In a highly competitive retail banking sector, banks try to keep up with growing demand for mobile solutions.
Over the years, retail banks around the world have been working on making personal banking more convenient and customer friendly through the introduction of innovative services and offerings: sprawling branch networks, innovative credit cards, enhanced automatic teller machines, online banking solutions, etc. Today, banks reach another evolution stage with mobile banking; aware that smartphones and tablets are increasingly at the center of any (especially young) consumer’s decision-making process – including financial ones – banks around the world still have to set up the right strategy for their mobile services. As of 2011, Lebanese banks have joined the fray and started offering mobile banking services one after the other, each developing their own mobile application and updating it according to the ever-changing mobile-savvy consumers’ behaviors and needs.
THE APP RACE.
“Mobile banking came within our electronic payment solutions, or what we call alternative banking channels, which we started implementing in 1999 with the launching of Fransabank’s e-call center. Five to six years ago, we started sending electronic statements of account. At the same time, we also introduced our Internet banking solution, the “ibank”. Therefore, for more than ten years, Fransabank has been keen to provide modern electronic solutions to its customers. We also went for mobile banking because of the importance of the young generation for us; youngsters are the clients of the present and future. Today, young Lebanese customers are pros on all that is related to technology and we should be up to their expectations,” says deputy general manager and head of retail and branch network at Fransabank, Philippe El Hajj.
Regarding the implementation of mobile services at Fransabank, he continues: “We introduced mobile banking services in two phases. The first phase was launched back in 2011, when mobile banking was similar to Internet banking; users could access a certain website through their mobiles to view their accounts. The second phase was launched in 2013, with the introduction of the mobile payment services. We combined our existing mobile application with the mobile payment solution into the Simba app. We looked at what was on the market first and then approached many suppliers, explaining the features we need, before choosing the mobile development company Via Mobile, a Lebanese-Tunisian-French joint venture that developed our Simba app in approximately 18 months.”
On the same note, assistant general manager and head of retail banking at BLOM Bank, Jocelyne Chahwan, says: “In line with our continuous strategy to integrate new technologies and trends in the banking sector, BLOM Bank launched its mobile banking back in 2011 as an additional channel to facilitate banking transactions. The main objective behind this new channel was to give our clients a user-friendly tool, enabling them to access their accounts and cards directly from their Smartphones, without the need to be physically present at the branch. Through our mobile banking platform, users can perform a wide array of activities, such as checking their account balances, viewing statements of account, transferring money between accounts inside and outside BLOM, finding the nearest BLOM Bank branch or ATM and much more. Our most unique feature is the BLOM eCASH, allowing our clients to transfer money to anyone via any BLOM ATM; the receiver does not need a BLOM card to withdraw the money from the ATM; all they need is the code communicated by the sender.”
As for Banque Libano-Française, its mobile app “My BLF” was developed by mobile development company Eurisko and launched in 2011. “When we approached our developer, we asked for innovative features that no one had implemented in Lebanon. As I recall, back in 2011, no one had a branch or an ATM locator within their mobile applications; we were the first to implement it. My BLF mobile app is a native application, which means it’s not a website to be opened on the user’s mobile (as with HTML format). Native applications are, in fact, the most secure and tangible applications worldwide. What we wanted from our app was, first of all, to be a mini version of eblf.com, where the user can find everything available on our website, from products and services to alerts and news. Every piece of information added to our website is being added to the app. Secondly, we introduced to the app the actual mobile banking services that allow users to conduct all of their e-banking activities. The third feature of our app was the branch and ATM locator via Google Maps. Last but not least, our app includes very user-friendly simulations on all retail loans,” says head of marketing and retail division at BLF, Ronald Zirka.
