Guest Post: Kobus Elhers is a lecturer in Informatics specialising in Decision Making. He’s passionate about good design and spends his time looking at how technology impacts society. Of course he also has a slight gadget addiction.
Technologically FNB really has no equal in the South African banking space. They have an excellent internet banking platform (integrated with share trading and investment platforms), they offer several innovative mainstream products like card-less withdrawals and cellphone transfers, their use of Twitter is unparalleled (check out @RBJacobs), they have (mostly) figured out how OTP’s should work, they provide the only PayPal service in SA and they even operate as a VASP providing ADSL and VOIP services through FNBConnect. The list continues…
A few years ago FNB launched their first App (FNBConnect) to allow users to locate ATM’s and utilise some of the other VASP functionality. This week, however, saw the launch of the first integrated mobile banking application in SA. The FNB App was launched for Android, Blackberry and iPhone platforms. The app has generally been well received and generated a large amount of internet buzz. For those of you who are not FNB customers, do not have a compatible phone or haven’t installed the app yet, I’ll provide a quick review of the iPhone application here.
In essence the app provides a more convenient and elegant version of all the commonly used functionality provided by the online banking system. This includes account balances and transaction histories, payments to (existing) beneficiaries, transfers and extensive contact information. Additional functionality provided by the app includes VOIP calling (via FNB Connect), locating an ATM (using your GPS location), live Forex rates and a few others.
The functionality provided covers 90% of the use case. I would, however, prefer to be able to add new beneficiaries from my phone and access some of the other services (such as prepaid purchases) via the app. Investment accounts also need a bit of work. But in general the app provides a rich feature set and is excellent for a version 1.0 app.
The app is clearly designed for a touch screen interface. Generally the design is not bad. Bearing in mind that the designers had to stick to the slightly awkward orange and turquoise color scheme, the design is clean and easy to use. I think some of the elements look a bit amateurish (such as very retro/outdated “puffy” buttons) and certain elements are perhaps used because they appear hip, rather than being particularly useful (the slot-machine type payments menu springs to mind).
That being said, I found the interface to be easy to use (easier than internet banking) and very convenient. Getting a picture of your financial position, transferring funds or making payments were all very easy. There is of course also the added bonus that using the app negates the need for entering (two) OTP’s – a welcome change.
Installing and activating the app was also very easy. As soon as you install the application you are prompted for your username. The app then requests you to log in to internet banking (enter two OTP’s) and activate the app. After that linking (and I assume certificate exchange) the app only requires your normal internet banking password. On the surface this linking appears to be quite secure.
There are a few elements that need refinement, but I suspect a new version of the app will address these. There are some minor layout quirks and character encoding issues with certain transaction history items. I would also immediately cut the annoying start-up video displayed when launching the app (unless there is some loading time anyway). Upon logging in you are also presented with a “news updates” screen. This is just as annoying as on the internet banking site and users should be able to opt out of this and save a click.
This app makes banking a breeze. After only two days of using the app it has become quite indispensable. In fact I am quite sure it will entirely replace the internet banking platform for my general banking use.
Being able to instantly see account balances, make payments and even check Forex rates will also make this a killer app for people travelling internationally. To top it all you can even make free calls to the FNB call centres (over VOIP) using Wifi. This is perfect for the international use case.
I am not entirely convinced of combining the Connect app with their banking application though (and certainly not of the prominence it has received). There are also a few other items that need rethinking. The ATM locator, for instance, only shows your closest ATM on the map. Listing all of those in the area would be quite useful. The “slot machine” style selector also works well in certain contexts (transfers), but very poorly in others (payments). Generally though, the app is very easy to use.
I also commend FNB for rolling out the app to Android, Blackberry and iPhone platforms all at once. This could not have been easy! They have also committed to making the app available to Nokia users by August. There is a small proviso with the current version of the app only targeting touchscreen phones. If you have a Nokia or Blackberry with keyboard input only, you are out of luck. At this stage it is unclear what the plans are regarding QWERTY phone users.
I am extremely impressed with FNB for developing the first real banking app for the South African market. This move is about much more than simply developing a banking application. Let’s be honest, this app will only be useful for a small segment of their clients. The signal they are sending is of much greater importance though. This app makes it clear that FNB wants to be at the forefront of technological innovation in the SA banking space. And that they are listening to their clients’ needs. Mobile banking is here to stay and is particularly important in our context.
The current offering is certainly a great start, but I hope that the dev team is making a note of all the customer feedback published online (there is quite a lot!) and will be incorporating some of these ideas as improvements. Of course this app could also be extended in several exciting ways. I would like to see an integration of the OTP functionality in the online banking site enabling them to get rid of those annoying (and silly) OTP SMS’s. InContact messages can now also be migrated to push notifications, rather than SMS’s adding greater convenience and saving costs! There is also a need for expanded payments options, better investment handling and more advanced eBucks features. (Although setting up beneficiaries on your phones of course adds potential risks such as muggers forcing you to add them and transfers funds at gunpoint.)
Several statements on the internet have alluded that FNB is indeed busy developing many of these features. I look forward to future updates.
Currently this app is simply another channel to access existing banking services. Mobile banking can be about much more than that though. An app like this opens the door to many other opportunities. Imagine dining with friend and splitting the bill using your FNB app. Settling of balances can happen right there… no more “I’ll EFT you later”. Micro payments can truly become a reality. In a year or two we can even conclude purchases using NFC (or “bumping”) via the app. The possibilities are endless. It is now up to FNB to innovate, not only on the platform side, but also on the business offering side.
I was pleasantly surprised not only to hear that the rumours of this app was true, but also by the professionalism and range of services offered. This app is another step in the right direction and just another reason why I am proud to be a FNB customer.
The app is currently available, free of charge, for touch screen phones in the respective Android, Blackberry and iPhone app stores. For more information see https://www.fnb.co.za/fnbapp/index.html. This entry relates only to the iPhone version of the application, but it is my understanding that the functionality is similar on other platforms.
Full disclosure: The author is an FNB client and (very minor) shareholder. For obvious reasons account details have been blurred out in screenshots.
(For the original review and a full set of screenshots, please visit http://kwantozonke.co.za/2011/07/fnb-solidifies-tech-lead-with-new-app-review/)