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Mobile banking – why context is key

By Nick Bowman, F5

f5-logoThe rise of mobile working (fuelled in many organisations by the adoption of bring-your-own-device) and the proliferation of consumer banking apps have revolutionised how we interact with financial institutions as employees and customers. We expect a perfect digital experience when using these apps, but delivering this is far from easy. Yet can understanding more about the context in how these apps are used – and applying that context to manage the interactions provide the key to unlocking the ideal experience every time?

Recent years have seen banks scrambling to develop and roll out their multi-channel strategies in the face of consumer demands and ever-evolving new technologies. At the core of delivering mobile or internet banking, is ensuring a consistent user experience across a host of mobile devices.

Increasingly, we expect to be able to check our bank balance on our smartphone or pay a bill from our tablet, and while the services are fairly simple at the moment, our high street banks have a real challenge on their hands to meet end-users’ high standards – as set by online retail powerhouses like Amazon and ASOS – as the services mature. The same is true for corporate apps; if they function poorly, productivity dips and employees get annoyed.

The opportunity is huge. Since the global financial crash, customer loyalty towards financial institutions is at an all-time low but multi-channel banking presents the opportunity for banks to win customers over, and even improve customer satisfaction, by providing them with a seamless and secure mobile banking experience. At the same time, the risks from downtime, hacking attacks and accidental leaks are – given the value of the data – much higher than other industries, so banks are under a huge amount of pressure to ensure this data is protected.

As customers, we expect mobile banking to be fast, available and secure, with reliable connections and transactions being updated in real-time. We demand that the experience we enjoy on our laptops using a fixed broadband connection be extended to the experience of using 3G or 4G on our smartphones on our way to work. We also trust banks to keep our data secure, and with the regulators pushing banks to make account switching much easier – the risk of us shifting to a competitor following a security breach is becoming significant.

However, delivering the perfect digital experience inevitably causes an IT headache. In enabling customers to access sensitive banking information on the go, banks run the risk of compromising our personal data, which can lead to privacy violations, litigation and fines, and ultimately damage the reputation of the bank in question. IT departments are under immense pressure to deliver the experience that consumers require, and are constantly working to ensure customers have multi-layered security, granular logging and reporting capabilities without compromising on the speed and availability with which the data reaches the mobile device in question.

In addition, bank employees demand access to corporate applications, without concern for location or device, adding another layer to security considerations. Compounding the problem is the ever-present spectre of regulation, and the accompanying business process and IT challenges.

The power of context

But not all users’ demands are the same. When a financial services employee needs to access a corporate application from his desk, it’s a very different scenario from a gap year student in South America trying to transfer money from their mobile phone. Yet, in today’s connected world, we expect the user experience to be seamless. It’s up to the IT department to deliver the experience that the user demands, wherever they are.

In order to achieve this, context is vital. There’s a huge amount that can be understood about the user and usage – such as time of day, geographic location, access policy, device, operating system etc. – that many banks aren’t currently exploiting. Yet this information can be used to optimise the experience every single time, by routing traffic internally to serve up the app in the right way. At its most basic level, for example, mobile devices can be directed to a separate web server for a mobile interface while sending desktop connections to full-function applications that are expecting users with full screens and high-speed access.

When access control is implemented in the network rather than on application servers, it allows banks to set rules for how incoming connections are directed. They can establish who should be granted access to which applications, when, in what format and on which devices to ensure that the right people can access the right information at the right time. The traffic can then be diverted to the most available datacentre; if there is an outage in one datacentre, then the data is still delivered to the end-user at the right time and in the right format, so that they are none the wiser to the technical issues.

Obviously, key to this working is real-time intelligence. Having a set of pre-defined policies will only work so far; each interaction needs to be treated on its own merits, but keeping compliance in mind at all times.

Securing mobile devices isn’t enough; to ensure customer satisfaction, banks need to grant users and employees access to the apps and data they want, however they want it and from wherever they want it… in a fast, available and secure way. Using context to enable this optimisation can make or break the customer experience.