Five Ways Banks Screw Up Their Mobile Apps

Australia's major banks all agree that mobile phones and tablets will account for an ever-increasing share of customer activity. Given that, why do they continue to make such a dog's breakfast of actually developing decent apps?

In the past month or so, I've been to app launches for Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB. (An invite from ANZ surely can't be far away.) At every single event, the message has been the same: a huge percentage of customers access online banking services using their phones. At Westpac, for instance, mobiles account for one-third of online access, and those numbers are continuing to grow.

In those circumstances, it makes sense that banks are paying increasing attention to building mobile-friendly sites and platform-specific apps to access online banking services. It's often said around here that rather than wasting time on individual apps for iOS and Android and all the rest, banks would be better off building good mobile sites that would work on multiple platforms. For their part, the banks argue that customers prefer the app experience. At NAB, 80 per cent of mobile access is through its native apps for iOS and Android.

That's all well and good, but I'm finding there's an increasing gap between the "mobile is the future" mantra and the stupid design decisions evident in many of these apps. Here are five that stick out for me.

5. Apps that do less than their predecessors

Step forward Westpac. The standout feature of its recently-launched iPad app is that it does substantially less than the general iOS app that came before it. For many options (such as adding billers), you still need to sign into the mobile browser. It's really hard to see why anyone would bother with this app.

4. Apps that are little more than a browser shell

The new NAB Windows Phone 7 app (announced yesterday and due in Marketplace next week) falls squarely into this category. It has a shiny Metro-styled front end for finding branches or checking foreign exchange rates, but when you actually start looking at balances and account information, you're right back in a browser screen and no-one would think for a second you were actually using a WP7 app. I appreciate that it's the first release, but if you're going to bother developing for Windows Phone at all, you should make it look native. NAB was guilty of similar crimes with its first Android apps. A browser shortcut does not make a good basis for an app.

3. Apps that don't look like they're built for the platform

When the Commonwealth Bank first promised an Android version of its Kaching payments app, it pledged to make sure it looked like a native Android app. "The way to win in this space is to take care of the tiny details," CommBank's David Lindberg proclaimed. When it actually emerged, the exact opposite had happened: it was a clone of the iOS version. This is not the way to win the hearts of Android users.

2. Botched NFC plans

Near-field communications (NFC) should make it easy to pay for everyday items via contactless readers, but we've yet to see any convincing implementation for Australians. The Commonwealth Bank offers the option through a special iCarte reader for iPhone users, but there's a notable failure rate and retailers don't seem to have been trained on the platform at all. NFC is built into more modern Android phones, but the iPhone-copy-Android software won't use it, a situation the bank blames on not being able to access the relevant security features.

1. Security systems that make life stupidly hard

Many banks (including the Commonwealth and NAB) let you use a four-digit passcode for access to mobile apps, rather than needing to type a longer password. That's less secure, but I understand the compromise. However, NAB's security implementation requires that you only ever have one device set up with a passcode: if you try and set up the passcode option on your tablet, it will stop working on your phone, and vice-versa.

The Commonwealth doesn't impose the same restriction as far as I know, perhaps because it imposes two-factor authentication on many activities such as money transfers which makes the passcode on its own less useful. So clearly it's possible to combine convenience and a reasonable level of security. Owning both a tablet and a phone is hardly an uncommon scenario, so NAB's approach comes across as badly-implemented.

Where could your bank do better with its mobile apps? What do you like about what it offers now? Tell us in the comments.


    ANZ is certainly guilty of number 4, but having said that, I find their mobile site very quick and easy to use. In fact, I often find it quicker to use my mobile to pay some bills or transfer some funds than to perform the same tasks in the full browser version.

      Agreed, but compared to the iPhone app it fails.

    I find the Kaching app for Commonwealth very easy and appealing to use. A lot better then the native iphone app they brought out.

      I've found the same actually. I have no interest in the NFC additions, but the Katching app at least last I checked was substantially better in its design.

    LOL! The ANZ app is nothing but a web browser link. Fail ANZ. Wheres our ANZ goMoney you promised a year ago.

      Do you mean the Android or iPhone version?

    ANZ goMoney on the iphone is a great app. Much better and more convenient that using the mobile site or the desktop site.
    Westpac/stgeorge/banksa have THE worst apps i have ever used.

    ANZ goMoney on iPhone is one of the most practical apps I have come across. Quick, easy to use, a lot of functionality and plus its a native app. Send to mobile number is one of the quickest ways to transfer funds to another ANZ account holder.
    4 digit passcode, well thats the number digits our ATM cards use too, so I wouldn't consider it a biggie. For me its a plus as it is easy to remember as I make it the same as my ATM card pin.
    I have used ANZ goMoney all across the world, and never once have I had an issue with it.

    Seriously? Number 3 is just a whinge. Honestly, suck it up.

      But the point is that CommBank stated itd look like a native Android app, take care of the little details. If it's not a blatant lie, it's misleading


    I use the nab one on my Iphone and dont mind the 4 digit passcode only on one device, as you say it's less secure so I prefer to use that method only on my phone that is with me 24/7 and sticking to the more traditional long winded approach for my Ipad/laptop etc.

      +1 I use the NAB Android app on both my phone and tablet. Seems more secure to me to have it just one also.

      Agree completely. I like that one stops working if I register a PIN on another device.. Love the PIN feature - I've been with NAB long enough that I remember my customer number, but it's always such a pita to enter it. The PIN is nice and easy - and I accept the lower security level for highly increased convenience.

    The frustrating part is knowing how many layers of management, all on 7 or 6 figure salaries, go into thinking about and developing these things. All the different departments, cross organisational strategy teams, marketing and design consultancy contractors, focus group sessions, synergy task forces, staff development retreats, lateral thinking workshops, blah blah blah, and they end up with apps that your average IT undergrad could whip up in a week.

