Five Bank Apps to Watch

five-bank-apps.pngBanking doesn’t have a reputation for having the best apps. There are some very good reasons for this, including the need for extra security to protect millions and sometimes billions of their customers’ assets. Still, as people increasingly use their phones for everything from web surfing to shopping, texting and banking, the lack of decent banking apps could really hurt individual brands.

According to advisory firm AlixPartners, which got 5,000 consumers to fill out an online survey in the second quarter of 2015, 62 percent of people who switched banks in the previous year said mobile banking was important or extremely important in their decision to switch. Obviously, an online survey is going to be biased toward people who spend time online. In actual use, banks are finding anywhere from 25 percent to 45 percent of their customers are active in mobile apps, according to Marc DeCastro, a research director in consumer banking at research and consulting firm IDC Financial Insights.

What’s wrong with mobile banking apps? A lot. Some of the best apps are simple, easy to use and intuitive, with lots of innovative features, says Robb Gaynor, the founder and chief product officer for Malauzai Software, which makes mobile banking apps for banks. They are taking design cues from Facebook and Google, he says. Not many banks meet that standard. As an example, Bank Director tried downloading and using the mobile app for one superregional bank. We already had a checking account, but the bank wouldn’t let us register inside the app. We had to go to the bank’s web site and soon realized the registration process required a customer i.d. number or a check card. We ended up calling the call center and getting put on hold for 15 minutes. We tried to use the person-to-person payment (P2P) feature inside the app, but needed still another online registration for that.

Many mobile banking apps, however, are beginning to go above and beyond to provide better experiences for their customers. To see what the best apps look like, Bank Director tested and reviewed apps that were identified by consultants and vendors as the best in banking. We didn’t review any apps that we couldn’t try out. To further cull the list, we weeded out non-U.S. banks and those that didn’t receive at least a 4- out of 5-star aggregate rating from customer reviewers in the Apple store, as of mid-October.

Some of the better ones to watch are nonbank companies that are partnering with actual banks to provide debit cards and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. insurance. Without any legacy systems to adapt, these nonbank companies tend to have a clean slate and superior apps to even the big global banks, says Stephen Greer, a banking analyst at technology research firm Celent. Among them, he says Moven, GoBank and Simple are setting the standard that banks ultimately follow. For instance, some features, such as account balances available before logging in, have caught on with other banks. Still others on this list are actual banks that provide much more than your typical bank. USAA and Capital One Financial Corp. have apps that boast ease of use, simplicity and intuitive design, as well as increased functionality that other banks usually don’t have. Here are five apps that are really setting the stage for others to watch and getting rave reviews from customers.


About the app:
Tech startup Simple was founded as a sort of anti-bank but was purchased by BBVA Group in 2014 for $117 million.

What’s unique:
The app features a prominent “safe to spend” amount instead of a current balance, factoring in the amount you programmed it to save for future goals as well as pending transactions. There’s a place to set up automatic savings withdrawals, chat with a bank representative, send money to friends (they get the money instantly if they are Simple account users), set up Apple Pay, mail a check and pay bills. The app prominently displays an “add a friend” feature so you can solicit other customers for Simple.

What’s not so great:
The terms and fee schedule of the account are housed on the web site, not in the app.


About the app:
GoBank is the app for Green Dot Bank, a subsidiary of prepaid debit card company Green Dot Corp.

What’s unique:
If you are struggling to budget, this is the perfect app. You can build a budget inside the app with your income and expenses and ask a “fortune teller” if you can afford to buy a certain item. Notifications allow you to get a text message every time a purchase or ATM withdrawal exceeds an amount that you pre-set. There are no overdraft or nonsufficient funds fees, and no minimum balance requirements. GoBank was one of the first apps to allow you to see your account balance without logging in. You can get access to your paycheck two days early if your employer alerts the bank a few days ahead of time that the money is coming, which most do. You can sign up for an account through the app, plus alert the company through the app if your debit card is stolen or lost.

What’s not so great:
There is an $8.95 per month maintenance fee unless you direct deposit at least $500 per month. There is $2,000 limit for remote deposit on personal checks, and $10,000 for checks from a business. You can’t deposit a check in person without paying a fee and the checks are fairly expensive, so this isn’t an app for someone uncomfortable with technology.


About the app:
You have to be eligible for a USAA account to use this app, either through affiliation or familial affiliation with the U.S. military.

What’s unique:
This app allows you to use biometrics such as your voice or snap a picture of your face to log in. There are a huge number of features, including calculators to figure out how much money you need to save for retirement and how early you will pay off your loan if you contribute extra toward the principal every month. There is a way to set up automatic savings, track your monthly spending, check the available credit limit on your credit card and get an insurance quote. Plus, there’s a $10,000 maximum for remote deposit capture. You can even read and send the bank documents using your app, or file your taxes through TurboTax. This is truly an app for an adult. If you don’t feel like calling customer service, there’s a social media-like feature where you can post comments and complaints, and read those posted by other people.

What’s not so great:
Unless you opt out, there are variety of overdraft and insufficient fund fees, plus a limit on ATM use before you will incur a $2 per transaction fee.

Capital One 360u00b0

About the app:
Capital One 360u00b0 is the online bank owned by Capital One Financial Corp.

What’s unique:
The app gives the option of putting your photo on your account page, seeing your balance before logging in, and tracing a pattern on the lock screen instead of logging in with a user name and password. It has free use of 38,000 ATMs, free person-to-person payments and eight cafes in major cities where you can sip coffee, use the wi-fi or ATM, and talk with an account representative.

What’s not so great:
There is no check writing availability. Plus, I called a toll-free number and got a very aggressive salesperson on the phone who refused to transfer me.


About the app:
Pennsylvania-based Customers Bank launched branchless BankMobile as a subsidiary to appeal to the young and the tech savvy. The app is undergoing a redesign and will re-launch in 2016.

What’s unique:
This is billed as the “totally free checking account” with no monthly fees, minimums to open or minimum deposit balances, and no overdraft fees. BankMobile will reimburse your fees at any ATM nationwide and offers free person-to-person payments, as well as a way to pay your bills through the app by taking a picture of them. Customer service also is available throughout the week and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. EST.

What’s not so great:
We had a technical glitch trying to log in, and was told the bank was working on it and a “handful” of people were impacted. Unfortunately, we were locked out for three days.

Where We Go Now
For now, these apps may not be stealing a huge amount of market share, but they are good standard bearers. Online shopping giant Amazon and social media guru Facebook have set the design requirements for a whole slew of services delivered online and via mobile. “Consumers might not have had those expectations 18 months ago, but they do now,” says Amol Shah, a director at AlixPartners.


Naomi Snyder


Editor-in-Chief Naomi Snyder is in charge of the editorial coverage at Bank Director. She oversees the magazine and the editorial team’s efforts on the Bank Director website, newsletter and special projects. She has more than two decades of experience in business journalism and spent 15 years as a newspaper reporter. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.

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