If banks want us to go digital during COVID-19, they need to improve their mobile platforms

By: Renee Sylvestre-Williams on May 19, 2020
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In the Before Times, I, like many people, was pretty busy. There was the daily commute on public transit, work, some semblance of a social life (*takes a moment to reminisce*), and spending time with friends and family. All of this meant that I needed the mundane things in my life to be easy, super convenient, and doable from my smartphone — including my banking. I mean, what’s the point of having a mini computer in your coat pocket if you can’t use it to deposit money into your RRSP when the inspiration strikes?

The problem is, I can’t do that. I can pay my credit card bill and my property taxes, and I can transfer money to different accounts. But I can’t transfer money into my RRSP or TFSA via my bank’s mobile app. I either have to wait until I get home to do it online, which is a risk because I’m motivated to do it immediately before I spend it, or I have to call my bank, which I really don’t like doing because it takes up too much time. If the mobile banking app can use my irises as identification to log in, why can’t it let me deposit money into my retirement accounts?

Turns out I’m not the only one who’s feeling slightly annoyed with their bank’s mobile offerings these days. J.D. Power recently surveyed 15,000 Canadians for its Canada Retail Banking Satisfaction Study and found that customer satisfaction with banks’ mobile offerings has declined significantly across all age and income groups.

That’s a bit of an issue given that a global pandemic has shuttered many bank branches and effectively forced a large number of us to go completely digital with our finances. Banks have been encouraging Canadians to do their banking online or on their mobile devices for a while now, and that request has become even more urgent in the age of COVID-19. But if we’re expected to make the switch, then banks need to make improvements to their mobile and online platforms.

High expectations

John Cabell, director of banking and payments intelligence at J.D. Power, says that Canadian banks are actually doing pretty well from a mobile-use standpoint. Australia and Asia have higher instances of mobile banking usage and the U.S. and U.K. have lower usage, putting Canada mid-pack globally.
But one of the challenges banks face, Cabell says, is evolving customer expectations. “The expectations of what happens on a mobile app and to some extent on a website have changed fairly rapidly,” he says, “with new techniques that have come to market thanks to various technology companies.”

Another challenge banks face is that they have to balance what can be on a mobile app versus what’s on a website. This includes the range of services, the ease of navigation, and the clarity of information. Cabell says that banks are focusing on solving two main customer pain points: lack of clear, concise information, and poor mobile navigation. 

Plus, some of the big banks have been around for so many decades that a small change or update to an app or website can take a very long time because so many stakeholders in various departments are involved and the process gets cumbersome. “Smaller banks have an easier time,” says Cabell, “because it’s a more streamlined process for making change.” 

Keeping customers satisfied

There is good news, though. Cabell says that 35% of surveyed Canadians are now using mobile apps to do their banking as a result of the pandemic. These first-time digital customers, Cabell says, can be reluctant, so the banks are trying to engage with these customers to make it easier for them to use digital products.

According to J.D. Power’s study, RBC Royal Bank had the highest customer satisfaction score (794 out of 1,000), followed by TD Canada Trust at 790. The average satisfaction score for all five big banks was 788. When it comes to midsize banks, Tangerine ranked the highest for the ninth consecutive year, scoring 839 out of 1,000, followed by Simplii Financial at 819, and ATB Financial at 801. Both these banks are completely digital.

Midsize banks might be doing a better job when it comes to customer satisfaction, but according to the J.D. Power study, big banks still lead in the digital engagement arena. They have “a larger proportion of customers who are highly engaged digitally with their financial institution (50%), compared with 46% among midsize bank customers.”

I’m a digitally engaged big bank customer, but I’d still like to make deposits to my retirement funds via mobile one day. I understand why banks aren’t as focussed on that right now, but hopefully once more Canadians become used to digital banking, the banks will offer more flexibility and improvements. Because as more of us become exposed to digital offerings and get used to banking on our phones, they may not have a choice. At some point, the banks are going to have to catch up. 

In the meantime, I’ll keep transferring money into my RRSP using my laptop. I mean, I’m staying at home these days, so what else am I going to do?