      I worked at one of the aforementioned banks on their app range for 8 months in the mobile dev team pushing out changes and new functionality, I agree that there is a lot of red tape on innovation, which I (whenever opportunity arose) pressed to change... and in a way it did begin to change.. but I can assure you the security, the data management and quality assurance with versions as far back as iOS3.0 meant things couldn't just be 'whipped' up. I ultimately quit as the work was boring, monotonous, unrewarding and the bank was ultimately planning to outsource everything to India anyway which I didn't agree with ethically.

    Just last night I tried to use Commbank's net bank app, and it wouldn't let me transfer money to someone not in my payee list. I had to log on through my Android browser to do it. Waste of time.

    The only thing missing from the iOS commonwealth bank apps is the ability to add a new biller.

    Other than that I think both apps (there is a different layout for the iPad app which is great) are really good.

    I disagree with the mobile shell complaint though. That allows them to update their security instantly. Where at least with the app store (unsure with marketplace) there is a delay with updating the app.

      I'd advise contacting their team about that kind of an issue, they'd be very appreciative of your feedback and the problem would likely be fixed asap.

    I find it encouraging that the excellent ANZ goMoney app is notably absent from each of the 5 complaint categories in this article. Indeed, it: is full-featured (5), is native to iOS [and far better than a mere browser shell] (4), looks like it's native to iOS (3), makes no representations about NFC payments (2) and uses a simple 4-digit PIN for security (1).

    Well done ANZ — just don't pull a number (5) on us if you update the app.

      That ANZ app is fantastic. Just wonderfully thought out.
      It's such a shame that I can't do banking on my WP7 phone though. Mobile browsing only shows my account balance. I can't do anything else. There isn't a dedicated App either. Monday to Friday it's not so bad for me, because i have my work iphone with me. But on the weekend when I need to transfer some money into my ATM account while i'm out and about I can't do it.
      Chop chop ANZ - let's get windows phone banking happening prior to WP8 coming out!!

        Get a non-niche phone, chumplunt. iOS and Android are the two primary platforms these days. If you're going to go with a second-tier platform, you should be prepared for second-tier service from the ecosystem, who will always focus on more popular platforms first.

          Is there really a market to make anything for the Vista Phone though?

    I don't have a problem with just shells around a mobile site (though they have a little bit extra wrapped into it), but mostly because i hate having to manage the tabs in safari, when i access net banking i want to get in quick to xfer money, not screw around in safari.

    I, too, am an ANZ iPhone app user and find it very functional for the transactions I need to do, REALLY like the transfer to another ANZ account holder via mobile phone. If there is one thing I wish and that's ANZ developing an iPad app, and allow multiple device registrations since they have different numbers.

      In the latest release you can have it on an iPhone and an iPad.

      Uh, they do have an iPad app. And it allows multiple registrations.

    I have accounts with anz, citi, nab, bankwest and st George. For a number of years I have found st George to offer the best Internet banking - mobile or otherwise. I did notice though on android, both nab and st George bank apps took a long time to load. Not sure if that's an android issue or not, but I used to use the browser instead as it was faster. Not a problem I've found on iPhone.

    I reckon the Westpac one is pretty good, I've had no issues with it :)

    The ANZ iPhone app is one of the best designed apps on the iOS platform. Still waiting for it to come out on the iPad.

    ANZ said on their Twitter that they are releasing Gomoney for Androids this month. About time, cos the Android web app is the worst available, plus it's not secure. Once you log out you just hit 'back' and there are all your balances again!

    Love the NAB app, simple and pretty well does t all, I use it in preference to the online tool.

    I hated Westpac's App so much I preferred and chose to used telephone banking each time, but recently - with my new Nexus 7 - I find it doesn't even run, crashing immediately. I don't even have the choice of refusing to use that waste of RAM any more!

    Seriously though, you would think with the billions of dollars of profit each of these bankers is making they could hire a few programmers to come up with something usable?

    At least those banks do have Apps. Bank of Queensland is just a springboard that shoots you to different pages in mobile safari.

    I'll add my +1 for ANZ app on iPhone I don't remember the last time I logged in from a pc. And the pay to mobile phone number thing is awesome I love it.

    Need to sort out the SEVERE lack of online security at the ANZ never mind the app. A keystroker program would RORT them. Seriously have a look. No drop menus, no carrots, just a number and password.

    The HSBC iPhone app suffers from none of these issues and is fantastic.

    Lighten up folks.
    It ain't easy building anything in such a risk averse and highly regulated industry as banking. Let alone keeping up with pace of change in mobile technology. Do you really think bank employees make these products not-quite-how-you-want-them, just to annoy you?

    Also, isn't it a little premature to criticise NAB WinPhone 7? It hasn't even hit the market yet!
    Damned if you do and damned if you don't in my opinion. It's been criticised for being 'little more than a browser shell'... From the screenshots, that seems to be untrue. It looks like you can authenticate with a 4 digit number on the app - which is reason enough to use it, since entering customer number and password is a pain in the nuts.

      On the WP7 point: I got to try it at the launch, so those comments re browser integration are based on using it, not guesswork.

    Fair enough.
    So, you'd prefer to login with a customer number and password on the web instead of using 4 digit login?

    It's also first release on the platform. What is better - something that is somewhat useful right now, or something that is a little bit better in 6 months time?
    If there was nothing released, I suspect people would continue to whinge about no apps for Windows Phone 7.

    I don't understand what's so hard about being positive - or at least neutral - for a change. It's a real shame that the default position is negativity.

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