Mobile Monday: Communicating Critical App Updates via Email

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       Email from US Bank to mobile banking customers (12 Nov 2015)

Last week I wrote about how much I liked US Bank’s new native app. So I understand why the bank is anxious to get users ported over to the new version. Customers are going to like it. Guaranteed.

Yet I was a little surprised, just a week into the new version, to receive an email warning that the previous app was about to stop working (see message above). This urgency makes customers question whether there is something seriously wrong with the previous version. The message is also annoying in that it doesn’t really give the customer any clue as to whether their version is the current one or not. It provides only the version number (2.1.76) which is the cut-off between good and bad apps.

This message has so many weak points opportunities to improve, I put together a top-10 list (plus 2 bonus nitpicks). Here are my gripes more or less in priority order:

  1. I had already updated to the new version, so this message was completely unnecessary. And if the bank doesn’t know which version I’m using, it should say so.
  2. There is no explanation of why all of sudden it was so urgent to upgrade. Skeptical users were left to use their imaginations…not something you want in these days of widely publicized security breaches.
  3. usbank_appversionnumberInstead of talking about version numbers, why not just describe the new app? It looks completely different and a quick description and screenshot would have been understood by 90% of the readers allowing the to move on with their day rather than proceeding through a tedious “find the version number hunt.”
  4. If you must use a version number, then at least explain how to find it. The email didn’t address that key point in the body, fine print, or any of links provided within the message. It’s not that simple to find the version number. You must login, find the hidden primary navigation, choose “About the App” and notice the version number in the lower right corner (see inset). 
  5. If you are going to make such a big change, use a whole number for the new version. In this case, it would be easier to say, “use v3.0 or later.” 
  6. The links provided to update the app did not go to the iTunes update page, but instead went to a marketing page at And the marketing pages, while well done, also did NOT link to the app store update pages. In fact, to confuse things further, the marketing page said the new version “was coming soon.”
  7. The only way to get help was by making a phone call to the general 800 number. No FAQ, email address, chat, or digital way to get help. It wasn’t even a direct line to tech support.
  8. The email message was not optimized for mobile. It was hard to read on my iPhone 6.
  9. It does not specifically address what happens if you don’t update within the next few days; “discontinuing support” has a number of meanings from simply not getting tech support to completely not working.
  10. The bank ended by thanking me for being a mobile banking customer….good. But they could have also thanked me for taking time out of my day to deal with this “upgrade emergency.”
  11. <Nitpick #1> The first sentence of the second paragraph uses “new” three times.
  12. <Nitpick #2> The closing sentence repeats the “enhanced convenience” copy point. This is a generic benefit at best and shouldn’t be invoked twice in a 150-word message.

Bottom line: Customer communications are not easy, especially with newer technology. So make sure to test them with some less-savvy users before hitting publish.

UI: US Bank Tackles New Mobile Navigation Conventions

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As I was taking a tour of US Bank’s gorgeous new mobile app (above), I was reminded of an ongoing problem in mobile UI, lack of navigational consistency. For anyone over 30, you’ve seen this play out before. It took nearly a decade (1995 to early 2000’s) for websites, especially in financial services, to conform to pretty straightforward navigation conventions (tabs on top, login in upper right, etc).

usbank_previousWhile responsive design (one website for desktop and mobile) has made things a little less standardized, desktop browser navigation is still pretty easy to figure out. And there’s always the back button to get you out of a jam.

Not so on smartphones. First-generation mobile banking UIs generally used the bottom of the screen to showcase 3 or 4 navigational choices, often with a More button to expand the choices. This worked OK since early apps usually had limited functions.

But as banks redesign their apps to a more modern esthetic, the bottom nav bar is disappearing. That looks great, but how do users find key functions?

