The future of the BofA iPhone app: besides better iPhone support, personalization?

I recently went through the 350 or so reviews of the BofA iPhone app. Here are my conclusions.

First of all, BofA should have called this app “ATM locator” instead of “Mobile Banking”, as the ATM locator capability is praised by most as a way to save on fees when traveling out-of-town or when in unfamiliar neighborhood, but the overwhelming majority comment on the fact that the application provides a very poor mobile banking experience on the iPhone.

What is meant by iPhone-specific experience?

iPhone-specific experience is the single most requested feature. I’m careful not to talk about implementation details here (native app versus iPhone-optimized Web app) as I still don’t have a strong opinion about which approach would ultimately bring the best user experience (native app developed in-house would require a learning curve that would certainly impact the quality of the app, while a Web app would have to be provided with JavaScript API wrappers of some of the SDK APIs like CoreLocation to provide an interesting user experience).

For most what iPhone-specific experience means is:

  • More finger-friendly (avoid pinching, which is a sign that the app is not optimized for the iPhone)
  • iPhone-specific styling like buttons instead of tiny text-based links
  • Consistency across the whole app (not a mix of a native for ATM locator and Web for mobile banking that does not instill confidence)
  • More condensed information per page using table views

Other interesting requested features

Here are the other interesting features requested:

  • Add support for customers in Washington and Idaho states.
  • Faster login (one suggested using a PIN instead of a long password)
  • Transaction reconciliation via mobile banking
  • Background download of information such as balance for quick one-click look
  • Better support for credit card accounts (currenly only balance is available, not transaction list)
  • Support for My Portfolio feature
  • “Something like E-Trade on the BlackBerry”.

Further thoughts: personalizing the mobile banking experience

The one thought that came out of this analysis was that mobile users have fundamentally different needs in terms of the information they want to see after clicking the BofA logo on the iPhone homescreen.While most expect to be able to do everything they can do with online banking, all expect to do much faster the things they do most commonly in online banking. And that’s where the design problem of shrinking online banking into a mobile app is in my opinion. On one hand, what everyone does most commonly is very different from customer to customer. On the other hand, an intuitive interface design principle is “Human interface cognitive load is proportional to the number of clicks/keystrokes/gestures“, which means that people won’t like the user experience unless they get to do what they want to do in the least number of clicks and keystrokes. This includes login in, selecting a transaction, entering amounts, etc.

To give a few examples from the reviews: those who travel don’t care about the ATM locator. Those who travel love it. Some only have a Credit Card account with Bofand don’t care about Checking/Savings.

Which leads me to think that the future of the BofA iPhone app or any mobile banking app for that matter will be in the ability for the user to personalize their experience by providing to BofA the shortcuts to the transactions they do most.

This may include just a transaction identifier and an account identifier (ex. “view balance” “checking-1234″) or more complex shortcuts that borders on programming/querying: for instance “view transactions” “CC-8456″ “Last 10 posted transaction” or “transfer” “$100″ “to John”.

Online banking will most likely be the place where these personalizations will be programmed. Until then, getting that 5 star rating on iTunes app store and getting everyone happy might be difficult.

Banking-related panel proposals for 2009 SXSW Interactive Festival

I searched the SXSW interactive panel picker for “banking”, “money”, “finance”, “financial”, etc. Here are the panels I found:

  • Banking 2.0 – Algorithmically Fixing the Sub-Prime Mess (suggested by Christopher Hughes, PennyMac): Sub-prime debt may be causing the collapse of the worldwide economy. Speculators, investors, banks, mortgage brokers, honest home-owners have all been duped into believing that that the real estate market was a “sure thing”. Can a solution be found with a computing cluster, open source software, and a semi-complex algorithm? Yes.
  • Future of Money: Life after the Fed (suggested by Blake Stephenson, Flow): Ron Paul’s presidential campaign shone a light on the impossibility of central banks to “regulate” the economy and the inherent problems with fiat money (paper money). The internet is playing and will continue to play a critical role in the creation of the future of money. What is the future of money?
  • Mobile Ubiquitous Banking and the Future of Money (suggested by Kyle Outlaw, Avenue A | Razorfish): Nearly half the world’s population now has a mobile device and more than a thousand cell phones are being activated every minute. The ubiquity of mobile devices will make new services available to billions of people worldwide who have not had access to traditional banks or credit cards. In developing countries such as Kenya – where nearly 80% of the population is excluded from the formal financial sector – text messaging is being used to transfer money to friends and family living in other countries. Moreover, new forms of currency are being created – trading cell phone minutes for goods and services, for example. This panel will explore the challenges and opportunities as banks go mobile, and how the revolution in mobile financial services will change the way we think about money.
  • Strategies for Establishing Social Media in B2B Relationships (Brad Garland, The Garland Group | Social media in the consumer space is clearly talked about and prevalent. What is barely getting addressed is how these technologies can be implement in the business world and what are ways to do it successfully. This panel will explore that concept and how B2B relationships can be formed using these tools.

