Banks are failing to innovate online

Banking is an area that, sadly, none of us can really get away from. It touches all of us at least twice a month — the day your salary goes in, and then the day all the debit orders go off. But how are banks in an emerging market like South Africa trying to integrate with people’s daily lives, and how are they using the available tools to interact with their customers and learn from them on a daily basis?

Who is doing what?

There are many aspects that we can look at each bank from, so let’s first understand what we are looking at here:

  1. First the who: The major consumer banks in South Africa
  2. How are they integrating into people’s daily lives?
  3. How engaged they are online?

Mobile banking application
Probably the biggest area of excitement at the moment in the consumer banking world. And only one bank has really (at the time of writing) stepped up as it were and launched a mobile banking application.

FNB has beaten the rest of the field to the finish line and then some. Its mobile banking application is simply put, exquisite. It is simple to download and install and is intuitive in its design. All of the users who I have spoken to cannot fathom how they managed to bank online without it in the past.

When the other banks were pressed for the delivery date of their mobile banking applications, they were moot on the issue, their only response usually along the lines of “there is something exciting in the pipeline”. I translate this to mean: “We are not too sure what we are doing with our mobile banking application, but can’t tell you that!”

General online banking
All of the banks have the generic and expected online banking tools from cell phone banking and a mobi site; through to full blown internet banking.

What I did find a little disconcerting is that a lot of the banks did the very best that they could to hide the fact that they had a mobi site (and that was a good thing with some of them). None of the banks, bar one, automatically redirected my iPad or BlackBerry to the mobi site and I had to hunt for links on all the sites to redirect me there.

Capitec has it right when it comes to understanding the platform that the user is trying to engage with them on and they serve the most relevant site to the user at that time.

Once I found FNB‘s site, it was simple to navigate from my mobile and gave me everything I needed — I am sure a lot of learning was taken from here and transferred to its mobile banking application.

Standard Bank‘s gave me far too many choices and the poor styling rendered the user experience appalling.

Absa‘s mobi site had some styling and gave me just information to get things done. It also highlighted some interesting banking articles which I may have found interesting.

Banking Innovation
While the FNB mobile banking application is a huge innovation in terms of banking in South Africa and emerging markets as a whole, there is a lot that needs to be said for Absa’s foray into “tap-and-go payments”.

Google Wallet is a similar innovation which is currently on user trial in the United States (and has been since May of 2011). Simply put, the technology does away with credit and debit cards and turns your mobile phone into a purchase verification device.

Social interaction
Without going in to too much detail, the level of social interaction of South African banks is appalling. Banks are taking their offline communication strategies and are simply pasting them online.

This broadcast method of communicating does not work online and ignoring your audience (especially the ones complaining) does not a positive sentiment make.

Doing a search on Twitter for any of the brands hash tags does not give you a warm feeling around any brand.

While FNB’s @Rbjacobs has done a lot to engage with the brands audience online, I personally feel that there is a huge lesson which brands have yet to learn:

Online observation needs to drive business change

Online observation gives any brand — a multinational bank or a local SME — the ability to listen to what its audience is moaning about with regards to not only their product or service, but also to the greater issue of their business processes. What frustrates people more than anything is how brands do business with them using antiquated and clunky processes that have too many hurdles. Once businesses realize the gold mine of information and then how to process (excuse the pun) it, real dynamic business change can happen.



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