Mobile Banking: What’s Not to Love?

white smartphone next to shiny red heart in front of green wooden wall
Stephanie Schwenn Sebring Photo
Contributing Writer
Fab Prose & Professional Writing

13 minutes

Analytics and word-of-mouth highlight members’ favorite features—and where there’s work to be done.

After years of being a relatively uninspired self-service add-on, mobile banking has become a primary means of engagement for credit unions. Moving beyond transactional convenience to a critical channel throughout the pandemic, it’s how credit unions will stay relevant and connected into the future.

As mobile growth continues, what can credit unions do to enhance this point of connection? Focus on members’ most-loved app features. 

“Not surprisingly, traditional transactions like balance inquiries and transfers have remained a staple—partly for peace of mind, partly for convenience,” reflects Mark Geason, VP/electronic services for $7 billion Citizens Equity First Credit Union, Peoria, Illinois. “It’s not just an added perk. Today, members expect and demand immediate access to balance information and the ability to transfer between accounts. They’re looking for solutions.

“And for us, it’s about aligning mobile budgeting tools, so we can help members dive deeper into their account relationships,” Geason continues. “These tools allow members to create budgets and track expenses, which helps us live our mission of understanding and serving our members’ individual needs.”

Being a community credit union, CEFCU serves members in vastly different places in their financial journeys. “Some use our mobile platform multiple times a day for remote check deposit, linking accounts and budgeting tools,” says Geason. “Some make daily balance inquiries and transfers, while others log in only monthly for loan payments.

“The common denominator is that these members all have different needs, which requires delivering a unique experience for each, leading to greater adoption,” notes Geason. 

Communication Features Shine

Balance preview is a top mobile feature for members of $13 billion Alliant Credit Union, Chicago. This functionality enables members to check account balances without logging in. In 2020, more than 19 million balance previews occurred, with 100,000 members activating the feature. 

“While the numbers are significant, more importantly, it means reassurance is only a moment away for our members,” reflects Chris Hill, director/digital banking for the credit union.

Other popular features include the app’s messaging tool, which lets members converse with a live rep via a secure in-app message, mobile deposit and an ATM locator feature.

“Using their location within the app, we help members filter options within our large network of ATMs,” explains Hill. “Over the last year, we’ve seen 38% growth in ATM searches on mobile.”

Stats are important, but Alliant CU members aren’t shy about sharing their feelings, either:

  • “Love that I can see my balances without logging in. Also, the message feature has been something I’ve used multiple times to talk to customer service reps about questions I’ve had. And the mobile deposit feature works seamlessly. Way better than my other bank’s app. Really well-done, Alliant!” – Jessica P., Member, Google Play Store review 
  • “All of my regular banking needs are very easy and convenient, the ATM locator auto-updates with my phone’s location, and the ATM fee refunds are almost instantaneous!” – B.D., Member, Google Play Store review

Putting members first is the driving force behind mobile success, says Jeremey Sterner, VP/IT for $100 million Heritage Valley Federal Credit Union, York, Pennsylvania. “Mobile deposit, bill pay and P2P (peer-to-peer) have been the most-used features of our Banno mobile banking app powered by Jack Henry,” he reports. “However, the app’s new ‘conversation’ feature is growing in popularity, and since the pandemic, questions have gravitated to this [channel]. 

“Part of the reason is its omnichannel functionality that includes text messaging within a secure mobile platform,” Sterner explains. “A member can start the conversation in mobile and continue it within online banking while remaining in an authenticated mode.”

Amidst positive feedback from members, use of the conversations function rose 40% from June 30 through Dec. 31, 2020, he notes.

Brian Scott
Chief Growth Officer
How can you energize your site so members can’t wait to check it every day? What unique ways can you engage with and maximize your members’ financial lives?

Stats Tell the Story

Tracking key usage statistics can help credit unions understand and improve the member experience. For example, CEFCU monitors the number of members enrolled in bill pay compared to active bill-pay users, the number of monthly bills paid, average dollars moving through bill pay per member, loan applications closed and DocuSign items handled.

“During 2020, we followed patterns of the most popular days and times for mobile transactions—including the number of times people logged in daily and peaks with their deposits,” adds Sterner. “Over six months (June 30 through Dec. 31), remote deposits increased 30%. And somewhat surprisingly, late-night activity across the board peaked during the pandemic.”

While mobile banking usage stats have grown for all features, there is still functionality members could use more. For Alliant CU, it’s two-factor authentication. 

“Immediately after logging into online or mobile banking, we send the member a code via text,” explains Hill. “This way, we can confirm that the member is the only one accessing their account. 