That brings me back to US Bank’s new app. When I finished admiring its new, sleek design, I was momentarily thrown for a loop on how to get out of the main page. The familiar buttons at the bottom were gone (see older screenshot right). And initially I didn’t see the “hamburger menu” in the upper corner, which has recently become a fairly common design convention.

usbank_nav_closeupusbank_mobile_nav_optionsIt turns out that US Bank has located navigation options in two spots, neither particularly easy to see on a phone.

(1) The hamburger menu is there in the upper left, but it’s small and looks like it’s part of the logo (see screenshot at left and closeup at right)
(2) Even smaller context-sensitive menus directly to the right of each account. Deposit accounts have three navigation choices (Pay/Send, Transfer Money, Deposit)

Bottom line: U.S. Bank has delivered what may well be the best looking big-bank mobile app yet, at least in the United States.  It is also packed with new features such as no-login balance inquiry and customizations. So kudos to the team at US Bank, which also led the pack on desktop UI more than a decade ago!

That said, the almost-hidden primary navigation is a case of the design getting slightly ahead of its users. While users will soon get used to the new nav links, in the meantime I recommend a few adjustments:

  1. Add navigation instructions to the “feature tour” when users open the app for the first time.
  2. Make the hamburger menu stand on its own by increasing its size and placing it away from the US Bank logo (below the logo, or in the upper right which is wide open).
  3. Consider adding the word “menu” below it for a few months, at least until users get the hang of it.


Update 16 Nov 2015: Digital design guru Jakob Nielsen just published an overview of mobile navigation echoing our concerns with the hamburger menus. 

Coin Card: A Compelling Package, But Will it Work in Enough Places?

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coin_boxI finally received my Coin this week and I’m about to load some cards and head to the grocery store (or maybe the new Amazon Bookstore). (Update: It worked the first two tries, at a U.S. Bank ATM and grocery store POS. But, alas the third time was not a charm as it wouldn’t read at hardware store POS despite a valiant effort by the clerk. Attempt #4 with a coffee shop closed-loop card worked, barely, taking 10 to 15 swipes.)

But before I get too disillusioned by the real-world experience, I wanted to pen a column about why, even in a world with Apple Pay, Android Pay and Chase Pay, the supercharged-plastic Coin delivers substantial perceived value on a number of fronts.

Here’s the value for someone like me that that typically carries 6 credit/debit cards when traveling (2 personal, 2 business, 1 ATM, 1 AMEX) and 4 or 5 around town:

Extra security (peace of mind): Fewer plastic cards to lose = less worry
Simplifies travel prep: Easier to verify your physical wallet inventory before heading out and zero chance of forgetting a card (assuming you don’t forget Coin)
More card options: Can store all your cards, including mag stripe loyalty/prepaid cards, in mobile wallet (max of 8 in Coin plastic at any one time) 
Slims physical wallet: Going from 10 pieces of plastic to 4 (Coin, backup plastic card, drivers license, health insurance)
Reference for online usage: The Coin mobile wallet is a handy and secure place to store card details and customer service numbers
Cash backup: I stopped carrying an ATM card years ago since I only used it a few times per year. But every once in a while, I could really use cash. Having Coin in my wallet solves that.
X-factor: For early fintech adopters, it’s a cool little package and would make a nice gift for the fintech geek who has everything.

On the other hand, I’m toast if I go “Coin only” and lose it or it doesn’t work at a particular terminal. Most bloggers are reporting 80% to 90% success rates. So in reality, you need to carry at least 1 credit card as emergency backup.

Bottom line: It’s a nifty device, but the swipe success rate is crucial. If Coin can get to a 95%+, I think it will be worth the $100 to a sizable group of fairly well-heeled techies. However, sub-90% makes it much less interesting since on one wants to be that guy holding up the checkout line with his fancy black card.

Assuming it works, there is no single Coin benefit worth $100. But the combination of seven makes it compelling (though it would be MUCH easier to sell at $30 or $4o….no one paid over $50 in the pre-order frenzy two years ago). Coin could bolster its security positioning by partnering with BillGuard or others to scan card transactions looking for fraud.

