Westpac launches device-agnostic ‘central platform’ for mobile, online banking

Aims to offer a full-featured banking experience across smartphones, tablets and PCs.

Westpac unveiled today its new digital and mobile strategy, which aims to offer a full-featured banking experience across smartphones, tablets and PCs.

“Our strategy is to be different from our peers, but only to be different from our peers because we believe that’s the way that our customers are interacting with us more and more, and to deliver the best digital solutions for our customers,” says general manager retail bank Ian Blair.

According to Blair, Westpac is making an investment of over $15 million over next 18 months in order to realise its new online and mobile banking strategy.

“Banking is changing at a million miles an hour”, Blair explained. “Customers have got new needs and behaviours that are evolving all the time”, most of which are driven by new technology such as smartphones and tablets.

One thing we’re not trying to drive … is the proliferation of more and more apps … customers don’t want that. We want to create that single platform that’s device agnostic.

Simon Pomeroy

Simon Pomeroy, head of digital banking & customer experience, provided additional details on what he said is a first for Australia and New Zealand, Westpac’s ‘central platform’ for online banking. The platform is device-agnostic and will work cover both mobile and browser-based online banking.

“They key part for us with this central platform is the ability to extend the services we can offer from our current PC offering across all devices”, Pomeroy said, “and develop new services in the next six months to do 90-95 per cent off things that can be done through the branch or the contact centre today.

“One thing we’re not trying to drive … is the proliferation of more and more apps … customers don’t want that.” Pomeroy said. “We want to create that single platform that’s device agnostic.”

Computerworld watched the product demonstrated on a MacBook laptop, and had hands-on time with it running via the browser on an Apple iPad, iPhone and Samsung Galaxy smartphone. All versions are currently delivered as an HTML 5 web app, designed to be fully responsive to tablet and smartphone screen sizes.

When released to consumers, the iOS and Android versions will be wrapped as app store/play store apps, and make use of native functionality where necessary (for example, future versions may make use of the new iPhone 5S’s fingerprint reader for security).

While it appears to be a fairly standard online banking suite, one particularly notable feature is Westpac’s ‘Timeline’ view, which shows past and future activity across all accounts. A limited timeline view is shown as a pane on the homepage of the desktop and tablet versions, with a more detailed view available as a tab on those devices and on smartphones.

On September 13, the service was launched to 5000 Westpac staff members as an internal trial. It will launch to 50,000 select customers in October, a further 350,000 in November, and will be live for all Westpac customers in January 2014.

New functionality will be delivered every six to eight weeks via an agile development process, said Pomeroy, about a 40 per cent faster rate of development than previously achieved by the company. Behind the system is a core team of around 20 developers, and a technology team which is elastic in size, with around 40 members nominally.

New features will include payment to mobile numbers and email addresses, application processes for ‘most loans and services’, and integration with accounting packages such as Xero and MYOB for SMEs.

“We are seeing a significant level of adoption for mobile technology in banking … and that’s really driving us to create an integrated strategy with online banking at the heart of it,” says Pomeroy.

Looking at current mobile banking systems in New Zealand and around the world, Pomeroy points out that “most of its functionality today in the PC or in the desktop – the functionality starts to drop when you start looking at tablets and mobiles.”

That concept is outdated, Pomeroy says. “Customers should have the same functionality regardless of the device they’re using.”

Trends alert

Speaking to New Zealand trends in device adoption, Blair pointed out that New Zealand had 54 per cent smartphone penetration in the first quarter of 2013, and more than half of those smartphone owners use mobile banking. 20 per cent of New Zealanders own a tablet, and 16 per cent own both a tablet and smartphone. (Data from Google and Ericsson)

Westpac’s own numbers show over 1.5 million logins to the company’s mobile banking service per month, up 457 per cent over the last 12 months. 33 per cent of those customers access the service from a mobile device, 10 per cent of all online payments are made via mobile and perhaps most surprisingly, 10 per cent of all home loan applications are also made via mobile devices.

“The opportunity that presents for us is to build a far more personalised and deeper relationship with customers.”, said Blair. “Customers are using their mobile technology often to do their transactional type needs. … It doesn’t mean that branches or bankers are going to disappear. … It actually frees up the time of our bankers to have better-quality, deeper discussions with our customers … to really understand what their needs are and provide them with advice as they use the technology more and more for their transactional needs.

“The rise of mobile technology interestingly hasn’t come at the expense of online banking. It’s actually enhanced that experience and complemented it. We firmly believe that online banking will remain instrumental in the future of banking.”

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