Industry News

In-branch BLE breakthroughs just another reason for banks to go mobile

The mobile banking revolution is much bigger than engaging with customers as they wait in line.

The mobile banking revolution is much bigger than engaging with customers as they wait in line.

There has been increasing interest recently in the benefits that Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)-based applications can offer banks.

A post on the Financial Brand website lays out 10 ways that BLE – and more specifically, Apple’s “iBeacon” technology – can improve the economics of branch banking, or at least the experience of customers who venture into a bank’s brick-and-mortar location.

Once customers have installed a bank’s app on their phones, selectively placed “beacons” throughout the branch can initiate a number of different functions in conjunction with the app. Beyond simple push notifications like sending a welcome to a client waiting in line, the beacon/phone combination can tell them how long their wait may be, and let them begin to fill out forms they will need when they reach the front of the line. It can send customers a location-specific or personally-tailored offering to consider, inform them about what personnel are available in the branch, and inform bank personnel about which particular customers are in which branch at any time.

Indeed, it is the ability to recognize individual customers and collect data on customer traffic patterns and behavior that may prove the biggest value proposition of such technology, giving banks a powerful analytical tool for managing their branches. Even after customers leave a branch BLE can play a role, prompting customers to rate the service they received.

All that said, some of the purported benefits of in-branch BLE may be oversold, at least for now. Are customers really going to watch educational videos while waiting on line, or want to be “retargeted” after visiting a branch – or even an ATM?

But a bigger reason the current excitement over the BLE/branch mix may be slightly excessive is that it draws attention away from the other, even bigger benefits to both bank and customer from mobile banking.

So as useful as some of the possibilities offered by BLE/branch are, banks should be first making sure that they are offering their customers a high-quality mobile banking or mobile payment app. (Note that “plain vanilla” mobile banking apps tend to cover things like balance confirmation and other bank-related tasks while m-payment apps like the one Cellum recently developed for leading European banking group Erste have features extending to bill payment, peer-to-peer payments and other m-payments.) Who cares if a bank can send a welcome message to the app of a customer waiting on line in a branch if that customer has yet to make their first m-payment?

While consumer downloads and use of banking apps in most markets is growing at a fast clip – and in some regions has overtaken internet banking – the mobile banking revolution is far from over, and 2014 may be the last year for banks to join up. Either way, it will be a revolution that will go way beyond the walls of bank branches.