Thursday, 13 December 2012

Banking in the real world

Originally published on Total Payments.

Recently I undertook an experiment with a major UK bank. I decided to investigate, with my wife's assistance, how simple it would be to obtain a small buffer overdraft facility on her current account. As an existing customer with a perfect banking history and set up for online self-serve it should be easy - right? Wrong!

Eventually we found the information page on the website that outlined the process and yes allegedly it's easy to apply from within the online banking website, so the customer's identity is authenticated and there's no need to re-key lots of data. Unfortunately the page was clearly wrong because there was no option to apply for an overdraft online. Finding this hard to believe I phoned the helpline listed on the website. I explained the problem and received the response "you want to apply for an overdraft over the phone". If I wanted to apply over the phone I wouldn't be stating I wanted to apply online nor pointing out that the website was clearly flawed. I was then transfered to another help desk who could only offer an apology by way of assistance. So no online application process.

Lesson 1 - Allow your customers to engage with you using the channel of their choice.

As the bank had clearly failed phase one, we moved onto the next attempt to engage; a visit to the local branch. Something as simple as a low value overdraft could presumably be arranged very quickly with a real time credit check? Ringing the bell on the customer service desk failed to elicit any response. Asking a cashier resulted in being told they were too busy to discuss an overdraft. However they could make an appointment to call my wife at a specific time a few days later. 

Lesson 2 - If you are going to have local branches, ensure they have the appropriate resources to engage with your customers. 

So agreeing to discuss an overdraft on the phone was the next attempt at communicating with the bank. Unfortunately the agreed time came and went with no call. So my wife went back into the local branch to point out the failure to contact and was told that the person who was supposed to call her had to take her husband to hospital because he had stuck a screwdriver through his hand! As excuses go, that's an unusual one, although didn't explain why someone else couldn't have called. Unfortunately they were still too busy to discuss an overdraft (they'd clearly had a frenetic few days that prevented the staff helping customers!); my wife was asked to return later that day.

Lesson 3 - Do what you say you will (yes I know it's obvious but clearly not to some people). 

My wife mentioned her dissatisfaction on Twitter and it did get picked up by a bank representative. Unfortunately their response was a link to the online complaints page. No attempt at taking ownership.

Lesson 4 - If you're going to attempt to be a social business your representatives must be empowered to take ownership and resolve a customer's problems. 

The final visit to the branch resulted in the overdraft being arranged in about five minutes. So despite everything that had gone before it was actually a simple process. This experiment has shown the total disconnect between how a major bank operates and how a customer wants to engage. As Brett King said "Banking is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do" and banks that don't understand this are going to die. The opportunity is there for consumer centric banking and who is going to grasp it?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Adyen takes Chip and PIN to the consumer

Today Adyen announced the launch of their Shuttle Chip and PIN reader to complement their existing ecommerce and mcommerce payment solutions. The EMV compliant Chip and PIN card reader connects to an Apple or Android mobile device via Bluetooth and replaces the need for the usual POS card devices.

The standout for me is that Adyen enables retailers to take the payment processing piece to the consumer, rather than expecting the consumer to go to the payment processing; i.e. queue up at the back of the store for the privilege of paying. This is the Apple model where strolling retail staff can process a payment on the spot for the customer. This creates a much better customer experience and I bet it reduces breakage. How many times have you taken a look at the queue at the till and thought no way! John Lewis does a great job making staff available on the shop floor to assist customers - think how much more effective they'd be if they could also take payment.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Apple - changing my life, one device at a time …

One of the intriguing things I find with new Apple devices is how they change the way I use mobile devices. Until I start using a new device I can only guess at what some of my use cases will look like. When I received my original iPhone (the 3G, for business) I expected to use it in a similar way to my main handset, a Nokia E62. However the user interface, App Store and general ease of use meant I used my phone more and more and in ways that had been just too painful on the Nokia. For example, whilst there were plenty of S60 apps around, finding them and side-loading them from my PC was frustrating and predicated against the whole activity. 

