Why You Should Build an iPad Banking App (Even Though You Don’t Need To)

One week into the iPad era there are still no banks or credit unions with iPad-specific apps (note 1). There also aren’t any major PFM or other financial brands present, other than Square and E*Trade. Mint’s not even there yet.

What’s going on? On Friday, The Financial Brand’s Jeffry Pilcher tweeted the question that’s on a lot of bankers’ minds:

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While I suspect Jeffry is mostly being provocative, it’s a question worth discussing. Should financial institutions build an iPad app?

The Web experience on the iPad is outstanding. It has a lightening-fast Safari browser built in. It loads my bank’s webpage as fast or faster than my MacbookPro or Thinkpad X41. The iPad virtual keyboard makes it easy to type username and password. And for the most part (Flash is a problem), websites look and perform perfectly on the iPad (use ipadpeek.com if you want to see what your webpage looks like in an iPad layout).

So yes, online banking works fine on iPads. But you can say the same thing about most evolutionary products. Telephone calls work fine on corded phones. Cars work fine without cup holders. Refrigerators work fine without ice makers. And so on.

An iPad app isn’t about utility, it’s about a great user experience. The ability to click on a banking button on the main iPad screen and launch a perfectly sized online banking app shaves 30 to 45 seconds off the traditional browser-based approach (open Safari, navigate to my bank, and find the login button). There are also things you can do with an app, such as location-aware ATM/branch finder, that make it a better experience (note 2). 

So here’s why most major financial brands should have an iPad app now:

  • Free publicity (part 1): As of today, there are only 39 iPad apps in the Finance category. Each of the 562,000+ iPad owners, and millions of others browsing the iTunes App Store, would see your brand showcased there.
  • Free publicity (part 2): There was, and is, a tremendous amount of hype around the iPad. Being the first bank/CU in your country/state/region/city/neighborhood with an iPad app will net you numerous mentions online and in print.
  • It’s cool: While financial institutions are rightly focused on the basics right now, there is still considerable value in being seen as a technology leader.
  • It’s inexpensive: Building a basic iPad/iPhone app is a relatively simple project. If it did nothing more than connect to online banking and show nearby ATMs/branches, you’d receive most of the benefits listed above.
  • It’s the future: Apps and widgets will play a large role in banking info delivery going forward, especially in mobile banking. You should be designing apps for every significant platform. In the U.S. that means the iPhone and Android, then iPad and Blackberry after that (see note 3).

And one final note for the 67 U.S. financial institutions that already have iPhone apps. Yes, you still need an iPad one. While the iPhone app runs fine, it is displayed in a small window the size of an iPhone. Users can press a button in the lower-right corner to doublesize the app, but images and text become fuzzy, and it just doesn’t look right (although it is functional as you can see in the screenshots below).

Bank of America’s iPhone app displayed on iPad screen (5 April 2010)
Note: Click on the images below to see the quality difference

              Normal size                                                             Double sized

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Notes:
1. As of 11 PM Pacific April 10, the only major financial brand with an iPad app is E*Trade MobilePro, which is more about stock trading, not banking.
2. For more on financial apps and the iPhone, see our March 2009 Online Banking Report.
3. For more on the importance of mobile banking and payments, see the most recent issue from Online Banking Report.
4. Hat-tip to Banking Kismet for blogging on the subject.

Banks Shutout on iPad Opening Day, But Square is There

image After months of hearing about the iPad, I finally got my hands on one Saturday afternoon. It’s a great piece of technology, but if you have an iPhone, you pretty much already know what it’s like.

While the iPad runs all 150,000 apps available for the iPhone, developers are encouraged to produce iPad-optimized versions to take advantage of the significantly bigger-screen real estate.

When you open the App Store on the iPad, it focuses almost entirely on iPad apps. You have to do a specific keyword search to find non-iPad apps that work on the iPhone.

And I was surprised that neither banks nor credit unions are represented among the 30 Finance category apps available on April 3 (see screenshots below), a situation likely to be rectified with a flood of banking and credit union iPad apps during the next few months. It’s definitely a place you want your brand represented (note 1).

imageThe only big financial services brand that made it to bat on opening day was E*Trade MobilePro (which hit the store last Thursday), and another trading app, iStockManager, to be used with TD Ameritrade.  Bloomberg, too, had its popular info app available on day 1 (see screenshots below for all 30 finance apps).                                       

The biggest surprise in the iPad Finance category was Square, the much-touted card-to-card payments service from Twitter’s founder, which released its iPad app on April 1 (see inset). We’ll be testing Square this month and hopefully using it to take last-minute credit card payments at our upcoming FinovateSpring Conference.                                                                                  Square’s iPad app

The 30 iPad finance category apps available on the launch day (3 April 2010)
(Note: Organized by “featured”)
Page 1: Apps 1-12                                                     Page 2: Apps 13-24image   image

Page 3: Apps 25-30

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Note: For more coverage of mobile banking and payments, see the most recent issue from Online Banking Report.

