What makes for an uncommonly great banking app? The answer may contradict common wisdom.

Here are two statements that experts often repeat about banking apps:

  • Apps can be frictionless or secure. 
  • Apps can be frictionless or feature rich.

Reality isn’t so black and white. 

Biometrics are both frictionless and secure. And apps can be both frictionless and feature rich, through smart design. I’ve spent nearly a decade benchmarking digital features at top banks and learned that the exceptions to the digital banking “rules” crop up more often than one might expect. Leading firms gain an edge by spotting and exploiting these exceptions early.  

To explore what cutting-edge banking apps do differently, Insider Intelligence interviewed Alexandros Argyriou, CEO of Scientia. Scientia, which operates the research platform FinTech Insights, provides a wide-angle lens into digital trends. It analyzes over 100 incumbent and entrant providers in the UK and the US, identifying what features they offer, providing videos of those features at work, and scoring the friction of capabilities. 

 - Insider Intelligence
Insider Intelligence

Insider Intelligence will feature some of FinTech Insights’ data in the annual UK Mobile Banking Emerging Features Benchmark later this month, which will stack up the top 10 UK banks and building societies by their provision of advanced and unique mobile features. This study uses an independent Insider Intelligence survey of 1,100 UK consumers, rewarding banks that offer features with points proportionate to the value consumers say they place on each feature.

In our conversation, Argyriou shared actionable insight for digital leaders to get ahead of customer demands, drawing off best practices from industry pacesetters Scientia tracks, such as Starling and Revolut. 

Here is an excerpt, edited for brevity and clarity.

Some banks are taking a “less is more” approach, prioritizing user experience (UX) over feature breadth. Others are trying to become super apps. Which of those approaches gets more attention than it deserves on High Street?

I’ll start by saying that I am a fan of super apps. I am a fan of being able to do everything from your mobile device, especially when it comes to your money. 

A good UX doesn’t mean a light app, with less features and limited functionality. 

Any bank should define its customers’ personas and daily needs, and create the well-known “Platinum,” “Golden,” and “Silver” paths [to access specific features within a mobile banking app]. In other words, features that need to be accessed many times per day (Platinum) should be extremely easily reachable. Other not-so-commonly accessed features (Silver) should require longer paths to be reached. Two well-known Platinum paths for a number of banks are viewing your balance and freezing your debit card.

High Street banks have a unique advantage of having so many banking (and insurance) products available, but they only expose a small percentage online. They need to expose as many features as possible in their digital channels. But again, they should put themselves in the customers’ shoes and understand their needs, so they will be able to create the above paths. 

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All things considered, which incumbent or challenger bank is best at delivering a frictionless UX, and why?

I’ll use FinTech Insights to answer this, and I’ll focus on mobile. 

All things considered, including the available features, the most frictionless UX so far is offered by Revolut. The UK-based challenger offers 459 different features in its mobile app and still has the best UX for most of the user journeys. A great example of Platinum, Golden, and Silver paths. 

We also found great UX offerings at Starling and Monzo in the UK market, but with significantly fewer features. 

Does your data suggest that neobanks like Starling or Monzo are really better on average than incumbent banks when it comes to mobile? 

It depends on the category. Overall, yes, some neobanks have better offerings than any of the largest incumbent banks in the UK market. 

The below charts—based on data pulled from FinTech Insights—show the number of features and UX offerings for each of those banks, focusing on the mobile channel. As far as we can see, Revolut, Starling, and Monzo offer more features than any other bank, while also keeping their UX at very good levels.

Revolut has a massive 459 available features within its banking app. - Insider Intelligence
Revolut has a massive 459 available features within its banking app. Insider Intelligence

Monzo had the highest UX score for banking apps. - Insider Intelligence
Monzo had the highest UX score for banking apps. Insider Intelligence

Hypersegmentation is catching on among neobanks. What are the key customer segments legacy banks should consider as they create digital experiences, and how?

The most difficult part for High Street banks is to handle all of the different user segments and personas. Hyperfocusing on some key customer segments won’t work, except if they are in the minimum viable product phase. I don’t agree that High Street banks should be trying to serve different segments than the overall organizational strategy, but they should be focusing on creating digital experiences that are tailored to each persona. In this case, one size couldn’t fit all.

That’s where AI, behavioral analytics, and adaptive user interface (UI) based on customers’ behavior come into play. There are a few banks—including challengers—around the world that have implemented different experiences, UI, and customer journeys based on a customer’s behavior and needs. The first time I was exposed to such banking applications, I was shocked at how it improved my experience day by day and provided increasingly frictionless journeys.  

Of course, an insufficiently data-backed implementation of the above mechanisms could lead to a difficult UX. 

But an AI mechanism with enough data fed in could produce amazing results. Each customer persona could experience a tailored journey, making their financial lives easier and better.