Website Design: 10 Reasons to Love the Homepage of City National Bank of West Virginia

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Sometime serendipity leads you to great places. Looking for inspiration this morning I did a random search on Google for “banks in West Virginia.” The top organic result was City National Bank, an 82-branch bank headquartered in Charleston, WV. If they were a fintech company, we’d be talking about how close they are to becoming a unicorn (current market value is just under $750 million).

And more importantly for our blog, City National has an awesome website. The overall look and feel is great, the polished graphics grab your attention, and it’s limited it to about 60 words of copy. Here’s 10 more reasons why it clicks with us:

  1. Site search is easy to find: Placed in the upper right with an purple magnifing glass to give it a little extra polish.
  2. The main navigation limited to four key items: Personal | Business | Mortgage | Wealth Management
  3. The Personal drop-down menu (not shown) includes: “Online & Mobile Banking” and “Online Account Opening” two important functions that are often difficult to find. It also lists “Avoiding overdrafts” first (see #10)
  4. Promo area well designed: The four rotating promos are beautiful, with great visuals and dramatic color.
  5. Visible call to action: The promo includes a specific call to action, “Add your card”
  6. Login area include help for new users: I really like how they split the button into thirds with Login | Demo | Enroll
  7. Account opening choices: It’s important to showcase the ability to open online since that’s still not widely understood. But extra points for City National for also not forgetting that many (most?) still like the support of opening in branch
  8. $5 e-statement credit: Great to see the bank sharing the cost savings from ridding the system from paper
  9. Overdraft avoidance:  Not only does the bank use the O-word (on the homepage no less), it even helps customers avoid them (see also #3 above) (see note 1).
  10. Suggestion box: After #9, I’m not surprised, but it’s also rare to see this level of encouragement to provide feedback to the bank.

Grade: A


1. If you go deeper into the overdraft avoidance advice, it’s not as consumer friendly as I expected. The bank could do more to promote overdraft protection options.

Marketing Minute: Optimizing Emails for the Small Screen

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Recent email marketing research found that two-thirds of Americans regularly check email via smartphone and a significant number of total opens (as high as 70%) are now opened on a mobile device. Since most emails that look good on mobile look fine on a desktop (but NOT vice versa), you can pretty much disregard the desktop when creating a design template for your email alerts and marketing messages.

Here’s a few examples from my inbox during the past few weeks. Both Capital One and BBVA’s Simple use appropriate font size and a good mobile layout. Simple does an especially good job at grabbing attention with a small animation at the top of the message. In comparison, the BankDirect pitch is not well optimized for mobile, though it’s readable if you work at it. But it does nothing to grab your attention visually.


Bank email samples (viewed on iPhone 6)

First: Business Savings account promo from Capital One
Easy to read opening line and big Open Now buttons on first screen and below the fold

Second: BankDirect to American AAdvantage mileage club members
Harder to read the small type, and call to action below the fold

Third: Simple announces its 100%-no-fee policy change
Grabs attention with small animated graphic at top with big “Hi FirstName” visible on first screen. The remainder of message is in a font easily read on a mobile phone

capitalone_email  bankdirect_americanair_email  simple_email2

Feature Friday: “Combine Usernames” from Capital One

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Capital One just updated its Wallet iPhone app to include gift cards. That seemed like a good candidate for this week’s Feature Friday.

capital_one_combine_usernamesBut on the way to checking out the gift card feature, I ran into another new Capital One feature I love. It’s called Combine Usernames and it does just that. The option appeared automatically the on the first screen when I first logged into the latest issuer’s standard mobile banking app (not the newer Wallet app) (see inset). The card giant noticed I had two usernames registered and offered to automatically combine them. It’s not something I’ve run into before, and it’s super convenient for those of us who can’t keep their digital life in sync. After selecting Combine Usernames near the bottom of the main screen, you are directed to a new screen with instructions to swipe to combine. I swiped and it worked immediately, although the page warned it could take up to 72 hours. I wasn’t sure what was lurking under my other username, but it turns out it was my old ING Direct (now Capital One 360) account. Now, everything’s visible on the app, and I’m in sync at Capital One. ———– I’ll cover the gift card function after I test it at Starbucks. Enjoy your weekend.

