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Western mobile bank apps balancing on the human-digital edge


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Western mobile bank apps balancing on the human-digital edge

Not all bank apps are created equal in the western U.S., and some companies are pushing the envelope with innovative mobile capabilities.

The western banks featured in S&P Global Market Intelligence's 2018 US Mobile Banking Market Report offer apps to a diverse customer base spread across a huge geographic area. The report offers mobile banking survey data and app details for more than 70 banks, including a selection of small regional banks in each of the nine U.S. Census divisions. This article focuses on the Pacific and Mountain divisions, which cover a wide range of rural and metropolitan areas and together make up the West region.

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Most of Cathay General Bancorp's branch footprint is concentrated in heavily populated southern California and the Bay Area, but the bank is well aware of the challenges of serving customers with widely varying needs when it comes to digital banking. Cathay serves many first-generation Chinese-American baby boomers who do not prefer self-service banking, plus their more tech-savvy children and a new group of customers coming from Asia who are accustomed to highly advanced and integrated technology in their financial lives. The Los Angeles-based bank will have to keep these customers' demands for a range of in-person and digital services in mind as it renovates its mobile offering over the next couple of years.

Further north, the Pacific census division is also home to Oregon’s Umpqua Holdings Corp., which is seeking to combine the human and digital with its new Go-To platform even as it re-evaluates its entire physical footprint. Go-To is separate from Umpqua's main mobile app, at least for now. It shows customers a selection of Umpqua bankers, along with profile pictures and information about their hobbies and financial expertise. Customers can select a banker and communicate directly via voice or instant messaging.

The Go-To platform is already integrated into dozens of Umpqua's locations and will be fully rolled out early in 2019, President and CEO Cort O'Haver said on an Oct. 18 earnings call. Umpqua has been working on a branch consolidation plan. From the third quarter of 2017 through mid-October 2018, Umpqua consolidated or sold more than three dozen stores, with plans to exit at least 20 more.

Bank of Hawaii Corp. also sees a lot of value in relationship-based, technology-enabled banking. It is evaluating ways to leverage AI and chatbots, and it expects to see more financial institutions rolling out live chat features in their digital channels.

Consumers in Hawaii have access to some digital banking features that are rare among the banks in our analysis, thanks to Bank of Hawaii and First Hawaiian Inc., which has significant retail deposit market share in the state. Bank of Hawaii customers can make ATM withdrawals using only their smartphones since the bank rolled out the Cardless Cash feature in 2016. First Hawaiian is one of only a few dozen U.S. depository institutions to work with Amazon's Alexa digital voice assistant, even providing account-specific information through Alexa. And First Hawaiian's app features photo bill capture, which we have encountered in only a few bank apps nationwide.

With this feature, customers can use the mobile app to snap a photo of a bill. The app captures important details from the bill, such as amount owed and due date, instead of the user having to type in this information. Some other banks in our analysis have tried out photo bill capture but later discontinued it due to difficulties in getting the technology to work correctly.

Colorado's FirstBank Holding Co. has more than two-thirds of the mobile app features we looked for, with more to come. Its road map for the next year or so includes financial management tools, credit scores and travel notifications. The bank builds its own app instead of relying on a third-party vendor, a strategy that it sees as beneficial to digital innovation.

Oklahoma-based BOK Financial Corp., which has significant retail deposit market share in the Mountain census division, also understands the need to keep up with customer expectations for self-service features. But its planned mobile redesign in 2019 will primarily target a more streamlined experience. Other banks around the U.S. are taking a similar approach as they balance evolving consumer demand for specific functionality with a constant need to improve user interface and security in their digital channels.

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S&P Global Market Intelligence's 2018 mobile banking survey was fielded online between Feb. 8 and Feb. 21 across a nationwide random sample of U.S. mobile bank app users 18 years and older. Results have a margin of error of +/- 1.6% at the 95% confidence level based on the sample size of 4,000.

S&P Global Market Intelligence researched mobile apps between June and November 2018 for more than 70 financial institutions. These included the largest retail banking franchises in the U.S., and regional and community banks of various sizes. The analysis included each census division's top five retail deposit market share leaders with assets of roughly $50 billion or less. App details for the banks displayed above were updated Dec. 6. The app research is based on product descriptions available on bank websites and in app stores, as well as company-provided information. Some companies may have subsequently updated their apps or may offer additional features and services. This analysis does not reflect functionality or services available through text banking, mobile browsers or secure messaging.

For more details, see the 2018 US Mobile Banking Market Report.

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