About SXSW:

SXSW Interactive Festival features five days of exciting panel content and amazing parties. Attracting digital creatives as well as visionary technology entrepreneurs, the event celebrates the best minds and the brightest personalities of emerging technology. Whether you are a hard-core geek, a dedicated content creator, a new media entrepreneur, or just someone who likes being around an extremely creative community, SXSW Interactive is for you!

What the IT at Google Bank would look like

As I was watching the Google I/O keynote presentation, I thought about how all the development tools provided by Google (Google Gears, GData, OpenSocial, etc.) could be put to work to create a Google-powered Bank, and what the IT architecture of this Google Bank would look like.

Here is how I think it could look like:

All user interaction devices, whether it is a teller workstation, mobile phone, ATM machine, kiosk would provide access to the bank via any of the standard Web browsers (Opera, IE, Firefox, Safari).

If access to device-specific functionality is required, it would be done by Google Gears (say for instance, that I want to access the ATM’s cash dispensing functionality, or I want to access the mobile phone’s built-in GPS or accelerometer). Ideally, these devices would be running a single application that would adapt according to the services discovered on the device on on the service cloud. But realistically, they would be running variant of a single GWT Java code base that GWT would compile in JavaScript for browser-based deployment.

Contacting customer support would be done via Google Talk click-to-call buttons. Interactive Voice Response systems would be powered by 1-800-GOOG-411 voice technology.

All these user facing app would leverage a cloud of shared GData services based on Atom Publishing Protocol. These services would be used to retrieve and update any data and transaction: update accounts, customer profiles, schedule payments, withdraw money, consult account balances, etc.

These services would be available to any developer who registered for an API key to create new 3rd party applications, with online documents, code examples, tutorials, videos, etc. There would be a related developer challenge that would award prizes ranging from $25K to $100K to motivate developers to create 3rd party applications. Google Bank would monitor usage and success via the API key, and acquire the apps that can contribute the most to their bottom line or user growth. OAuth would be used to allow 3rd party apps to accesss customer data without the user having to give away their Google login/password.

OpenSocial would be leveraged by Google Bank to provide an easy framework for friends to share bills, family member to send money to one another via any device, and to loan money to friends/families or friends of friends. Google Bank would use this data to provide preferential loan rates or optimize transaction fees.

Google Bank analytics would analyze my transaction patterns, build nice spending usage pie charts for me, and suggest relevant ways to save or make more money via competitive offers aggregated in Google Shopping. Bank marketing managers would use Google Bank analytics to analyze usage patterns, create marketing campaigns and target specific demographics and customer types in Google Adsense.

And last but not least, users would be able to search all their personal data using a simple one input field user interface.

Did I miss anything?

twauth: mobile authentication with OpenID and Twitter

I stumbled upon Ian McKellar‘s twauth prototype: a Twitter and OpenID based mobile authentication solution.

The idea behind twauth is to address the usability issues of current mobile OpenID-based authentication workflows.

The particular issue that Ian’s twauth addresses it the effort place on the user to enter alphanumeric passwords.

Twauth addresses this issue by replacing the alphanumeric password entry by a digits-only 5-digit one-time code sent to the mobile phone via Twitter/SMS, that the user then enters on the openid authentication page.

Here are some screenshots of the complete workflow:

1. Entering the twauth mobile OpenID URL at the mobile ( mobile login page

2. Instructing the OpenID server to send a direct (private) Twitter message with a 5-digit code (ignore the garbage):

Direct message selection

3. The mobile phone that is linked to the Twitter account linked with the twauth OpenID URL is sent a message with a 5-digit code (18010 – screenshot not available)

4. User enters the one-time 5-digit code:

Entering the one-time 5-digit code

5. You are authentic!

You are authentic