What’s this all about?
We hear a lot about the mobile banking experiences offered by neo-banks. Indeed, we’ve written plenty about that ourselves on the LEVERIS blog including a popular article on digital onboarding. But what can you actually do on the apps provided by traditional banks? With recent news announcing plans by Irish banks to catch up on the features and capabilities offered by neo-banks, we decided to take a closer look at the current state-of-play. In the following article, we surveyed the mobile offerings of five Irish financial institutions to determine which one has the best user experience.
Read on if you:
- Want to know what traditional banks apps are really like
- Are keen to know which banks stand out
- Have an interest in how traditional banks are keeping up with the competition
Neo-banks get a lot of attention for their mobile-centric banking experiences. Indeed, nowadays, the likes of Revolut are setting the bar for industry standards, including features like:
- Automated, digital onboarding
- Immediate use
- Basic functionalities and value-add
- User-friendly navigation
- Money management assistance
- Flexible card and payment options
However, banking is constantly evolving and traditional banks are investing heavily in digital. As we start 2021, we have finally seen some Irish banks announce the addition of Google and Apple pay to their line-ups. In fact, Bank of Ireland has launched its long-awaited new app and stated that it is bringing in a ‘Netflix-like’ subscription-based service with a flat fee of €6 per month. The move also saw the bank abolishing 26 individual transaction charges.
The biggest news to emerge, however, has been that of a joint venture by four banks, namely Bank of Ireland, AIB, Permanent TSB (PTSB) and KBC, which have come together to form Syntech Payments. The first joint undertaking between big banks in more than 20 years, it is said to be connected to the planned launch of a “multi-payment app that will enable Irish users to send and make payments in real-time” as part of an app-based payment system which will be open to all banks and financial institutions including An Post and the credit unions.
Until the end-product makes an appearance, here we consider the mobile banking apps of five financial institutions, assess what’s available and which banks stand out.
The four leading incumbent banks in Ireland are known as the Big Four. First up, with over 200 branches, AIB is one of the largest banks in Ireland, providing personal, business and corporate customers in Ireland and the UK.
Next, originally established in 1783, Bank of Ireland is a traditional retail and commercial bank. At the end of 2019, before the pandemic set in, it had total assets of €132 billion.
Ulster Bank is part of NatWest Group and has 146 branches across the Republic and 90 in the North. The last bank in the Big Four line-up is PTSB which provides retail and SME banking services across the country.
The final bank to be discussed as part of this piece, KBC is one of the smaller banks in Ireland with 292,000 customers as of 2019.
The banks that stand out in this area of digital banking are AIB, Bank of Ireland and KBC.
AIB allows you to fulfil the account opening requirements mostly in-app but you do have to verify your identity via video chat. As part of its app update, Bank of Ireland now allows users to complete their application digitally and upload supporting documentation in less than ten minutes using a mobile phone. However, this particular feature of the new app does not seem to be available to Apple users currently. Once you download the app from the App Store, the only option offered is to ‘register this device’ which, when tapped, brings you to another screen with a prompt to enter your user ID, indicating that you must already have one in order to progress.
The KBC app, on the other hand, once downloaded, has a button to ‘open a new account’. You can complete the full process in-app, using your ID, proof of address and your PPS number to comply with the bank’s KYC, AML, fraud checks, etc. You can submit your documentation by taking pictures with your smartphone camera. Another edge for KBC is that it provides an instant digital debit card which is sent to your phone as soon as the account is opened. The app also prompts you to add the card to Apple or Google Pay.
This means you don’t have to wait days for the physical card to arrive in the post before your account can be used, you can use it pretty much instantly.
Personal Finance Management (PFM)
AIB and Ulster Bank Ireland lead the pack in this area of mobile banking. AIB’s complete offering helps customers manage their finances with the My Money Manager tools. This includes My Spending, My Budgets, My Savings Goals and My Categories Manager. However, you can only use the full functionality of the tools on a desktop computer or tablet.
