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There's an app for that: Banks use technology to woo custom

Banks are upping their game in apps and technology to help retain customers and head off current account switching.

Despite the launch of a seven-day switching guarantee, barely one per cent of customers changed their bank in the first half of this year, according to the Payments Council.

David Black at Consumer Intelligence says: "People need a reason to change bank, and those that do so tend to do it either to get a better deal financially or because of dissatisfaction.

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"One of our surveys found that 64 per cent of consumers won't switch because they're happy with their account. Another eight per cent thought accounts are so similar that there's no point switching."

Matt Sanders at Gocompare.com said: "The figures show that the biggest winners are Santander with its 123 account, which offers varying amounts of cashback, and Halifax with its £100 payment for those who switched to its Reward account, as well as the £5 per month in-credit incentive."

But Andrew Hagger at moneycomms.co.uk says the incentives are often simply not worth it. "It's not really surprising that many consumers aren't moving their nest eggs to chase marginally better interest rates. For those with less cash tucked away, it's more down to apathy and low additional reward as opposed to a lack of competition."

The Competition and Markets Authority is looking at a formal investigation into a market where the big four banks still have a 77 per cent share, despite the emergence of a raft of new challengers led by TSB, M&S Bank, Tesco Bank, Virgin Money and Metro Bank.

But the British Bankers Association argues that competition will be driven naturally as new technology spurs more innovative banking services.

It may be that many customers are getting comfortable with the technology their bank is already deploying to keep them engaged and happy.

Latest global research says more than 1.75 billion mobile phone users will have used their devices for banking purposes by the end of 2019, compared to 800 million this year. The report by Juniper Research notes that premises are disappearing - as in this year's closure of 44 RBS branches across the UK.

Meanwhile more than six in 10 18-30 year olds prefer to contact their banks using mobile messaging banking apps, and one in six have never visited a bank, according to software provider Intelligent Environments.

RBS says its customers are making 48 million fewer journeys every year thanks to banking technology. It says its four million customers use their phone, tablet or computer for an average four transactions a month that would have required a visit to their local branch 20 years ago, saving an average six-mile round trip - or 24 million miles saved in total. More than 165,000 RBS and NatWest customers use the mobile app between 7am and 8am on their commute to work every day.

In his book on RBS's history and downfall, Shredded, author Ian Fraser says the bank has now to "develop state-of-the-art mobile apps and online transactional platforms, on a par with the sort of things already available from the likes of Amazon, Google and PayPal" in order to "secure the loyalty of sufficient numbers of younger consumers to take the sting out of branch closures and downsizing".

RBS says it is investing £750m across the UK over the next three years including installation of WiFi across the network, investment in digital banking and upgrading the ATM network, as well as branch refurbishment.

Nationwide has caught the wave of the drive to get people saving more. It has already top-rated banking app now includes Impulse Saver, which allows customers to transfer pre-configured amounts from current accounts to savings accounts with a couple of taps, and no logging-in, encouraging them to save small amounts regularly. The building society said that in the first two months after the feature was launched in early June, more than £1.6m was saved.

The app's other new feature Quick Balance allows customers to see their account balance at a glance without logging in, at the swipe of a button. The app button was used almost five million times in the first two months.

Chris Rhodes, a Nationwide executive director, said: "Impulse Saver gives customers the opportunity to resist the temptation of a coffee and a croissant, for example, and save instead of spending money on a whim. In the longer term, it could make the savings habit easier to acquire and have a significant impact on people's finances."

He said the relaunched app followed a digital wallet, ­homebuyer app, and remote advice service Nationwide Now, where customers can make a real-time mortgage application in their branch via a high-speed video link to an adviser.

Mr Rhodes said: "In some cases Nationwide Now has tripled our number of mortgage completions, while breathing new life into some branches. Before we deployed this system, customers in Oban could have a mortgage appointment over the phone or a 200 mile round trip to Dumbarton - with our video link they can now have a face-to-face conversation when in Oban."

However, banking on the move is not always guaranteed for everyone.

According to regulator Ofcom, only 67 per cent of mobile phone users living in a rural area say they're satisfied with their mobile network service, compared to 78 per cent in urban areas.

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