Bank of Beirut (BoB) launched its mobile app iMobile in 2012, in collaboration with Lebanese mobile development company, Turnkey. “The prevailing popularity of the mobile channel in both local and global markets was the main drive for conceptualizing the app, especially with today’s digitally immersed millennial generation. We asked the developer for a clean and appealing design, a user-friendly interface available for Android and iPhone, with cutting-edge technological endorsement, high security and easy navigation to perform transactions. iMobile comprises all banking online services and features that are in line with the Central Bank’s applicable laws. The application allows customers to perform various operations through their mobiles, such as balance checking, inter-account transfers, statement of account inquiry, cheque book request and more. Another important feature of the iMobile application is the geographical data locator displaying all Bank of Beirut branches and ATMs’ locations on the map. Most importantly, the iMobile app is built on an enhanced security architecture that safeguards data and prevents any misuse of both the physical data and the application,” says director – head of retail and branch division at Bank of Beirut, Georges Aouad.
For Byblos Bank, head of group retail products development and strategic segments, Elie Abou Khalil, explains: “We developed and launched our mobile banking app very aggressively in mid-2014, in collaboration with international supplier SPA, our internal team and the Lebanese mobile development company Foo. Customers’ needs are becoming more and more sophisticated. They want to access all of the information they need through their mobiles. Although customers could already benefit from the bank’s services through e-banking, a mobile application is a whole different experience; it’s easier, more user friendly and very close to the customer. We conducted a research and asked a focus group of customers what they expect from a mobile banking app in order to proceed with its development. Through Byblos mobile banking app, the customer can do a self-enrollment without the need to go to the branch. The app allows the customer to check all of their personal and joint accounts and perform transactions within [them], check their loans and pay them, request services, etc. Our aim was to offer our customers the same experience they would get at the branch.”
In the highly competitive Lebanese banking sector, banks are looking for the most innovative mobile app features to help them differentiate themselves. Demand for new options is growing so quickly that, by the time a bank updates its software, customers are already asking for the next new function. “When we launched our Simba app, our customers’ feedback was all positive, except that they were claiming that the features weren’t enough, which we already knew and, therefore, had planned a broader phase for the app – which we are in the middle of deploying,” says Fansabank’s El Hajj. “While the first phase of the Simba app offered services such as recharging the mobile phone’s credits through mobile operators, Alfa and Touch, paying public parking fines, sending and receiving money to and from Fransabank, and more, phase two enables them to pay their bills at merchant points of sale. Moreover, customers will be able to pay their telephone land line bills, their Internet subscriptions and more via mobile.”
“Mobile is constantly evolving, and that means we need to evolve with it. A continuous improvement process was put in place since the launch of our iMobile application. We mainly count on our customers’ feedback and use best practices. Change feasibilities are assessed based on market needs and effectiveness prior to implementation,” says BoB’s Aouad, who gives, as an example, the latest version of BoB’s app, which includes a Live Chat Support feature, allowing customers to instantly speak with a representative from the bank.
BLF is updating its app as well, by planning to introduce the My Expenses feature in 2015, enabling users to manage their budgets. “We are continuously updating our app and adding new features to it. To do so, we follow an international benchmark. Sometimes, we even find some interesting features on some global non-banking applications, which are giving us some new ideas. In fact, mobile banking has become a need and the bank that doesn’t [keep up] will lose a big niche of clients. In fact, today, the first thing customers are asking is whether we offer a real-time online e-banking platform and if they can do their transactions via mobile,” explains BLF’s Zirka.
On the same note, along with their mobile banking applications, Lebanese banks are developing their existing services by launching additional mobile apps. Division manager of electronic delivery channels and card products at BankMed, Hatem Chaarani, talks about the bank’s new app. “With an aim to bring a new level of services to customers, BankMed introduced the “Be My Guide” mobile application, an innovative app that enables MedMiles cardholders to enjoy exclusive privileges while on the go. This application primarily allows MedMiles cardholders to locate Program Partner merchants, enjoy a wide range of complimentary benefits, offered by the Product Program and the program partner merchants, and, most importantly, accelerate their miles earnings while on the ago. Be My Guide complements the comprehensive MedMiles product website and further enhances the effectiveness of the benefits and services extended by the MedMiles Program Partner network of participating merchants. The application is designed to enable users to access the best shopping deals and enjoy distinctive services, which MedMiles and other BankMed cardholders can avail from.”
