From fixed to floating: Kiwibank banks on partnership to develop its new mobile apps

Fintech startups are popping up like mushrooms, the big tech players are all eyeing up your money, and customers are demanding better digital experiences from their banks. Kiwibank is all too aware that disruption is looming, so it has adapted its approach to development and is banking on partnerships. 

Inviting in a stranger was an unusual move for Kiwibank. Historically, the bank’s technology department built everything itself, but when the time came to rebuild its mobile banking app, it decided to take a punt, bringing in SUSH Mobile as a partner.

Still, the bosses had concerns: what if the teams didn’t get on? What if the Kiwibank tech team were put out?

They needn’t have worried. According to Kiwibank head of digital and self-service channels, Fiona Murphy, they got on like a house on fire.

“It turns out we’ve got all the right personalities, and they started working away and you couldn't actually tell who was SUSH and who was Kiwibank anymore,” she laughs.

In 2008, the bank had been the first in New Zealand to roll out a mobile banking app, but by 2014 it realised that technology had changed so much that it was going to have to do a major overhaul. The original Kiwibank app was built with hybrid software – rather than building individual apps for Apple and Android operating systems.

“At that time, hybrid apps were the way to go,” Murphy says. “Subsequently, over the last three years, with Apple and Android building out their operating systems to the level they are today, it has gotten harder and harder to build once and deploy onto
both operating systems.”

Kiwibank was having to pick and build for one operating system and then deal with the fact it didn’t always translate well for users, with placement of features and navigation becoming issues. “It became really apparent that we were impacting customer experience,” says Murphy.

 

Building the app with SUSH Mobile was fun and created a model internally for how to work – collaboratively, with a dash of healthy competition. Playful debates and competitions would erupt between Android and Apple lovers over who could build the better experience.

“On the old app we had 7.5 million monthly interactions,” Murphy says. “We launched in December and in February we had 10.5 million and by June 13 million.”

“And SUSH Mobile, because they live and breathe development, they’d go home in the weekend, and when the capability came out for the Apple Watch, by Monday they’d sent me a prototype of what it could look like.”

 

On 1 December 2015, Kiwibank rolled out its new, native apps for Android and Apple. Murphy says the bank decided to roll it out in parts, and didn’t feel the need to make the new app exactly like the old app. Complex, time-hungry builds like the ATM locator and the forex rates instead became links to the external Kiwibank website, with full build going into the pipeline, so the new software could go live as soon as possible.

Feedback for the newly launched app was “hugely positive”, Murphy says. By day three, 73 percent of Kiwibank app customers had downloaded it. One of the app’s new functions was more streamlined login, which reduces login times from up to 20 seconds to under five, making transactions faster and easier. 

“On the old app we had 7.5 million monthly interactions,” Murphy says. “We launched in December and in February we had 10.5 million and by June 13 million.”

The experience of updating the app has had a huge impact on how the tech team works. In a world where banks are increasingly competing with technology companies, not just other banks, Murphy says the partnership model makes a lot of sense. 

“The way to go is not to feel threatened by technology companies,” she says. “They’re doing interesting things and so we need to think ‘How can we work better with the fintech industry?’ There’s real opportunity, instead of being threatened by them, to think about how that challenges the way we work and the way we work with them." 

This story is part of a content partnership with Kiwibank. www.kiwibank.co.nz.