“Two-factor authentication is more secure than using security questions to log in and, at the same time, makes the account more accessible. It’s also easy to forget the answer to a security question, which drives member care center calls. 

“Two-factor authentication is a win for the member and credit union,” stresses Hill. “Yet we still find members resistant to enroll.”

At Heritage Valley FCU, members aren’t taking full advantage of mobile bill pay. “We strongly encourage the convenience of bill pay,” says Sterner. “Whether online or mobile, it’s a sticky product [once members enroll], and we’d love to see more. However, it can be challenging to convert these payments, primarily because members use many platforms to manage their personal expenses.

“We’ve utilized awareness campaigns through our bill-pay provider to educate members on the benefits,” he continues. “The way Banno integrates bill pay into the member experience has also increased usage.”

While the credit union’s previous mobile offering included a bill-pay feature, the functionality was confined to a separate area of the app. Today, bill pay is more visibly integrated with other functionality throughout the Banno app, explains Sterner. “We feel the approach of integrating bill pay into the members’ mobile and online experience has increased usage because many times they do not even know they are using bill pay. For example, if they tap on ‘pay a person,’ the member does not necessarily know (or care) that they are now using a feature that is part of bill pay.

“That said, we still only see a monthly usage rate of 12% for active monthly Banno users.”

Growth Through Personalization and Security

To gain more traction with members, credit unions should watch for new, emerging features that will enable members to make the mobile banking experience entirely their own, notes Brian Scott, chief growth officer for CUESolutions Bronze provider PSCU, St. Petersburg, Florida.

“Watch for features that give a 360-degree view of the member’s entire financial portfolio and other personalization tools,” says Scott. “For example, through our DX Mobile platform, credit unions can customize the digital experience with features that enable the member to choose a personal call center ambassador, customize screen icons, upload personal photos or manage personal financial goals. People want to see their own style and will use the app as another way to flex their digital presence.”

Luis Landivar, VP/business solutions group for CUES Supplier member Temenos Infinity, New York, concurs that tailoring the experience for the individual so that it’s embedded in the way they live life is essential for any mobile app. “For mobile banking, that can mean fast, seamless and secure login features, like fingerprint scans, face ID, push notification-based login or other biometrics. The goal is to add enhanced security features while minimizing the friction they may bring.

“Because fraudsters never sleep, the demand for mobile features to address or prevent fraud will continue to rise,” Landivar notes. “Deploying automated fraud detection software to protect members proactively is important, but no technology is infallible, and nobody wants to spend even five minutes on the phone over a fraudulent transaction dispute. The Temenos Infinity Digital Banking platform can initiate and track disputes, allowing the member to start a dispute directly within the app in the context of the transaction in question. The back-office portal enables staff to handle the inquiry and assign the dispute to the appropriate internal group for review.”

Security alerts are also gaining adoption, says Landivar, and it is clear members want card-control options accessible directly within their mobile app. “To illustrate, we’ve seen over 120% growth in the use of card-control features when included within the application versus members having to download an additional application to manage their credit or debit cards.”

In addition to fraud prevention, making human connections with members via mobile is a priority. 

“For instance, watch for relationship banking features to become prevalent—with chatbots replaced by a member’s chosen representative,” explains Landivar. “Members will select their member service rep … based on a personal profile. The rep will then handle ongoing needs, such as new accounts, loans or investments. The member doesn’t need to wait in line at a branch or for a call center rep. Most importantly, they start to build a relationship with this employee, which enhances and further humanizes the interaction.”

However, Landivar says members still prefer a text over a video encounter. “Texting over a secure mobile app is safer than via SMS, and the asynchronous nature of texting lets the member text and reply at their discretion. Additionally, employees can manage as many as hundreds of conversations conveniently on their end.”

Luis Landivar
VP/Business Solutions Group
Temenos Infinity
We’ve seen over 120% growth in the use of card-control features when included within the application versus members having to download an additional application to manage their credit or debit cards.

Pandemic Brings New Insights

“In 2020, we saw a mad race for credit unions to become full-service digital,” says Lee Wetherington, senior director of strategy at Jack Henry, Monett, Missouri. Adoption and usage of mobile features intensified throughout the pandemic, giving credit unions better data and insights into members’ needs.

“These included shifts in money behaviors, payments usage, account-opening preferences and money-movement patterns,” says Wetherington. “Going forward, credit unions that leverage their data to surface personalized, actionable insights for members in real-time—and enable conversations around those insights—will differentiate themselves against disruptors that are automating the humanity out of financial services.”

Personalized insights might include an infographic providing a snapshot of weekly spending, an upcoming bill payment or a budget alert on a particular spending category, all of which give the member an option to connect with a credit union staffer who can provide counsel and suggest relevant products or services. Other insights might include double-charge alerts, tips for improving credit scores or even renegotiation of subscriptions or recurring bills.