First Finance Apps for Apple iPad Unveiled

image Apple loaded iPad apps into the main iTunes store today (see screenshot below). Search is limited and apps by category are not yet available, but you now can browse the iTunes store for iPad-optimized apps.

I looked at all 2,400 and spotted three financial titles — a credit card merchant terminal, a stock-info tracker (see below), and E*Trade’s Mobile Pro — plus a few calculators

I was disappointed that no banks or credit unions were represented. But the iPad launch is still 36 hours away, so I may still win my bet that Bank of America will be there on the morning of April 3.  

Apple iTunes App Store now features iPad apps (1 April, 5 PM Pacific)

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E*Trade Mobile Pro for iPad (iTunes link)

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Credit Card Terminal for iPad from Inner Fence
(for Authorize.net users; iTunes link)

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MarketScan by Michael Foster (iTunes link)

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Note: For more coverage of mobile banking and payments, see the most recent issue from Online Banking Report.

What Does the New Apple iPad Mean for Banking?

image_thumb11Apple today introduced its latest invention, a gigantic $499 iPod Touch called the iPad (inset shows iPad, Kindle, vs. iPhone; note 1).

It’s a gorgeous piece of technology that will soon be the movie-watching, ebook-reading device of choice for the rich and famous. But what does it mean for the average financial institution?

Tactically, it should have almost zero impact. Your iPhone/iTouch app should work pretty much the same on the iPad. There may be some design tweaks your programmers will need to understand, but the basic functionality is the same.

It would make a wonderful giveaway item, either as part of a high-end business/private banking package (note 2), or as a sweepstakes prize.     

So those of you who already have an iPhone app launched, or in the pipeline, can stop reading now. But read on if you haven’t yet hopped on the app bandwagon.

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ipad_portrait_landscape.png

The movement to apps, and away from old-school “browsing,” is unstoppable. The iPad joins a growing list of new devices (Android, Kindle, etc.) that are app-primary, browser-secondary (note 3).

It’s a massive shift that’s happened in less than two years, beginning in July 2008 when Apple opened the iPhone platform.

The popularity of apps is changing how users tap online info. Even power laptop/desktop users are making dramatic changes in their information consumption. For example, within a few months of the Apple app store launch, I had already moved 12 of my routine info-gathering tasks to the iPhone. The speed/convenience of pressing a single button vs. navigating to a website via the browser is a significant improvement in user experience. More than a year later, my habits have changed little. 

The change from serving customers who were “online browsers” and are now “mobile app users” has profound implications for banking. Instead of talking to your customers in batch- mode with built-in time delays, you are now real-time, feeding data to customer on the go, where they need up-to-the-minute status on their cash situation.   

In many ways, the ROI for real-time banking (and here) is more dramatic than online-batch banking. The ability to stamp out POS fraud, to nip budding customer service nightmares, and just plain get closer to the customer, all bring nice returns on the mobile investment (note 3).

Notes:
1. Photo credit: TechCrunch post today.
2. For more info on using a dedicated device for small business customers, see our October Online Banking Report.
3. Groundswell author and Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff calls this the “splinternet.”
4. For more info on financial services opportunities on the iPhone, see our March Online Banking Report.
5. Initial response online was mixed, 2,700 readers of CrunchGear, voted “thumbs sideways” today (link, results at 4PM Pacific below)

ipad_poll.png

Watch the First Mobile Payment Made via Starbucks Card iPhone App at Downtown Seattle Location

imageJohn Cook, a Seattle tech blogger at TechFlash, was apparently the first customer to use the new Starbucks Mobile Card iPhone app to purchase coffee at the Seattle Columbia Center Starbucks. The video was posted at 3 PM yesterday. For more info on the app, see yesterday’s post.

He had a little trouble getting the point-of-sale scanner to read his iPhone-app-generated barcode, but after an extra few seconds (25 seconds actually) of wiggling the phone, the transaction worked (the transaction begins at about the 1:19 mark). Hopefully, with a little practice, users will know where to place their phones in front of the scanner for easy reading. He also demonstrates a card reload after the purchase (at 3:05 mark).

