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Consumer tech grows bank customer 'stickiness'

Financial institutions such as Standard Chartered and OCBC Bank increasingly rely on improved online and mobile banking services to foster customer "stickiness" and lower operational costs.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

With consumers increasing enamored by devices such as Apple's iPad and Google's Android-powered smartphones, enterprises, particularly financial institutions, are embracing these devices and reworking internal processes to improve their businesses.

According to Pranav Seth, head of e-business at OCBC Bank, the bank's Internet and mobile banking initiatives were not driven internally. Rather, with the organization's emphasis on customer service, it had "no choice but to enter these platforms", he noted in a phone interview with ZDNet Asia.

"Internet and mobile banking...have created a level of interactivity, or stickiness, with our customers that are not possible on other platforms," he explained.

Delivering customer satisfaction
For example, OCBC's mobile banking customers have 2.2 times more assets under management (AUM) compared to other customers, said Seth. Additionally, 30 percent of its mobile banking customers would have weekly interactions with the bank, a level "much higher" than customers from other platforms, he added.

OCBC had earlier revealed that its mobile banking base has doubled every year since its launch in 2006. Its app is now offered to popular mobile platforms such as Google's Android operating system (OS), Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS and Apple's iOS, Seth said. By expanding its service to cover more mobile platforms, he noted that OCBC has seen a 300 percent hike in transaction volume from its mobile banking user base in 2010.

Standard Chartered has also embraced the "consumerization of IT" within its operations. Its CIO Trevor Haeger shared that besides the bank's decision to adopt Apple's iPhone over RIM's enterprise-geared BlackBerry device as the organization's smartphone of choice, it has also introduced a mobile banking app named "Breeze" and integrated Cupertino's iPad slate device into its operations.

The Breeze app was launched last May with the aim of bringing the full online banking experience to the mobile platform, Haeger said. This app allows users to conduct transactions such as fund transfers and issue electronic checks as well as set up "wishlists", or financial goals, for easy tracking. The last feature was introduced on Monday, the bank said.

As for the use of the iPad at its various branches, Haeger said its introduction has "transformed customer banking experience to a certain degree". For instance, Standard Chartered has specially developed iPad apps to assist bankers in sharing market information and explaining product features in a more interactive manner compared with printed materials, he explained.

According to Haeger, the bank's decision to adopt consumer-driven IT--part of the bank's customer-centric strategy--is "reaping rewards". He revealed that one of the bank's goals this year was to raise its Net Promoter Score (NPS), a common customer satisfaction measure used by banks and other industries as the ultimate measure of customer advocacy.

To this end, he said the bank's NPS score has grown nine-fold from +3 in 2009 to +27 in 2010. "The growth in the bank's NPS scores can be attributed to the customer-centric product and service innovations such as Breeze," he added.

OCBC's Seth also identified another benefit of incorporating a consumer-centric IT strategy: cost reduction. He said that from this perspective, mobile and Internet banking have "enabled much cost savings". This is because many of the transactions conducted at OCBC branches can now be done on the mobile and online platforms, and that has led to improved efficiency as well as reduced the need for "human channels", which is where the bulk of savings come from, he explained.

"If we had to conduct the volume of transactions that our online and mobile platforms are experiencing today via human channels, costs would explode," said Seth.

Safeguarding consumer trust
Quizzed on the security measures OCBC is employing to ensure that these devices don't compromise sensitive data, Seth said that "a lot of effort" has been invested by the bank to safeguard the integrity of its applications. Features such as end-to-end encryption and not storing user account information on the bank's mobile devices are examples of its commitment to security.

Haeger, too, stressed that security and customer confidentiality are vital in the design and operation of its online and mobile banking systems.

Security measures such as deploying intrusion detection systems and instituting processes to detect unauthorized activities as well as educating customers on the importance of online security and guidelines through its branch ambassadors, are key to fostering trust among its customer base, the StanChart executive said.

"Consistent with our objective to provide a secure and trusted online environment, we continue to build a strong foundation of trust with our customers so that they continue transacting online with us," added Haeger.

Security vendor Symantec highlighted that with the consumerization of IT within the financial services and insurance (FSI) sector, organizations are "facing growing threats of data loss as well as privacy risks through lost or compromised devices". These risks, said Kwee Anping, senior technical consultant at Symantec Singapore, could represent the weakest link in an enterprise's IT infrastructure.

He also noted in his e-mail that the inclusion of consumer gadgets can increase compliance risks and possibly have a negative impact on organizations' strict IT systems and regulatory audits.

"It is important for financial institutions to put in place protocols and policies to monitor, manage and govern the use of consumer devices and platforms with the workplace...just like how corporate desktop and laptops are being managed," urged Kwee.

Richard Sheng, regional director of business development and product marketing at Trend Micro Asia-Pacific, concurred. He said that to protect their networks, financial institutions should deploy cloud-based protection and always monitor URLs, e-mail messages and files against continuously updated and correlated threat databases.

Sheng also identified phishing as another specific threat to the FSI industry. "Phishing poses a significant threat to [financial] organizations as it compromises one's brand and negatively impacts its ability to retain consumers' confidence in conducting their business online," he explained.

The Trend Micro executive suggested that companies can protect their customers and employees by procuring all brand-related and look-alike domain names.

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