The Curious Case of Kenyan Banking Applications

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What is the point of an application? Let me not limit this to applications alone. What is the point of any technology that we work so hard to create? What is the main purpose? What are we striving to achieve? Do you know the answer to these questions? I am sure you do. Now ask yourself, do you think that most of the applications on your phone right now are living up to your answer? In my case, yes. Most of the applications that I have on my phone offer me some kind of value that I appreciate. The content that they present to me, be it a gaming app or a to-do list application offers me value that I may not otherwise get without them. In fact, I can proudly say that I am happy with all of my applications. All but one. My mobile banking application.

Well I won’t mention names here, at least not yet. You can be led to imagine that this is all the application can be. That it has to be frustrating, only work half of the time, have a lackluster design and user experience. My view changed when I downloaded the KCB Android application. I was amazed. I was shocked that something that seemed so simple for them to achieve was almost none existing in other mobile banking applications. I don’t bank with KCB and I am not planning on doing so any time soon but that application just killed it for me. I don’t even know if it works perfectly for a customer, but it does for me. It gives me value even if I don’t bank with KCB. I mean, I didn’t think this was possible.

If you have used this application before, or use it for that matter, I am sure you know what I mean. Again I don’t know if it works across the board for other customers, but my one friend that banks with KCB hasn’t experienced any problems.

Why did it strike such a sweet nerve with me? Simple. It offered me a wonderful experience without being overly complicated and not only that, it gave me value. I will iterate this again. There is something to be said about content that offers value. It is that simple. Trust me, even when an application that gives you some value acts up and decides not to work for a while, you will be patient and wait. Same thing as a person with a beaten up Mercedes that breaks down with the slightest sign of rainfall. They will wait and suffer in the rain to fix it,because the car offers some kind of value to them, it is worth it. Is it so wrong to expect the same from something as vital as the banking sector? Shouldn’t your bank offer some good value as it strives to be as mobile as you are?

The case of the copy cat

To make sure I wasn’t being biased to KCB or be called out for advertising them, I went to the ever so useful Google and looked for a list of all banks in Kenya. After opening that very detailed Wikipedia page, I opened up Google Play on a new tab and began my ‘research’. I searched and downloaded ALL Kenyan banking applications that were available on the play store. I have to say that I was surprised by the number of banking applications that were available, others from banks I had barely heard of. In fact, out of all the banks I checked out, 80% of them had a mobile app. This was mind boggling. Fine I understand that at this day and age, a bank without an app is living in the dark ages, but for most of these banks, I wished that this was the case. That would have been a better option. It almost felt like all of them woke up one day and decided to get an app, it didn’t matter what kind, so long as it is an app.

The more I went down the list, the more bored and frustrated I got. There was literally no difference between these apps. They were all alike. Some even had the same colours for crying out loud! It was the same thing over and over and over again, almost like one person did all that. Actually I realized that it a good number of these applications were made by one company. Craft Silicon. You can see their signature everywhere. It just seemed like there was one template applied to all. A little variation of colour and name and that’s it. It is the same boring application over and over again. They must have really cashed out when all banks came calling. I mean why do this? Do we not care about identity and specific care and preferences of individual customers? Do you just want an app because so and so has it and I must have one as well? What value does that bring to your customers?

Dimension, depth and clean simple design

On the other hand, the KCB app is in a world of its own. Its design is simple, crisp and modern. The colours used are bright, beautiful and iconic to the brand. It is a visual application that lets you see more and feel the urge to explore. It is not restrictive but very welcoming. I do not need to be a customer to use it. There are features that I can use without having an account. This is a very well thought out application. I do not know who made this but they did an awesome job, one that I hope they are proud off. There is a feeling of separation from the pack, some superiority, yet very shy and continually seeking approval.

