the new iPad technology as much as possible," he says. "2012 will be a big year for us around digital acquisitions," Dennes says.

The next big thing for mobile app development, according to Dennes and David Eads, vice president of product marketing at Kony Solutions, San Mateo, is HTML5.

"HTML5 is the biggest disruption coming to the market, in a good way," Eads says. "HTML5 is a new technology designed to make browser apps, the mobile web experience or desktop web experience, similar to an app. So you can do interesting things like access the GPS or the camera in a phone and within the program. Consumers don't need to download an app if they're having a great experience in the browser itself." HTML5 also provides better support for embedded video and audio files, which could help banks in their new, evolving role as multimedia content providers.