Westpac New Zealand adds extra dimension to mobile banking app

Ahead of the launch of its new online banking platform in October, Westpac New Zealand will release an augmented reality mobile banking app in September.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Westpac New Zealand has announced it will be releasing a mobile banking app using augmented reality, which it will integrate into its new online banking platform in October.

From September, customers will be able to manage their bank accounts through augmented reality. They will be able to do this by sliding their credit or debit card under their phone, which will activate the camera, and the information will appear as an overlay.

Features of this new app will include allowing customers to check their credit and debit card balances, seeing their last five transactions, spend locations, categories spending over a five week period, be alerted when payments are due, making payments, check their hotpoints balances, and finding the closest Westpac NZ branch and ATM. The locator will also work internationally to find an ATM Global Alliance machine.

Additional features such as payments and transfers between accounts and making hotpoints catalogue are expected to be added to the app at a later date.

Westpac New Zealand chief digital officer Simon Pomeroy told ZDNet the bank's decision to use augmented reality forms part of its overarching strategy to create a frictionless banking experience for its customers.

"For us, our whole strategy revolves around the customer, in terms of customer experience and customer engagement. A key pillar of that is listening, continuously talking, and asking our customers what they want.

"There is one thing that stands out all the time to me — it's about friction. Customers are telling us they want faster, easier ways to do their everyday banking, and so for us this augmented reality brings to life in a quick, easy, visual way.

"The other thing is it really shows you how we can use data in a far more personalised and meaningful way on how we can empower our customers to really understand how they can get the most out of their everyday finances," he said.

Pomeroy said he expects to drive the use of augmented reality into other areas of the business, but believes it will be based on customer feedback.

"[They] will tell us they want and we'll develop around that," he said.

The app was a winning concept from the bank's crowd sourcing initiative, the Westpac Global App Challenge — UK. Open to UK developers and designers, the competition required them to use their experience as a bank customer and their expertise in development to create a mobile app. As part of their winnings, they retain IP rights over their app globally, while a royalty free relationship is established between them and Westpac New Zealand in Australia.

Given the augmented reality app was initially developed on the iOS platform, it will only be available to iOS smart devices at launch, but Pomeroy said that Android users will have access to the technology within the next two to three months.

Two more additional apps from its crowdsourcing competition in New Zealand will also be available, which Pomeroy emphasised will deliver a "brand new banking experience" for customers.

"They really deliver to the core of what our customers potentially see as pain points. Two of them are core to how customers will be using their mobile phones particularly to bank over the next two to three years," he said.

The additional two apps will be released when Westpac launches its entirely new online device agnostic banking platform in October, as part of the bank's NZ$15 million, 18-month project. This will also see the augmented reality app integrated into this new platform, so customers will only have to handle one app and not multiple ones.

"For us, we want to create device agnostic approach to everyday banking whether that's using a smart device, wearable device, or you're sitting at home and you're banking on your TV. It's about the customer and thinking about disruption at a very different way and disrupting ourselves continuously internally, and that has come down from our CEO Peter Clare who is really driving this throughout the bank.

"We have 4800 advocates now in terms of this digital strategy compared to others who have a digital team. Everybody is a digital advocate now in Westpac NZ."

The aim of the initial release of the augmented reality is to ensure the bank receives the sufficient feedback it needs to understand the capability of the augmented reality technology before it is integrated into the new platform, said Pomeroy.

Other steps Westpac New Zealand has taken to create "the best digital bank in New Zealand" include trialling its Cash Tank app on Google Glass. The bank has also introduced Apple's iBeacon technology into its branches.

"What we've done is taken Glass up and down New Zealand talking to our staff, our customers, whether its individuals or small to medium size businesses, and getting them to use the Glass and to see what kind of features they'd develop through it. I don't think it's going to take too long when Glass is launched globally for customers to adopt them," Pomeroy said.

"We want to make sure when they do [adopt Glass], Westpac NZ are the first customers to have their ability to do everyday banking on a wearable device."

The bank is also trialling a digital wallet-based on Host Card Emulation (HCE) technology, a method of employing Near Field Communications (NFC) for contactless payments by storing customer details in the cloud. Around 18,000 NFC capable terminals are now deployed in New Zealand.

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