Call this the most hotly debated topic in mobile banking for 2013: Does your institution need a tablet app?
Fact: Tablets have become ubiquitous. Research outfit BI Intelligence put 2012 tablet sales at over 122 million worldwide.
Fact: Although phone apps can be pressed into service on tablets (that is, an iPhone app usually will run on an iPad), it’s not a happy experience. The use case of mobile banking on a smartphone revolves around short bursts of transactions or information gathering. On a tablet, a user typically is inclined to longer sessions, with more in-depth explorations. That’s why true tablet apps are winning fans.
Fact: Tablet users have, whether they know it or not, a backdoor into banking by using a Web browser (Safari or Chrome) to log directly into their credit union’s online banking portal. An advantage there is that, generally, mobile banking apps provide reduced feature sets (new payees often cannot be added and in many configurations it’s not possible even to pay bills at all). By going in through the Web route, the user gets the full range of online banking functions delivered to the tablet.
Fact: Very few credit unions presently have tablet apps. By the count of Austin, Texas, apps developer Malauzai, maybe 10 percent do, said Robb Gaynor. Many, many more have phone apps at this point, said Gaynor, a Malauzai co-founder.
Why don’t more credit unions have tablet apps? “All financial institutions are trying to manage their costs,” said Mickey Goldwasser, a vice president at Q2ebanking, a technology developer also in Austin, Texas. He nonetheless predicted: “2013 will be the year more credit unions deploy tablet apps.”
Once the many facts are sorted, one fact stands out: The vaulting numbers of tablets make tablet apps something of an inevitability.
Big credit unions certainly are already in the thick of tablet app rollout. April Clobes, chief operating officer at Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, a $2.3 billion cooperative based in East Lansing, said a tablet app is on her institution’s roadmap for 2013.
“People spend more time on their tablets than they do on phones. We specifically want to add PFM functionality for a tablet app,” she said. “There are things members will want to do on their tablets that they wouldn’t do on a phone.”
She added that “more people don’t want to bank on a desktop computer” – and MSUFCU wants to be able to give them the functions they will want via a tablet app, she said.
Rob Cummings, senior vice president at the $3.3 billion Mountain America Credit Union n West Jordan, Utah, noted his credit union recently rolled out an iPad app to its 400,000 members. “With our tablet app, you get to do more and you can see more,” said Cummings, pointing to the more generous screen sizes on tablets.
Cummings added that in 2013 Mountain America will roll out an Android app and all the tablet apps will probably get upgraded feature sets (probably including the ability to add new payees within the mobile app, which presently is not possible).
Said Cummings: “Mobile is the future.”
As for why Mountain America elected to introduce an iPad app first, he said it was a decision driven by numbers, where iPad traffic was many multiples of the traffic seen on Android devices when that decision was made.
Android sales are picking up, however, and that will show up in usage and thus the intent to debut an Android app in the new year.
Probably these credit unions are at the head of the line, but the line of institutions that will debut a tablet app in 2013 is growing. One reason: Price will be a less of a factor in deciding to buy, or not buy, a tablet app, said Gaynor who said he had heard many vendors are working to keep tablet app prices down, at least for customers who also are buying phone apps.
“We are going live with our first credit union tablet app very shortly,” said Gaynor. He indicated Malauzai believed about half its current customer roster will fairly quickly sign up for a tablet app because recognition will grow that this is indeed a different kind of app – it does more, differently than does the smartphone app – and, very probably, many of the new tablet owners will indeed want a banking app to use on their device and if their credit union doesn’t provide it, it is too easy for them to find alternatives from big banks.
Add this up and if the optimistic predictions hold true, pressures on credit unions to offer a tablet app will intensify as 2013 plays out.
“Users want an app – we have seen that,” said Cummings at Mountain America. And the rest of the message is that those institutions that resist offering one may find there is a painful price to pay for inaction.