When it is time to rethink

I don’t know how many customers the smallest bank has, but it definitely has to be more than 500 right? Otherwise how would that make sense? I saw so many applications, even from the big banks that had less than 500 downloads. That’s all! Why is this thing still up with that small of a number? Is that satisfactory to them? ‘Well at least they have an app’ you might say but it’s pointless. I think this is probably why most bank applications may not work perfectly. There is literally no one to bother making the app better for. If only 100 people have the app and let’s say only half of them try using it at any one time, do you think it is makes economical sense to innovate for them? To support them and make the service better. If I were a bank CEO I would just scrape that off and wouldn’t bother wasting money in supporting a barely used application. It doesn’t make any kind of sense.

How do you get people to use your application? There are banks I know whereby their people would literally bombard you with endless pleas to sign up and use their application. This is so not cool guys. That’s not how to get people on board. Banking is already stressful. You enter a bank and it’s hot and crowded with a line that makes several rounds inside the bank only being served by 2 tellers. Mobile banking is something that would definitely appeal to me but don’t force it down my throat and bother my ears with your insistence when I’m trying to figure out why the person before me won’t move ahead.

Here is a thought, silently push the agenda. Put up stickers, signs, banners and pamphlets around that will catch my attention. You see that area that we go to fill out those forms? Put up a quirky question that makes me think about the convenience of the app. Set up a desk and have one or two guys that I can talk to and inquire about this app. Make it seem like MY idea and choice. That would work so much better. Instead of making me spend my time in line trying to ignore you, let me fill that time trying to figure out why I do not have that app. Isn’t this a better approach? Surely you will have more than 500 downloads!

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Rethink your strategy. Rethink everything from how you make the application to how you get people on it. If at all your application is wanting, why get frustrated when no one uses it? If you have less than 500 users, rethink your application, don’t just let it sit there. Good things always have a way of getting out there, like Dela’s Swahili cover of Adele’s Hello. If your application is good, trust me, the numbers will follow. Someone (who doesn’t bank with KCB) showed me the application, and I in turn showed five more people on the same day who downloaded it instantly. I thought it was worth it and so did they. Two of them bank with KCB, haven’t I done some KCB marketing there? Why, because it is good.

When satisfactory is not good enough

The most successful things in life are those that do more than expected. The most successful people took it one step further. Why be average? Why be standard and predictable? As humans, we get bored easily with standard and average. We always seek more. Most of the banking apps that I looked at offered the same thing, the same expected services but nothing really ‘out’ of their zone. Those little ‘outs’ no matter how small can make a huge difference. Sure I can call the bank, locate branches and ATMs around me and do some bank transactions which is very basic. Imagine just taking it a step further.

The KCB app made the ‘outs’ the thing that everyone can access. Once I open the app, I can view their products, I can see all branches, ATMs and Mtaani agents near me. I can also see how stocks are faring. I can also read news from Business, Lifestyle, Sports and World news all in one app, no external links. I can also see the forex market and furthermore, negotiate exchange rates with them! That’s not all. There is also a currency converter that allows me to calculate how much major selected currencies are worth in Kenyan shillings. Guys that’s not all. From this same one app, I can view various selected properties available across the country. There is also a nifty tool called Home Loan Calculator that lets me do just that. Again that’s not ALL. They also have a section under property that highlights some trends in the property sector.

This is just what I accessed on the landing page. Further exploration showed me more features. I didn’t even list what kind of perks and advantages a customer has just by using this app. If I, a non- customer gets access to all this? Who is to say a customer isn’t getting 5 times more value?

Need I say more about taking it one step further?

So what’s next?

I am not saying that the KCB app is perfect. No, I experienced some bugs here and there but I can deal with that because I have a feeling that this app will keep improving day by day. At the time of writing this article, they last updated it on 10th Dec 2015 and have between 100,000- 500,000 downloads. That is pretty encouraging. They do not look like they are slowing down soon. Kudos.

What about the rest? The sky is the limit. There is that initial step of taking your services mobile. That’s vital in this day and age and most of them have done so, which is awesome. However, there is something more to be said about making the mobile experience different from physical banking. Make it better, new and worthwhile for the customer. I am not saying you should go and copy KCB. No, I am certain that there are more ways to innovate in the mobile banking sector. If at all you are not committed to innovate and change, just don’t do it, or imitate the best thing, not just any thing.

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