BLOM and Byblos banks are introducing complimentary mobile applications to their services as well. “In addition to our mobile banking service and based on a study we conducted regarding our loyalty programs, we saw an opportunity to enhance our customer experience by developing two mobile applications aiming at bringing our loyalty programs closer to customers. The BLOM Golden Points mobile application gives users the possibility to browse through available gifts they can redeem using their loyalty points and miles; they can also use the simulator that will help them choose their gifts depending on the number of points, and filter them by merchant, category and keywords. The Beirut Traders Shopping Card mobile application, “Shop & Save”, allows users to browse through offers and deals they can benefit from at any of the participating merchants with the Beirut Traders Shopping Card, get details and directions to a certain retailer and receive notifications whenever they are near a participating merchant,” says BLOM’s Chahwan.
As for Byblos Bank, it launched “AkramApp” in July 2014, a gateway through which the bank’s credit cardholders can access CMO, a card mobile payment platform, to make purchases and order deliveries from a select number of merchants in Lebanon. Moreover, in September 2014, Byblos Bank announced the introduction of “Azka Banking”, a full spread of secure e-banking services, including the bank’s mobile banking app, its network of Smart ATMs, an Internet banking platform and e-branches.
SPREAD THE WORD.
“The marketing of our mobile banking app was part of an integrated campaign that we developed for the bank’s Azka Banking offerings. The campaign was executed above and below the line. We consider that the most important phase is informing the user of the existence of the app, because once they download it, we are pretty sure they will like it and continue using it,” says Byblos Bank’s Abou Khalil.
Each bank developed a specific marketing strategy according to the number and type of customers to reach. “Obviously, the first target of our mobile banking services are the tech [savvy] people, who are more likely to adopt new technologies than others. Our app’s users include a lot of young people, along with professionals who are young at heart and enjoy technology. [However] we hope that we will get the majority of our customers to use our app. The app was launched not a long time ago and we already have a high rate of downloads. However, there are customers who are skeptical and don’t like to have any form of Internet access to their accounts. To attract more of these types of customers, we adopt the highest security standards in our mobile banking. For instance, if users log in to their accounts from another mobile device, they have to answer some security questions to be able to proceed. In addition to that, we respect the Central Bank’s regulation that, up until now, forbids banks from including the possibility of transferring money from one bank to another in their mobile banking,” explains Abou Khalil. “To promote our iMobile app, we obviously used our social channels because social media users are the most likely to be early adopters of mobile banking, making them a great target audience. But, our marketing strategy wasn’t limited to digital channels. We also promoted our app via our branch network, as well as through telemarketing campaigns, printed communication material and QR codes,” says BoB’s Aouad.
El Hajj notes that with the marketing strategy, Fransabank has set for its mobile banking services, today 80 percent of the bank’s customers are using the app. “We designated a special team built around young people who went to all of the branches and talked to customers about the product and even visited some companies to introduce Fransabank’s app to their employees. Another marketing strategy we are implementing is bundling mobile services with every new account open in our bank. In fact, if an old customer prefers not to use this service, we respect their will, but we try to include it automatically in the offers we make to our new customers.”
Byblos Bank’s Abou Khalil adds that: “With the development of technology, our communication has definitely changed to include a wide array of tools, including social media and more. However, we don’t bombard customers with messages, but simply give them the power to choose where they want to follow our news and offerings.”
THE FUTURE IS TODAY.
As a result of the drastic technological changes the banking industry is undergoing, customers now have more control of their money. “Today, banking is all about giving customers the power of choice. Whether they prefer to go to the branch, use the ATM, or go for mobile banking, it is up to them to decide,” says Abou Khalil. In fact, these changes even have physical implications at the branches themselves. “With all of today’s [available] technologies, the banking industry’s motto is ‘The Branch is Back’, which proves that branches will always be there, but in a slightly different role. Nowadays, the bank’s branch has more of a consultancy role; [a place] where financial advice is offered to the customer. But, what’s already happening is the fact that transactional operations are moving into automated forms, such as e-banking and mobile banking,” explains Abou Khalil. “New technologies, including mobile, facilitate customers’ and banks’ employers’ lives, but they will remain a facility and not a way of life. In fact, in our part of the world, we cannot neglect the human factor and the importance of personal interactions, and it will stay like that forever,” adds Fransabank’s El Hajj.