Notes:
1. The myStarbucks app has moved up to number 6 in the iTunes app store, while the mobile card is at number 29 (as of 4:30 PM Pacific).
2. The mobile payments capability is live at all 16 test locations as of yesterday.

Starbucks Launches First Dedicated iPhone App for Stored-Value Cards

image This is a huge day, and one that I hadn’t expected for at least another couple years. The convergence of mobile payments and caffeine. What more could a mobile banking geek and coffee connoisseur want? 

Starbucks pioneered stored-value cards and launched its first card in 2001. Today, it became the first company (note 1) to create an iPhone app exclusively for a payments card. Apparently, Finovate alum mFoundry helped build the app (cnet story, thanks Brandon).

Users were offered $5 extra credit on their first Starbucks card reload of $25 or more made from the new app. Registered cardholders received an email notification earlier today urging them to “turn your iPhone into a Starbucks card.” (see screenshot below).

Note, the Starbucks Card Mobile app (app store link) is in addition to the regular myStarbucks app which has a store locator, coffee/drink info and a favorites-sharing function (app store link). That app also launched today (notes 2, 3). 

The app is gorgeous and shows how important design can be in creating a trustworthy and easy-to-use payment product (note 4). For example:

Home screen (left screenshot):

  • The card balance is immediately and prominently displayed

Reload screen (middle screenshot)

  • Uses big, easy-to-read buttonsremember, this is a small screen, with a giant green, full-width Continue button  
  • Current balance repeats at the top

Mobile payment screen (right screenshot)

  • The bar code for mobile point-of-sale payments (test only, see below) is rendered over a background image of the card, complete with card number, a nice touch to reassure users and Starbucks baristas that this is the real thing.

Analysis
Of course, the mobile commerce and banking community will be abuzz about the mobile payments test. At 16 Starbucks locations (8 in Seattle and 8 in Silicon Valley), iPhone users will be able to pay at the counter using a barcode generated on screen (right screenshot). Luckily, several Starbucks are within a couple miles of my home so I’ll be able to report back with results as soon as the test locations are live.

But I think the stored value card management functions are more interesting for the present. Just think if you had an application that looked like this for your debit or credit card. Think of the brand-value uptick, PR notice, and word-of-mouth buzz. 

Starbucks Card Mobile screenshots (23 Sep 2009)

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Email announcing the new mobile card app (sent to a registered Starbucks cardholder in the mobile payments test market, 23 Sep 2009, 12:43 PM Pacific)

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Notes:
1. Starbucks is the first company in the U.S. to have a dedicated app for a payments card. Although unaware of any elsewhere in the world, I would expect that card apps exist, at least in Asian markets.
2. The main Starbucks app is currently the 33rd most popular free app in the store and number 1 in Lifestyle; Starbucks Card Mobile is number 46 overall and 3 in Lifestyle (6 PM Pacific).
Update (9 PM Pacific): myStarbucks has moved to number 19 and Starbucks Card Mobile to 38.
3. The Starbucks apps are huge, 6.3 MB for the regular and 3.7 MB for the card, so makes sure you have good reception or are connected via WiFi.
4. However, I have been unable to log in to my actual Starbucks account as of 7 PM Pacific, owing perhaps to overloaded servers.
5. For more info on financial institution opportunities, see our Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone.

ING Direct Releases Home Loan Toolkit for the iPhone

imageHave I mentioned that the iPhone is amazing? I’m not sure if it’s because it’s so useful having a computer in my pocket 24/7, or that it gives me so much material for Netbanker and Online Banking Report (probably the latter).

Now that we are beginning the second year of the App Store, we are starting to see some more interesting things on the finance front. For the first year it was all about tip calculators, balance inquiry, ATM locators, and manual-entry expense trackers.

This summer, we’re beginning to see the bigger potential with the launch of remote check depositing from WV United Credit Union and USAA (which also loaded helpful auto insurance features into its app). And Apple’s new OS 3.0, which supports push notifications, will be a boon to mobile banking apps.

But that’s just the beginning. There will be an app for anything you might want to do with your finances. The latest: a free Home Loan Toolkit for prospective home buyers from ING Direct Australia. The app appeared in the U.S. App Store yesterday (here).  There’s no mention of it on the bank’s website yet, but Google pointed me to the well-designed microsite (here) supporting the app (screenshot below).  