Tuesday Tactics: The Art of Bank-Site Search

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37948595_sOne area that’s long been marked “needs improvement” on most banks’ digital report cards is site search. But it’s getting much better. Five of the 10 largest U.S. banks (BofA, Wells, Citi, Capital One, PNC) now offer “autocomplete suggestions” something even Google didn’t fully implement until 2008.

That’s great progress, but even at these digital leaders the search results leave much to be desired. Most FIs still present a laundry list of results with some sorting for “relevance.” For easy searches such as “checking,” all the majors deliver relevant results. But only one takes it to the next level, Capital One (also an honorable mention to BB&T for including thumbnail pictures making results look much more interesting and PNC for including product recommendations for some searches, e.g. “checking”).


Of the 10 U.S. megabanks, Capital One is by far the winner in our search for good search. They do five things in the initial search that most others do not:

  1. Since search is often related to branches/ATMs the bank includes a link to that at the top of the search page (see #1 in screenshot)
  2. The suggested search terms are well curated (see #2)
  3. Most likely product results are included at bottom with eye-catching graphics (see #3)
  4. The bank does not automatically assume you are a consumer. In this example, they showed links to both consumer (interestingly, only to the 360 product inherited from ING Direct) and business checking (see #4)
  5. The UI is very Google-like with lots of white space and no distractions


In addition, Capital One’s search results page is laid out in a user-friendly manner:


There are five key sections (noted above):

  1. Capital One assumes all searches are “questions” so it provides the most likely answer in a shaded box at the top of the search results
  2. Other curated FAQs related to the search term
  3. Full site-search results
  4. Contact Us section for more help
  5. Feedback loop


Interestingly, unlike the other nine mega-banks, Capital One does not offer site search directly on the homepage. A search icon is prominently located on the top right, but the bank takes you to a separate page to being the search. I prefer searching directly on the homepage, but that’s not nearly important as delivering relevant and well-structured results.


Note: We looked at these major U.S. retail banks: Bank of America, BB&T, Capital One, Chase, Citibank, HSBC, PNC Bank, Suntrust, US Bank, Wells Fargo


FinDEVr2015LogoV2DateWe’ll be delving deep into issues like this at the second annual FinDEVr event for digital bank builders October 6 & 7 in San Francisco.


Small Business Banking Strategies: Providing Peace of Mind (for a Fee)

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Business owners are optimists. It’s a job requirement. So whether or not a small business is currently seeking capital, down the road most hope to grow, so the POTENTIAL to tap more funding is a huge factor when selecting a bank. It’s why small businesses have long sought to establish quality relationships with community banks or larger FIs.

But in the aftermath of the 2008-to-2012 downturn and all the negative press about the “credit crunch” (both real and imagined), business owners are less confident that their bank will come through for them when they need it. That’s why banks should offer credit to ALL small-and micro-business customers. It doesn’t have to be a large amount, or free of fees, or at an APR that would make the CFPB happy (it’s commercial credit we are talking about). FIs just need to demonstrate they have their client’s back.

small_bus_bank_iconAlong the same lines, most banks could do better providing peace of mind. The most important factors are transaction/payment reliability, service quality and probably most important these days, security. Again, it’s about the peace of mind knowing that your bank will run your account flawlessly while keeping the thieves at bay. And failing that, reimburse the losses without a business disruption.

These things cost money. But the good news is that businesses understand that and will pay for it. Most growing businesses are price insensitive when it comes to their transactional bank account. It’s just not a material expense, especially if you factor switching costs. In fact, I have long stated that I’d be happy to pay $500/mo for a business banking account with my ideal mix of banking, security and accounting services.

