What next in the mobile banking app race?

Wednesday March 18 2020

The mobile phone continues to transform lives and financial services providers are also changing how they relate to their customers. A few years ago banks were trying to roll out online banking on websites; now they are developing apps (applications) that will deliver more features and services to their customers on ever larger, but still relatively tiny, phone screens.

Increasingly, people have made their phones the main branch of their financial institutions.

In their recent financial results released for the first half of the year, Kenya’s top banks all showed that their customers perform a majority of financial transactions on phones along with ATMs, bank agents, and bank websites. Overall customers are engaging more with their banks, consuming more services and disengaging with the physical presence of bank branches.


There is also a drive to pack more capabilities and unlock new and smarter financial insights using old phone features like SMS and chat messages, cameras, and keyboards.

There are loan apps that read your contact list and SMS transactions to gauge how much to lend a phone owner and how likely they are to repay a loan.

Barclays launched Timiza, a loan app that reached two million customers in just four months while in South Africa its parent, Absa, launched WhatsApp banking in July.

UBA launched a virtual robot called Leo, which enables customers to do several functions such as open bank accounts, get balances, send bank statements to embassies and freeze accounts, all using Facebook chat.

And last month Finserve, a subsidiary of Equity Bank, rolled out mKey, a smart keyboard that avails loans, news and enables payments.


But what is the future beyond apps in the Google and Apple stores? The phone is not the end of everything and some companies are thinking of a world beyond 3G and 4G smartphones.

Researchers at Pangyo Zero City, a lab near Seoul, are testing the usage of 5G technology for government services such as roads with cameras that detect pedestrians and which relay road conditions to driverless cars. They envision a future in which driverless cars will negotiate with each other to eliminate accidents and make traffic flow smoother.

When accidents happen, drones overhead will sound alarms and take videos that enable first ambulance crews to prepare before they reach the scene.

Giant Korean chat company Kakao has a post-smartphone strategy called Clova for devices such as smart speakers and artificial intelligence assistants in houses and cars that respond to users’ voice commands and deliver responses on news, weather, music, and fortune telling!

So what will 5G do for finance and banking?


But it is not all rosy for an automated financial future. Last month, UBS exited from SmartWealth, a financial adviser service targeted at people who had saved well amounts of about £15,000 (Sh2 million) but just not enough to qualify to get advice from human advisors at UBS.

SmartWealth was designed to automate portfolios and give advice to such investors that was based on their life stage, attitude to risk, assets and goals. Some UBS rivals celebrated the demise by saying that there is still significant value in face-to-face services for clients.

Twitter: @bankelele