On the mobile app, you can view money coming in and going out, and see your spending grouped into high-level categories. Tapping on a category, ‘household & home’, for example, brings up your spending in that area grouped into sub-categories that are a bit more detailed (‘textiles & furnishings’, ‘mortgage/rent’). The My Spending tool is fairly inconspicuous on the app though. You will find it by scrolling to the bottom of your transactions, which isn’t really all that intuitive either.
The Spending tab on the Ulster Bank app is certainly more visible. Customers can similarly use the features to put spending into categories and set budgets for each one. Personal account transactions are automatically placed into the categories. The categories are also high-level, including ‘bills’, ‘home & garden’, ‘eating out’, and ‘uncategorised’.
Ease of sending money
KBC and AIB allow customers to send once-off payments using an IBAN. This is a lot more convenient than using card readers that can run out of battery, get misplaced or cause headaches with codes.
It is, however, much more likely that you’ll have someone’s mobile number saved on your phone than you’ll have their IBAN to hand when you need it.
Bank of Ireland stands out in this area as the only bank that allows you to make payments via a mobile phone number to other account holders of up to €300 per day. Ulster Bank had a similar feature but, according to its website, customers are not currently able to use it.
Cards and digital wallets
Another handy feature winning customers to neo-banks is the ability to freeze or unfreeze your card in-app. The traditional banks are introducing this too.
It takes three taps to complete this process on the Ulster Bank app once you log in and reach the home screen. AIB users can complete this process in two steps by navigating to the app’s ‘Cards’ tab and directly tapping the button to freeze the card.
Ulster Bank also has an additional ‘Get Cash’ feature which allows users to withdraw money from an ATM while their card is locked. An Emergency Cash feature is also available on the PTSB app. KBC, however, lets you cancel your card and get a new digital replacement card while you’re waiting for your replacement card. This removes the necessity of visiting a cash machine in order to access your money.
All five banks allow you to add your card to Apple Pay. PTSB is the only bank that doesn’t allow you to add your card to Google Pay, which it says will be introduced some time in 2021, while AIB also lets you add your card to FitBit Pay. KBC pushes ahead in this area though, as you can add your card to all of the above as well as Garmin Pay and wena Pay.
Although it doesn’t seem to offer the ability to freeze your card in-app, KBC is the winner here for convenience and a digital-first experience.
Ease of use and value-add functionality
Out of the five banks surveyed, AIB, KBC and Ulster Bank allow you to log into their mobile apps with biometrics. This takes the hassle out of having to remember and enter codes.
Banks that stand out in the area of value-add are KBC, Bank of Ireland and AIB. KBC drew notice when it became the first Irish bank to offer users with AIB or Bank of Ireland accounts the capability to view their balances in the app. This is a serious plus as the only other way you can do this is with a neo-bank.
AIB, meanwhile, has a nifty Quick Balance feature which allows you to check how much is in your account without the need to log in.
Bank of Ireland’s flat-fee subscription model, typically associated with Netflix, Spotify and SaaS businesses, is a new one for traditional banks. However, the new pricing structure may be a matter of too little, too late as many of its customers are already using Revolut or N26 to manage their day-to-day spending.
Ultimately, KBC’s app takes the edge here.
Who takes it all?
The experience provided by KBC’s mobile banking app undoubtedly stands out amongst the five institutions surveyed, allowing full in-app onboarding, an array of devices to add your card to, instant use and the option to view AIB and Bank of Ireland account balances on the app. Two areas KBC could improve is firstly, payments as you always need a card reader and/or IBAN, and secondly, money management as the app doesn’t seem to offer any budgeting assistance, options to invest etc.
But overall, the features stand out ahead of what you can do on the other apps offered by Ireland’s incumbent banks. Second place goes to AIB for consistency and third place goes to Bank of Ireland’s updated app.
Here are the final tallies:
- Bank of Ireland
- Ulster Bank