“Mobile marketing will leverage algorithms monitoring payments flows to encourage proactive, real-time member conversations from within the mobile banking app,” Wetherington says. “By encouraging these contextual conversations in authenticated settings, digital [key performance indicators], member user experience and efficiency ratios will improve dramatically in concert and finally convert digital from a self-service cost center into a full-service revenue engine.”

Several metrics can help gauge an app’s full-service journey. Wetherington suggests tracking app speed closely: “What are your app-launch-to-app-usable or app-launch-to-balance-view intervals, for example?” 

The most important metric, however, is the time it takes to resolve a member’s question or concern (what he calls “the moment of need to resolution.”) The faster this becomes, the greater your efficiency and member trust level. Conversely, if times increase, that is a less convenient and satisfying experience for your members.

Mobile usage data can reveal even more about your members than perceptions of performance.

“It’s also interesting to follow your data to see if members are ‘cheating’ on you,” says Scott. “If members are only logging in to check balances and not looking at a credit card, savings or investment account, it’s safe to assume they’re going elsewhere for their financial needs. Furthermore, members interact with you through how they pay—gas, groceries, bills and more, often multiple payments per day. The key is, how do you use this data to improve your mobile banking experience?

“If your app is not a ‘destination site,’ it’s vital to get people engaged,” Scott stresses. “How can you energize your site so members can’t wait to check it every day? What unique ways can you engage with and maximize your members’ financial lives? Can you present and provide relevant solutions?”

These may include savings goals, financial health advice, projected cash flow or P2P payments.

Financial checkups are another way to engage members. “Consider providing a loan analysis or comparison within mobile, perhaps showing the benefits of paying off a loan or taking another action,” says Scott. “It may not help the credit union in the short term, but long term, you foster relationships and ‘do well by doing good.’”

It’s about the experience, reiterates Scott. How do you make your mobile experience worth coming back for? What features can you add that customize the experience or make members feel valued? Can you increase comfort levels, so members feel more in control?  

Features of the Future

When considering new tools for mobile engagement, look for augmented reality functionality and virtual reality to offer more practical uses for members—someday.

“Right now, these applications aren’t necessarily practical or useful—for example, using AR to replace signage or to display additional contextual information about a service offered at a branch or VR to schedule remote virtual branch visits,” notes Landivar. “There is a whole generation growing up with VR headsets that offer a new set of experiences, and the pandemic pushed many events like concerts and conferences to that format. In the ’90s, few people thought we would have the capabilities we have on our mobile devices today, so practicality won’t stop companies from developing products to see how customers react. Regardless, it will be fun to watch.”

Also, watch for enhanced business banking tools, such as workflow, payroll and ACH features. “There are features institutions use today but are still fairly new,” Landivar says. “Once fully developed, business mobile will be here to stay and offer business owners much more versatility.”

While the bells and whistles always draw attention, don’t let them distract from what’s vital to your members’ long-term financial success. “At CEFCU, when launching new mobile products, we look to our ‘superusers’ to help review and test the process,” shares Geason. “Their input has proven extremely valuable, even helping us on social media, stepping in to assist others with questions about functionality. It creates a bond within our community.”

Alliant CU has also relied on member sentiment, particularly when redesigning its online banking platform in 2019. “We prioritized the features that meant the most while looking for new and unique ways to delight our members,” says Hill. “Some fun features recently implemented are an anniversary message and a display on the member’s birthday.”

Having a good analytics framework is the best way to keep a pulse on the most-used features in your mobile application, adds Landivar. “Analytics reports can show you … where members are spending most of their time in the app and a view of the flows they take so you can identify bottlenecks and take proactive action. Consider solutions that incorporate a feedback feature within your mobile app as a proactive way to capture member opinions, giving them a voice and you the opportunity to address their needs before it turns into a negative review on the app store.”

Looking at feedback and data helps you to get into the mind of the consumer, notes Sterner. “It’s also worth noting that mobile users aren’t really skewing younger anymore,” he adds. “Since the pandemic, we’ve seen mobile numbers surge across all age groups, while members adapted quickly (no matter their age or background) to doing all their business via mobile.”

Sterner concludes that it is possible to succeed in a digital-only environment: “Goals can be reached and accounts managed, and you can use mobile to help members stay connected for greater financial success.”  cues icon 

Stephanie Schwenn Sebring established and managed the marketing departments for three CUs and served in mentorship roles before launching her business. As owner of Fab Prose & Professional Writing, she assists credit unions, industry suppliers and any company wanting great content and a clear brand voice. Follow her on Twitter @fabprose.

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