The ultimate banking app guide

Apps are now a crucial weapon when it comes to customer engagement, so how does your bank stack up against the competition?

Banking in Australia has been undergoing a quiet revolution for the past few years. Often caught in media debates about interest rates and soaring profits banks are nevertheless moving to keep pace with our changing expectations when it comes to experience and engagement.

With the evaporation of the teller experience and together with the acceleration of technology, major opportunities currently exist to engage the customer at alternative touch points. Going mobile has been the biggest focus of the industry, moving beyond simply a mobile browsing option to downloadable apps.

Some have played it safe with their iPhone apps. Some have embraced the new interface parameters and one has been a creative stand out. The ANZ ‘Go Money’ application stands apart from its rivals in a number of ways. Its presentation is innovative and ‘ground breaking’ for such a conservative industry. However, what they do well in some areas they completely ignore in others, so their finesse is derived from staying on a narrow, focussed path. 

Others have chosen a more traditional development path and have embraced the design challenge of a small interface with success. Commonwealth Bank (CBA) excels here. ING Direct and Teachers Credit Union have made a competent transition to the applications space, understanding and supporting how users move through the application but smaller budgets, at a guess, has limited any substantial investment.

This leaves a third broad group of banking applications (which includes Westpac, NAB & St George) that have created a sound but not special application user experience. At best, the consistent corporate branding breeds familiarity and credibility but in terms of functionality there appears to be a hangover from traditional website paradigms.      

We undertook the review of all of the aforementioned banking apps and here are the four design points that every successful banking 

  • Know what your users want to do on their phone and design your functions or content accordingly.
  • Credibility and security: Users look for evidence that an application is secure and credible.
  • Easy contact with the bank at any point in the process adds another layer of confidence. 
  • Ability to remember or save login details to make the process faster for future transactions: most applications catered for this. 

 Whike there were a number of highlights, the review also highlighted several deficiencies.

  • Overall, there was a general lack of consideration for human fingers.  Apple recommends buttons at least 44 x 44 pixels and there would be no harm in trying to achieve that.   
  • Some apps lacked a homepage making navigation difficult.                                                                               
  • None of the four major banks provided a welcome message or any acknowledgement of the user identity. This is a key element that makes users feel like they are in the right place. 
  • Apps needed to make use of an ‘other tab’ to store all of the extra functions. This helps to keep the app neat and easy to use.
  • Most apps lacked an inline help contact
  • Some apps were inconsistent in their page design.
  • Scrolling in an application is not detrimental but if the page layout is lazy and spread out for no apparent reason then this only hampers users performance and should be avoided.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of how the banking apps stacked up.

First impressions

First impressions are crucial and in this respect CBA and ANZ are little ahead of  the competition. CBA’s app is the best example of what a solid first impression can achieve. From loading the app, it automatically displays the nearest ATM/Branch using the current location of the phone and immediately offers the user something useful without having to do the work. All the main features are clear. The promotional offer section is of secondary concern and is suitably given that weight in the design treatment. This is followed up with a well presented login page and an easy to use opening menu.

The most noteworthy thing about ANZ’s application is that it goes straight to business. While that may come across as being a little cold, there is obviously some assumed knowledge that the customer is very comfortable without the need of any touchy feely introduction. There are absolutely no distractions and the app is the most functional in terms of ease of use. This theme also continues into its main menus which features large, easy to use icons and easy to understand text.

St George’s application prioritises logo and branding over functionality. St George also forces users to remember more login details than any of the other banks applications. The app’s spacing problems continue onto the main menu. While the logo features at the top of the page, most of the apps functions are located below the fold and force users to scroll down to find them.

While NAB has a clear and clean opening page, their login page isn’t well designed at all. It’s more reminiscent of a website rather than an application login page.

Both IGN Direct and the Teacher Credit Union’s apps held the middle ground in this category. Neither excelled but they weren’t the worst of the bunch either.

Payment processes

The transfer of funds to another account or as part of a payment form the crux of all banking applications. As a result most of the apps we reviewed performed quite well in this area.

ANZ was again a standout. The display is a significant departure from the standard mobile banking layout, as other institutions typically use a horizontal top tab menu. It is successful because all the possible functions are easily displayed, and there is a  succinct description and requirements of each payment option. It’s a great example of how an app can make a mundane activity lively and interesting.

The functionality is very visual, the details of an account as an image of a real life card make the account easy to target. Scrolling two ‘wheels’ to select the ‘From’ and ‘To’ accounts is rather playful. The user does not also have to visit two screens to accomplish this same task. The only weakness of the visual designs is that the account cards may end up looking the same.

CBA’s app also excelled in this category with an easy to use transfer system, combined with simplistic easy to understand language, like “from” and “to”.

Westpac also had a unique function with its “Things you should know” tab, which actively explains the all of the apps processes in plain English.

NAB’s app forces users to remember their accounts via a 16-digit code – which is bound to cause confusion. While St George's app makes an usual distinction between payment and transfer, with all payments needing to go through a separate BPAY icon.

ING Direct and TCU’s app were again middle of the range. However, there was one frustration with ING’s app, when the user wishes to enter the data into the ‘How Much’ field the system does not bring up the numerical keyboard.

Other functions

Functions such as a help feature, Branch/ATM finder and a ‘Contact the bank’ function can all enhance an app and while ANZ’s offering wowed us in both its execution and layout, it failed to have a find an ATM finder function, a crucial tool in a world where cash is still essential.

CBA’s app also excelled in this category, with its ATM finder being tied straight into the opening menu of the application. There's a substantial user help feature and a direct line to contact the bank if there are any problems.

A help feature is also strongly  integrated in both the St George and Westpac apps. The banks have also combined their Branch/ATM finder feature, meaning that either app will find both Westpac and St George Bank branches or ATMs.

NAB’s app floundered in this category, as its help functions are almost non-existent and its ATM finder does not zoom in on the locations it flags, making it difficult to exactly pinpoint where the ATM or branch is.

Both TSU’s and ING’s apps contain easy to use ATM finders. Yet ING’s application hid its help function in the ‘more’ options tab, possibly making harder for users to find.

This is a summary of a report on banking iPhone apps prepared by Liz Phillips, user experience consultant, at Objective Digital. Read the full report here. 

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