It’s pretty straightforward with just three functions:

  • Calculators to determine how much you can afford to borrow and what the payments would be
  • A call-me request form
  • Average home prices by area

Screenshots from ING Direct Australia’s new iPhone app (3 Sep 2009)

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ING Direct Australia iPhone Home Loan Toolkit microsite (link, 3 Sep 2009)
Note: The five iPhone screenshots (above) rotate through the iPhone pictured below. Alternatively, users can scroll through the screens with the control under the phone.

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Note: For more info on the native iPhone apps, see Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone.:

Banking Apps in the Google Android Market vs. Apple iPhone App Store

image A few weeks ago, we noted a milestone at Apple’s iPhone App Store, 1000 apps available in the finance category (U.S. store). I was been curious how that compared to Google’s Android Market so today I did a quick comparison.

The Android market now has a respectable 211 apps in the finance category. However, few financial institutions have staked a claim. Only, Bank of America and Alliant Credit Union, had branded apps (see note 1, 2).

In comparison, the iTunes App Store has 11 U.S. banking apps and 3 from U.S. credit unions. That’s up from 6 banks and no credit unions when we published our most recent report on the subject (see note 3).  See the the following table for details. Did I miss any? Let me know in comments or email jim@netbanker.com

  Google Android (Rank) Apple App Store (Rank)
Number of finance apps 211 1,089
Number of U.S. bank-branded apps (note 1)

(number shown is rank in the finance category)

#2 Bank of America #1 Bank of America
#2 USAA
#3 Chase
#4 Wells Fargo
#10 E*Trade
#13 Citibank
#28 & 32 PNC Bank
#43 BBVA Compass
#156 IBC
#409 1st Mariner Bank ATM/Branch locator
#962 Plaza Bank Mtg Calc
Number of CU-branded apps #30 Alliant CU — ATM Locator #185 Tech CU
#327 CUloc8 (TDECU)
#411 iDeposit (WV United FCU)

Source: Online Banking Report tally, 24 Aug 2009

1. In addition, Qualcomm’s Firethorn unit has an app that works with several dozen banks and card issuers including Citi, Chase, Wachovia, SunTrust and USAA. It’s ranked tenth in the Android Market and 15th in the iPhone App Store. Also, in the Android Market, Visa has a beta app that works with Chase cards ranked #77. However, according to commenters, that test is ending in September.
2. There are another 15-20 international banks listed in the iPhone App Store.
3. Our Online Banking Report on iPhone Mobile Banking was published March 11, 2009.

1,000th iPhone Finance Application Added to Apple App Store Today

imageToday marked an Apple App Store milestone of sorts, the 1000th application available in the Finance category (USA store). Finance is less than 2% of the total store, which now stands at 63,300, according to AppShopper.com

Lucky number 1000 was Easy Mortgage (iTunes link), a $0.99 mortgage calculator from Italian developer Nexus (screenshot below).

image Four other new Finance apps debuted today, just missing the 1000 mark: 

  • #997 MLM: A multi-level marketing guide from PTAJ Marketing for $2.99
  • #998 Renting: A guide to renting a house or apartment from also from PJAT Marketing for $2.99
  • #999 Forex: A guide to foreign exchange trading again from PJAT Marketing
  • #1001 TaxTax: A $1.99 sales tax calculator from Canbuffi Web Development

Bottom line: These thousand apps are just the tip of the iceberg for the Finance category. It will likely grow to well over 10,000 during the next few years as most major banks and credit unions add their own apps to the mix. 

Currently, there are fewer than 50 financial institutions with their own dedicated app, including eight of the top 15 (most popular based on recent download volume): 1st (Bank of America), 2nd (Chase), 3rd (Wells Fargo), 4th (PayPal), 8th (E*Trade), 12th (Citibank), 13th (USAA) and 14th (multiple banks via Firethorn).    

For more info on the features and benefits of a good financial institution iPhone app, see our recent Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone (March 2009). 

Another reason for banks to push out a native iPhone app

imageRumors abound that Apple will super-size its iPod Touch next year with a 7- to 10-inch-screen version. VentureBeat has a compelling picture (inset), although it’s not likely to be authentic.

The thinking is that this device fits nicely between the $299 iPod Touch and the $999+ MacBook with a price in the
$600- to $700-range.

The device is expected to run the iPhone OS and use the same touchscreen interface as its much-smaller siblings. That makes it the perfect in-home device for running any of the 40,000+ apps available in App Store. 