That said, it won’t be easy to get to three-figure monthly fees for SMB banking. Here’s a more normal example, a fictional starter business bank account priced at $50 to $60/month ($10/mo less if paperless):

  • Checking account/debit card
  • Small biz branded mobile banking app
  • Security and transaction alerts
  • Outbound payments (billpay, P2P, mPay, ACH)
  • Inbound payments (ACH, P2P, cards, mPOS)
  • Bundled credit facility (line of credit and/or credit card) with overdraft protection
  • $10/mo discount to go paperless (no paper checks, no paper statements, no in-branch deposits)
  • Credit score with alerts (sourced through Credit Karma)
  • Account scanning for fraud and questionable charges (sourced through BillGuard)
  • Loan concierge to help the business find funding (via alt-lenders if needed)
  • Basic accounting/money management tools (outsourced to Mint, FreshBooks, Expensify, etc)
  • Commercial eBanker (email night and day with same person if possible)
  • Fraud loss guarantee for first $5,000, then $x/mo per $10,000
  • Multi-factor security using mobile phone/GPS
  • Basic business property insurance for first $5,000, then $y/mo per $10,000
Graphic from alt-lender Kabbage


Mobile is Eating Banking

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cellphone_vintage2Andreessen Horowitz’s Benedict Evans penned a compelling argument a few days ago about how the “mobile Internet” is now the primary market to build services for. There are a couple good charts in the post too if you bring top management quickly up to speed:

Mobile is not a subset of the internet anymore, that you use only if you’re waiting for a coffee or don’t have a PC in front of you – it’s becoming the main way that people use the internet. It’s not mobile that’s limited to a certain set of locations and use cases – it’s the PC, that can only do the web and only be used sitting down. It’s time to invert that mental model – there is not the ‘mobile internet’ and the internet. Rather, if anything, it’s the internet and the ‘desktop internet.’ 

In banking, I think it’s even more true. The location-awareness of the mobile platform is crucial to boosting security while improving UX at the same time (think no-login balance inquiry). The mobile camera is finally reducing (eliminating?) paper, both paper checks, statements and even, finally, receipts. Then there’s that little thing that Apple, Google, Starbucks and others would have us believe is better than sliced bread, integrated mobile payments.

If you were forced to choose a single consumer delivery platform going forward — branch, online/desktop, or mobile — clearly it should be mobile. Are your strategic plans in sync with this reality?

Image: Cellphone inventor Martin Cooper on a DynaTac, the first commercial cellphone introduced in 1983 (Source: CNN)

US Bank Adds “Thank a Banker” to Homepage

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usbank_thankabanker_boxUS Bank has been on a roll lately, appearing in our blog more times this summer than the 3 years prior. Its latest novelty? A unique “thank a banker” function, complete with smiley face emoji, prominently located at the bottom-middle of homepage (below the fold on my 13-inch laptop). It’s shown to both customers and non-customers.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. While I don’t see the harm, it would seem to be pretty low-usage feature to warrant homepage real estate. But the more I thought about the more I liked it. It’s great brand positioning, essentially saying, “Hey, look. we aren’t one of those impersonal banks. Our customers love us so much we have to put a box on our homepage to collect all the compliments.”

And then if anyone actually does use it, the bank gets a stream of attaboy/girls to send out to staff. Clever. Hopefully, the bank sends the customer a nice thank-you email (I hadn’t received one 30 minutes after submitting form).

The website function is outsourced to an employee-recognition specialist, OC Tanner an which displays an URL to US Bank customers as they fill out the 13-field form, with a hefty 9 required fields (see second screenshot below).


More importantly, I like the Labor Day loan sale at the top of the US Bank homepage (see below). It’s traditionally a big car buying weekend, so it’s a great time to promote vehicle lending, especially with the still ridiculously low APRs available here.


US Bank homepage (3 Sep 2015, 10 AM Pacific):


US Bank “thank-a-banker” form (link):