I was initially sceptical about how useful I'd find an iPad but trying out a friend's iPad convinced me it would be transformational. When I started using one, the crossover occurred with both my MacBook Pro and my iPhone. I was doing similar things but in a more convenient and enjoyable way. Plus the iPad lent itself to new activities like reading books and watching TV shows which previously I hadn't bothered to do on mobile devices.

I recently won an iPod Touch, a device I wouldn't have considered buying because of the overlap with my iPhone 5. However it has proved surprisingly useful as a media device. I don't need many apps on it, leaving plenty of space for more music and video than I can fit on my iPhone.

The iPad Mini intrigues me because although it replicates the iPad in terms of functionality, the smaller screen size introduces another dimension. As an ereader the full size iPad is big and heavy. The iPad Mini is much more user friendly in this space. 
Travelling on the train also feels like an occasion when a smaller iPad would be more convenient. Will the lack of a Retina display be an issue here? Not sure, although the rationale for no Retina display in terms of performance improvements seems a reasonable trade-off. It remains to be seen whether the iPad Mini will outsell the iPad over time; when it gets a Retina display I think it will. I suspect the iPad Mini will prove transformational in use - and if I get one I'll let you know!

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Telnames Mobile Website Builder

Telnames recently released a new iOS app to allow customers to buy, build and manage their telname .tel website. Whilst it's always been easy to do this via their website the app makes it even simpler, especially when you want to change contact details on the go.

A telname is a great way for small businesses and individuals to create a simple mobile friendly website with contact details and brief information about the business. Telnames summarises the functionality ...
Each telname has one page containing:
  • A short description including your logo or profile picture
  • Up to 20 pieces of contact information (including telephone numbers, email addresses, web links, and social media links)
  • A map and address location
  • An offer where you can describe your goods or services on promotion
  • An image gallery containing up to 5 photos
  • A video displayed on your page
  • A full business profile
  • An additional information section
  • A design wizard to personalize your background image for desktops, iPads and tablets

Have a look at a couple of telnames I've created - and

Friday, 16 November 2012

Is white label the future for the UK banking market?

Originally published on Total Payments.
Unlike other sectors of the financial services market, we rarely see new entrants in the UK banking market because the bar to entry is so high. Obtaining a new banking licence is a massive challenge (ask Metro Bank!) and developing the systems required to support a range of banking products takes a significant period of time (ask Tesco Bank about their yet to launch current account!).
The UK banking market needs more competition from providers who can deliver customer centric services in the way consumers want to consume them. This means products from people who understand consumers and who are not driven by protecting legacy products. So far new competition has been very limited; examples include Metro Bank who went down the banking licence route and Virgin Money who bought Church House Trust and then Northern Rock.
An interesting alternative is the model followed by Marks and Spencer who got to market very quickly by offering a M&S branded, HSBC backed, account. M&S Bank is part of HSBC but operates under the M&S brand, in M&S stores, thereby leveraging the brand values associated with M&S.
What the UK banking market needs is a white label enabler to help brands and new providers get to market quickly by providing the banking licence and banking systems that act as a barrier to new entrants. In the US, Bancorp Bank offers what they term ‘private label affinity partner programs’. New providers can offer their customers branded banking services that are actually provided by Bancorp Bank, i.e. deposits are held and protected under Bancorp Bank’s licence. M&S Bank benefited from the existing financial services relationship between HSBC and M&S, however there is no evidence that either HSBC or another bank will start actively marketing this wholesale business model.
A white label banking provider would enable both providers along the M&S Bank model and new providers who see smart, mobile device based services as the future of banking. In the US, Movenbank is bringing their unique customer proposition to market via this model. In the words of Brett King, Movenbank Founder and CEO, banking is no longer somewhere you go, but something you do. So which bank will go for first mover advantage in the UK? Anyone?

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

iZettle launches simple card payments in the UK

Yesterday iZettle formally launched in the UK with EE as their distribution partner. I've been using iZettle for the last six months for card payments and have been very impressed by the simple, customer centric way they have brought customer present card payments to individuals and small businesses. 
"iZettle is designed for small business and tradespeople such as plumbers, electricians, builders, taxi drivers, housekeepers or market stallholders. It is estimated that there may be more than three million people running businesses in the UK who would benefit from the flexibility iZettle offers, with two thirds (66%) of small firms currently owning a smartphone."
Historically, the cost of hardware, fixed monthly charges and the bar to signing a card acquirer agreement has put such facilities out of reach of individuals and many small businesses. iZettle has removed that barrier; signup via a simple online process, download a free app and purchase an inexpensive card reader that plugs into your iPhone, iPad or Android handset.
“The beauty of iZettle is that it’s simple to use, totally secure and takes seconds for a transaction,” said Jacob de Geer, CEO and co-founder of iZettle, which is used by more than 75,000 small businesses and individuals in six countries. “Whether you are a cabbie, florist, tradesperson or a courier, iZettle gives you the flexibility to operate in both cash and cards. The possibilities are endless because hundreds of thousands of small business can now take plastic. We are very excited about our full commercial launch in the UK and the positive results of our Beta test with 4,000 users over the past six months.”
My only issue with iZettle on the beta was the lack of Visa acceptance. I could accept MasterCard, American Express and Diners using chip and signature but Visa refused to allow iZettle to use either chip and signature or handset PIN entry. iZettle has now resolved this issue by using a different (mobile payments) process for Visa transactions that is kicked off by the insertion of a Visa card into the card reader. With almost 100% of the debit card market in the UK, the lack of Visa acceptance was always going to be a barrier to adoption, so the removal of this issue, albeit with a slightly more complicated user experience, is great news for both iZettle and their customers.

iZettle merchants are charged 2.75% of each transaction value with no monthly fees or contracts. The card readers are available for £20 from EE stores (you might remember them as Orange or T-Mobile stores!) and include a £20 voucher towards transaction fees.

It's early days but iZettle has the opportunity to totally change the face of customer present payments in the person to person and person to small business space in the UK. For the first time there is a sensibly priced, simple to use, fully functional, alternative to cheques and cash.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The card payments challenge for small traders

Originally published on Total Payments.
Small traders have historically tended to take cash or cheques in payment for goods or services. However cheques are now close to being a footnote in history (when did you last write one?) and not everyone wants to carry large sums of cash around with them. However the card alternative for merchants has never been simple – expensive hardware (even if subsidised), fixed monthly charges and the ‘difficult to get’ merchant ID; card acceptance providers have never been geared towards the small trader.
However in the space of a few months the market is starting to look very different. New entrants like iZettle with their handset dongle are offering small traders a cost effective (2.75%) option for taking card payments using chip and signature. Emu offers a mobile web site with no transaction charges until you hit £1,000 of sales and then it’s a flat £4.99 a month. Other providers like mPowa and SumUp are also jostling for customers. Square in the US is taking the market by storm with their mag stripe reader.
What all these providers have in common is using an app and existing hardware – the handset – with only an inexpensive card reader as the additional hardware requirement (Emu doesn’t even use a card reader). By removing expensive hardware from the solution it enables them to offer card payments at a price point that is attractive to small traders. Unfortunately the card schemes have yet to decide how to support these new entrants in a consistent manner – American Express and MasterCard are happy with chip and signature but Visa has yet to embrace this option.
Last week Payleven announced a chip and PIN solution that connects a PIN pad to the handset. Whilst this adds additional hardware to the mix it does mean it meets Visa’s requirements and presents the consumer with the familiar PIN pad. As Payleven is yet to launch it’s hard to gauge whether chip and PIN will be a better consumer handset experience than chip and signature however gaining Visa acceptance is a big plus.
PoweredNow has taken an even more innovative approach to this market by developing an end-to-end business administration product that manages jobs, quotes, invoices as well as payments. Not yet launched, PoweredNow is aiming to offer small traders access to software and services that were previously only available to larger businesses. Whilst PoweredNow has yet to announce details of how the payments element will work, card payments will be embedded into the core functionality of the app to deliver as simple a user experience as the rest of the app.
Whilst it is still early days, there is no doubt that cheaper card payments are here to stay and small traders will find it much easier to make the jump to cards. This can only accelerate the demise of cheques in this market and deliver greater payments convenience to both small traders and consumers; and solutions like PoweredNow mean that small traders could in future run their entire business off a mobile device.
Perhaps the PC vendors will end up the big losers here!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Why did Apple launch without NFC?

This article was originally posted on the Total Payments blog.
The big hope for the future of contactless payments launched recently without the NFC chip that would enable the iPhone 5 to drive forward the adoption of mobile payments in the mass consumer market. So why did Apple launch its latest device without NFC? Even allowing for Apple’s usual strategy of not being first, just being better, it feels like an omission and a missed opportunity for Apple. However given the fragmented state of the NFC market worldwide; the power draw on the battery of an additional radio; and the opportunity for Apple to leverage its existing payment accounts, rather than support Visa and MasterCard’s rails; then it begins to look very logical.
This episode underpins the argument that consumer payments innovation is still a confusing and baffling market for most consumers. Contactless take up has been slow on the card issuer side, the merchant acceptance side and the consumer usage side. That virtuous circle seems to be flaky at best.
But do consumers care about contactless payments? Contactless is meant to be simple but has the industry done enough to make it the default choice for consumers? More of my cards lack the contactless symbol than have it. Why do some PoS systems require me to ask to pay by contactless rather than assuming I will? As a firm proponent of contactless payments I always try to use my Bank of America PayPass MasterCard but contactless authorisation frequently fails; when I put it in the chip and PIN reader is goes through fine.
Apple’s view that Passbook is more relevant to consumers than NFC actually makes a lot of sense from the mass consumer perspective. It will drive non NFC contactless payment capabilities like the existing Starbucks prepaid ‘card’ app. And crucially it will improve the consumer payment experience with context sensitive popups – simple to use and a reminder to use.
Consumers care about cost, convenience and experience. If the industry focusses on those factors it can nudge consumers in the right direction. NFC is certainly one future for payments and people like Movenbank will make it relevant to consumers by combining it with an outstanding user experience. But the industry as a whole can do so much more to make it happen.
My final thought; it would be unpopular but pricing cash to reflect its financial and social costs would undoubtedly drive alternative payment models!
Confusion in the consumer payments market is a theme I will be returning to.
Follow me on Twitter at @sevendotzero

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Tracking tasks with Things Cloud

I've been a big fan of Things for a couple of years. The ability to manage tasks and projects across iPhone, iPad and Mac is great and the user interface makes Things a pleasure to use. However having to manually sync via WiFi is a pain and forgetting to do it before going out can mean the iOS app is out of date and useless.

I've been using Things Cloud Beta for a few weeks now and it completely transforms the user experience. Whichever app you fire up is current and wireless sync is just a distant memory. Tasks that are moved to today are also now highlighted, making it easy to see what's new and either accept or defer them.

Despite being a beta, Things Cloud feels fully formed and I hope will move out of beta soon. If you use Things I'd definitely recommend downloading the Mac beta app from the Things website and checking out the instructions for setting up Things Cloud.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Charge it!

Probably the biggest deficiency of mobile devices is the battery life. Anyone who makes extensive use of the full functionality on a device like an iPhone will face the dreaded low battery warning long before the end of the day. Unless I know I can charge my iPhone during the day from the mains or my laptop I always carry a portable charger, basically a Lithium Polymer battery with a cable to connect to the iPhone.

Powerfreakz Evolution Solar 3000
and Evolution 2500
A couple of years ago I reviewed the Powerfreakz Solar Charger and the team at Powerfreakz were kind enough to send me examples of their new solar charger, the Powerfreakz Evolution 3000 Solar, and its non solar sibling, the Powerfreakz Evolution 2500 to review. Both chargers are charged up via the mains, however the 3000 Solar can also be charged via sunlight or, if close enough, an artificial light. The 3000 is the bigger unit, weighing in at 114g and the 2500 comes in at 88g. Each device is supplied in a case with an array of charging tips for the usual suspects; Apple 30 pin, micro USB, mini USB, Nokia, Samsung etc. The mains power adaptor comes with four adaptors to cover most of the world.

In use both chargers do a good job giving my iPhone 4S another lease of life; around three hours to charge the iPhone and this uses up most of the capacity of the chargers.

The 3000 Solar is more versatile however I prefer the compact design of the 2500 - it's small enough to slip in a pocket.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Movenbank - the future of banking?

Knowing your customer is at the heart of banking. It informs the offers and decisions a bank makes to its customers, from account types to credit decisions. Many years ago, knowing your customer meant building a personal relationship with the customer and empowering bank managers to make personal decisions based on their knowledge of a customer. Now credit decisions often seem like a 'black art' to the consumer. Data from credit reference agencies is used to create an automated decision that can often seem arbitrary to consumers because they can't relate it to their 'real world' circumstances. Where's the relationship and the transparency?

But what if a bank's decisions were based on more than this? What if they took account of you as a person and who you engage with; not just what your credit score is? As part of creating a more transparent relationship with customers, Movenbank has developed CRED to measure a consumer's credibility as both a customer and a friend. We live much of our lives online today and this public engagement helps define who we are. As well as allowing Movenbank to better understand its customers, CRED will give consumers more context around the issues that affect them, like credit decisions.

Getting more from your money begins with understanding how you relate to money and Movenbank's first service is a financial personality test. We've all done tests like this over the years but as Movenbank moves towards full launch this data will become the first piece of the jigsaw that defines you as a customer.

What else will define Movenbank? No branches, cards, paper - all legacy bits of banking that few people need or want these days. The mobile phone will sit at the heart of the customer relationship giving the customer access to all their account functionality, including in-store as well as online payments. Imagine paying in a shop and being able to see how much money you have in your account before and after you pay. Imagine paying for a holiday and being offered foreign currency and travel insurance as relevant financial services that you can purchase from your handset. Banking becomes contextual and convenient.

This might sound like an alien future to some people but the way we engage with banks and payments is conditioned by their legacy views and not our convenience. To quote Brett King, the Founder of Movenbank, "Banking is now something you do, not somewhere you go".

You can request an invitation to check out your financial personality here. I'm a Professor!

Monday, 13 February 2012

Rogers One Number - transforming mobile comms

When I looked at the Rogers One Number service I thought why don't we have this in the UK. It's the first new service from a mobile operator I've seen in a long time that would make a significant difference to my mobile usage.

One Number lets you use all your mobile services - voice, text, MMS - from your PC or Mac using your mobile number. Video chat is also available if both parties are signed up to One Number. The contact list on your phone and PC is automatically synched. One Number recognises that consumers want the convenience of a single point of connectivity with the convenience of multiple devices.

One Number
The coolest feature is switch call. This lets you switch a call from your PC to your mobile phone or vice versa mid call. So you're chatting on your mobile when you walk in the door; just switch the call to your PC for a more relaxed chat. You only pay for the mobile portion of the call and the other party is none the wiser!

You can also call any Canadian number using your computer from anywhere in the world for free - brilliant if you're away on business or holiday.

So how did Rogers launch One Number? They worked with CounterPath who delivered a solution to Rogers that converges voice, video and text on a single number over multiple devices using their Softphone platform.

More info at


Maxroam has long been a favourite for global roaming, especially for avoiding outrageous data roaming bills from your home operator.

Today Maxroam has announced their MVNO agreement with Vodafone UK. This gives users similar rates to other UK operators when in the UK and Maxroam's competitive roaming rates when elsewhere. This is a great product for users who spend a lot of time in the UK as there's now no need to also have a local SIM card.

Maxroam SIMs are the usual mini SIM size but can easily be snapped into a micro SIM to be compatible with iPhones and iPads. Nice touch and very consumer centric.

According to the Maxroam website UK rates are:
  • Call UK number  -  13p per minute
  • Call rest of world  -  13p per minute
  • Send SMS to UK number  -  10p
  • Send SMS to rest of world  -  10p

Data is charged at:
  • 250MB - £5.02
  • 500B - £8.36
  • 1GB - £15.05

More information from Maxroam here.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

It's time for Apple to fix the iPhone WiFi login process

Every device has the odd feature that frustrates and for me it's WiFi on the iPhone. At home WiFi works fine after the initial setup to connect for the first time because no additional login credentials are needed. However using public WiFi hotspots is an annoying experience involving a trip to Safari each time to enter ID and password. 

My favourite public WiFi is The Cloud and I regularly use it in coffee shops. However because of the success of The Cloud in adding hotspots I often find when I'm out and about my iPhone has automatically connected to The Cloud and because I haven't entered my ID and password the iPhone can't make a data connection. I then have to either stop and login or turn off WiFi - neither of which is satisfactory for a quick data connection. 

Apple needs to allow users to save their login credentials for recognised hotspots so the whole login process is automated and seamless. From a consumer experience perspective the existing process is very 'un-Apple'. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Have you secured your digital identity?

Last week I spoke to James Varga from miiCard. The miiCard proposition is very simple - it allows you to prove who you are when transacting online. How many times have you opened an account online and not only been asked to fill in lots of details but also to send in copies of bills or cancelled cheques, to 'prove' who you are? This process doesn't necessarily prove anything and is a terrible customer experience. miiCard changes all that by allowing you to use a pre-authenticated identity when applying for or using services online. Imagine you want to apply online for a mortgage; using your miiCard at the start of the application proves you are who you say you are and saves rekeying lots of information. Both parties gain from a simpler, more secure, application process. Or on a dating site, wouldn't you rather date someone who has proved who they are? Or buy on auction sites from people you know you can trust?

How does miiCard work? When you set up your account you enter your online banking credentials which miiCard uses to identify you as the owner of the bank account. That bank account will have been opened using identity documents and now that identity is used to create your miiCard. Your personal data is secure at all times; miiCard never actually sees it and it is not stored on any system. miiCard uses Yodlee, who have many years experience managing financial transactions, to handle the bank authentication process.

Once miiCard goes live on service provider websites, consumers will start to see the value in having a miiCard. miiCard brand awareness will also increase as consumers start to see it on more and more websites. In the early days I can see accepting miiCard being a competitive differentiator; availability of a miiCard authenticated application process would certainly make me more likely to use a particular service provider.

This video gives a nice summary of the miiCard proposition.

Incidentally, miiCard stands for My Internet Identity Card. You can follow miiCard on Twitter at @miicard.

You can sign up for miiCard here.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Why are the banks looking backwards?

One interesting result of the UK banking crisis has been the availabilty of two pools of bank branches from The Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group; both banks having been forced by the EU to sell branches as a condition of state aid. Santander was the successful bidder for the RBS branches and The Co-operative Bank appears to have beaten NBNK for the Lloyds branches. Also, National Australia Group is apparently open to offers for their Clydesdale and Yorkshire branches, creating a third opportunity for a bidder.

What is curious about these branch disposals is that organisations are interested in acquiring not just customers with their loan and deposit accounts but the physical branches as well. What is the purpose of bank branches? Once they were the only way to engage with your bank but in 2012 consumers can manage their accounts via the Internet or on the phone. Yes I do sometimes go into a bank branch to deposit a cheque, but that's only because the banks have yet to come up with a simple, consumer friendly, person-to-person payment service. Bank branches appear to exist primarily to service outdated payment methods and allow banks to sell more products to consumers, who'd much rather not be there, standing in a queue, in the first place. They are a costly overhead for banks which should focus on delivering relevant products and services to consumers where they need them, not in buildings that most of us would prefer to avoid.

If you examine what day to day banking means to most consumers, it's about knowing how much they have in their accounts and making payments. These activities should be carried out in the most convenient way possible; which means via devices consumers use every day - their phone, their laptop, their iPad and so on. Banking should be contextual and adapt to a consumer's circumstances. Some banks have made a reasonable attempt at creating consumer centric Internet sites and mobile apps, however these channels are still an extension of and not a replacement for the branch. Plus, access to new services should be a simple process from any convenient device without the need to fill in long application forms.

The move to contextual banking has been best summed up by Brett King of Movenbank - "Banking is now something you do, not somewhere you go". This tenet underpins Movenbank's whole approach to banking and will be at the core of their services when they launch this year.

Will traditional banks embrace the opportunity or continue to focus on an expensive and dated infrastructure?

Blog Archive