Online banks struggle to stay connected with younger mobile users

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Direct banks, such as Capital One 360 and Ally Bank, may be disrupting retail banking, but a recent analysis suggests that they are also struggling to keep up with shifting customer expectations around their mobile channels.

Customer satisfaction with direct banks’ mobile channels has fallen from last year, according to J.D. Power’s new direct banking satisfaction study, released Thursday. The firm further found that direct bank customers’ awareness of and engagement with basic functions they could perform in the mobile app had also declined.

Paul McAdam, senior director of J.D. Power’s banking practice, said that these findings point to rapidly shifting customer expectations, not a lack of tech savvy on the part of customers.

“We know customer expectations are constantly increasing regarding the appearance, ease of navigation and the range of tasks that can be accomplished using mobile apps and mobile websites,” he said. “This is true in banking and in many other services across the economy.”

He said the dip in customer satisfaction with direct banks’ mobile apps was mainly due to declining satisfaction among consumers under the age of 53. Gen X and younger customers were less satisfied with factors like the appearance of the mobile banking interface and ease of navigation, the firm found.

J.D. Power’s findings imply that those digital-only institutions aren’t just competing with other banks. Consumer use of other apps, like Uber or Seamless, is influencing customers’ expectations in the banking sphere as well.

Direct banks earned an overall satisfaction score of 863 out of 1,000 points in J.D. Power’s latest ranking, compared with traditional retail banks’ overall score of 806. Direct banks also scored higher than their traditional counterparts for service across all other banking channels, including websites and call centers.

On mobile banking, however, direct banks held the narrowest lead over traditional retail banks, earning a score of 864 compared with traditional banks’ score of 850. Last year, both direct and traditional banks scored 872 on satisfaction with mobile channels.

J.D. Power also found that direct bank customers’ awareness and usage of various mobile banking features had declined year over year across every single feature the firm tracks, including bill pay and person-to-person payments.

“Whenever we see lower levels of engagement with mobile banking features, we almost always see lower satisfaction scores because more engagement means higher satisfaction,” McAdam said.

Additionally, J.D. Power found that a majority of direct bank customers considered the direct bank to be their secondary banking relationship. Among the 2,709 surveyed for the study, 43% said their primary checking relationship was with a direct bank.

McAdam said when the firm looked at that 57% whose primary banking relationship is elsewhere, it found that three-quarters of those customers did their primary banking with Bank of America, Chase or Wells Fargo.

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