Why it’s important
Because there are apps for everything, this device could become the de facto controller for key in-home systems running the television, DVR, telephone (especially if it has a built-in web cam), heating and air conditioning, plus the audio system, of course. It will also be perfect for checking the weather in the morning, the traffic on the way out the door, reading feeds, twittering, and sharing YouTube videos and photos with visitors at the kitchen table. 

And while those are the interesting uses, the Apple device will also be a convenient way to access all types of information, from Google, to ESPN, to your bank balance, all with the touch of button.

Significance for banks and credit unions
If Apple works its magic yet again, this device could end up in the living room of half the upscale households in the world.

image While this device can run a browser to access any website, the user experience is much better with a native app (see note 1). And when push notifications become available in the next OS release, it will be even better.

Note:
1. For more information on why you must build a native iPhone app for your financial institution, see our recent Online Banking Report on iPhone Mobile Banking.

Technology Credit Union and TDECU are first CUs with native iPhone Apps

More than 10 months after the iPhone App Store launched, two U.S. credit unions have joined the application marketplace, which numbers more than 40,000 in the U.S. store alone.

The first was Texas Dow Employees Credit Union (TDECU), whose ATM and shared-branch locator, Culoc8, launched on April 29, according to the company’s Twitter page (below, link). image

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The TDECU app (see inset) is unbranded and can be offered by other CUs to their members. 

Eaton Family Credit Union is offering CuLoc8 to members on its website (see below).

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image Yesterday, Tech CU, became the first credit union with a full-featured branded native iPhone app (App Store link, see note 1). The app (see below) includes full online banking functionality and an ATM/shared branch finder (second screenshot). The credit union also added something we haven’t seen yet, an iPhone optimized feed of its blog, Money Savvy (third screenshot). Nice touch.

Tech CU has offered a mobile website since Sept. 2007. 

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Note:
1. America First Credit Union was the first CU with native iPhone support via its participation in Firethorn’s shared mobile banking app which launched in Nov. 2008.

Apple iPhone Print Advertisements Feature Personal Finance Apps

image_thumb8Apple must be one of the more lucrative advertisers these days at the Wall Street Journal. Apple has bought the back page more times than I can count to show off the iPhone and more-importantly, the diversity of applications available (see inset, note 1).

Lately, Apple has run “theme” ads showing applications related to a single category. Last week (Thurs, 9 April), the back of the A section showed personal finance apps (see left column below). Yesterday, the apps all supported small business and ran on the back of Marketplace (B) section (see right column below).

The only app to make both lists: personal finance superstar, Mint, which even scored top billing in the personal finance page, occupying the upper-left corner, where it’s blurb would likely score the highest readership. 

The Apple website also has themed app guides. The managing money page (see screenshot below) features again features Mint, which gets the biggest graphic, Bank of America, who’s app was featured in dozens of Apple ads in 2008 and earlier this year, Bloomberg, Gas Cubby, iXpenseIt, Save Benjis, and Home Finder.

Bottom line: Financial institutions should think about how to add similar money management functionality to their mobile and online offers. As Aite’s Ron Shevlin pointed out in a comment here last week (emphasis added):

…..(the FinovateStartup participants) you talk about are helping people manage their financial lives, while the banks are [still] focused on helping people manage their financial accounts.

Big difference.

Table: iPhone apps listed in recent WSJ ads (clockwise from upper left)

Personal Finance Theme Small Business Theme
Helping you stretch your budget, one app at a time. Helping you run your small business, one app at a time.
Date: 9 April 2009 Date: 15 April 2009
Mint.com (PFM) Credit card terminal
Gas Cubby (mileage tracker) Print & share (document management)
Spotasaurus (parking finder) FedEx Mobile
RepairPal (mechanic finder) Jott (voice recording/transcription)
AllRecipes.com (recipe finder) iXpenseIt (expense report mgmt)
GoodGuide (product finder) Jobs – Time Tracking
WootWatch (cheap gadgets) Analytics App (website analytics)
Save Benjis (shopping comparison) LinkedIn
RN Dining (rewards dining) LogMeIn (remote computer access)
Find an Apartment YellowPages.com
Cellfire (mobile coupons) Mint.com
Barista (how to guide) Quicksheet (spreadsheet)
Wi-Fi finder Air Sharing (file manager)
CompareMe (price calculator) Nomina (name/trademark search)
Loan Shark (loan tool) SimpleMind Xpress (brainstorming)
Small Spend (mini PFM) Keynote Remote (presentation tool)

Apple’s Money Management page on its Website (link, 16 Apr 2009)

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Notes:
1. My apologies for the image quality, taken via iPhone naturally.
2. For more info, see our latest Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone.