Savings on the go
Gaining executive buy-in was tricky for a Singapore bank team pitching an app development project with a non-financial ROI goal.
by Sandra A. Swanson | photos by Jonathan Danker/PixSync Photography
(from left) Aman Narain, Richa Goswami, David Lynch, Standard chartered, Singapore
With mobile development, we like working with small to medium-sized companies. The IT vendor has to feel like they own the application, and culturally the organization has to be aligned with ours—otherwise it just doesn’t work.
A lot has changed since Standard Chartered bank opened its first branch in Shanghai, China in 1858.
The financial institution, headquartered in London, England, now has more than 1,700 offices in 70 markets. And the financial services sector has seen dramatic changes in the preferences of its tech-savvy customer base. The number of mobile banking users in the world is predicted to grow from 55 million in 2009 to 894 million in 2015, states a report by analyst firm Berg Insight. And 77 percent of China’s 650 million mobile phone users perform banking tasks from that device, according to research firm KPMG.
To keep pace with customer needs, Standard Chartered initiated a program to connect its services to mobile devices in Shanghai. Part of that endeavor included a project to launch an iPhone app called Breeze Living, a free location-based application that lets customers take advantage of discounts and promotions offered by more than 250 local merchants.
A TOUGH SELL
Early conceptualization for the app began in late 2009. Before it could move into the planning stages, though, the project faced resistance from executives.
“There was a challenge around how innovation becomes mainstream, when as banks we are normally very ROI-focused,” says Richa Goswami, Singapore-based group head of next-generation banking at Standard Chartered. “The thing with innovation is that success is not guaranteed every time. So the bank needs to be willing to test and learn, which is a psyche that most banks don’t possess.”
Standard Chartered has shown itself to be willing to push the boundaries in mobile innovation, she says. But she still had to convince executives her project was worthwhile.
“I spent a lot of time understanding what the customer wanted,” Ms. Goswami says. She studied the role money played in the bank customers’ lives, what trade-offs they were willing to make and how the bank could add value to the user experience.
“I then kept evangelizing the customers’ point of view at the very senior levels of the organization,” she says. “If I hadn’t, then we would not have seen much traction in getting the green light.”
When doubts and cynicism about the project arose in the executive suite, Ms. Goswami notes that she addressed the issues raised not with emotion, but with facts based on research about customer needs.
“I do not take rejection personally and just reminded myself that what we are doing is the right thing for our customers, businesses and shareholders—and that I should keep at it and never give up,” she says.
Ultimately, Standard Chartered saw the project as a means for a foreign bank with little market share and limited physical branch and ATM licenses to increase brand visibility.
What helped Ms. Goswami obtain the needed buy-in was a previous project. Breeze Living wasn’t the bank’s first foray into app development; it followed in the footsteps of an initial iPhone app called Breeze. Launched last May in Singapore, the Breeze app provides bill payment and other mobile-banking capabilities for existing customers.
In contrast, Breeze Living would be available to all consumers. One of the project’s goals was to attract prospective customers to the Standard Chartered brand. Existing customers would receive exclusive discounts, but anyone could download the app and receive coupons for products and services.
The initial project proved popular with local customers, which helped convince upper management that additional mobile apps could have a similar appeal.
The project team determined that it was unrealistic to develop Breeze Living apps for all of the bank’s locations around the world.
“We’re in so many countries, and we realized it would be really hard for us to be able to multiply this in a cost-effective way,” says Aman Narain, Singapore-based global head of online and mobile banking for Standard Chartered.
To streamline the design process for other mobile apps, the project team worked with Frog, an international design firm with offices in Singapore, to create a style guide. That style guide lends an aesthetic consistency to all of the bank’s mobile apps. For instance, the style guide spells out how a “next” button should look within an app. This ensured the software development team in China wouldn’t waste time on such design elements.
In addition, the Breeze app project team shared lessons learned about the development process before the new initiative began. These included:
1. Design guidelines, including microsite designs, for consistency
2. App development practices, including testing and beta versions
3. Strategic guidance to ensure the application can be easily portable to other markets
Eventually, the sponsors were sold on the project—despite the fact that the ROI wasn’t tied to financial gains.
“We believe in a future for consumer banking that is heavily centered around the smartphone,” says David Lynch, group head of consumer bank operations for Standard Chartered in Singapore. “We aim to be at the very core of what is becoming an increasingly mobile lifestyle for many of our customers.”
One of the organization’s strategic objectives is to be at the forefront of app technology.
“There is very strong support from within the bank for us to lead the market in mobile capabilities,” he says. “We have also had great support in embracing the social, location-based and game aspects of the Breeze Living design, because they push the traditional limits of how banking is defined.”
Of course, the potential for profit didn’t hurt matters.
“We have never ruled out commercializing the platform itself, but it wasn’t the primary intent,” Mr. Lynch adds.
The Standard Chartered project team has begun to incorporate agile development techniques into its processes. On mobile software development projects, agile has become de rigueur.
“Increasingly, we have daily scrums, where you have the development team and the project managers all together, sitting in a circle with lots of sticky notes and planning out where they are in the development cycle,” says Aman Narain, Standard Chartered, Singapore.
The quality of the product and the project team’s efficiency are improved because agile supports the idea of constant development, he adds. Team members broke down the project to continually work to make the weakest parts stronger.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
During the prototype phase, team members in China built wireframes for the app—essentially a storyboard that shows the basic framework for the user’s experience, such as where certain types of content will appear on the screen and how navigation will work. The process was simplified because some of those visual elements already existed in the bank’s mobile app style guide.
When it was time to build the application, the Chinese project team chose a small, local company to do the coding.
“With mobile development, we like working with small to medium-sized companies,” Mr. Narain says. “That’s really an important part for us. The IT vendor has to feel like they own the application, and culturally the organization has to be aligned with ours—otherwise it just doesn’t work.”
In Mr. Narain’s experience at large software development firms, team member roles are strictly defined. But at small and medium-sized enterprises, developers are allowed (and encouraged) to provide input.
“Smaller firms love being able to do big projects where they can have an opinion and a say,” he says.
In addition, Mr. Narain wanted to avoid a dispersed project team, preferring face-to-face meetings.
“Picking up the phone and talking to each other is much preferred to email for projects—it builds trust and is quicker at resolving issues,” he says. “Spending time in each others’ offices is an important component.
The response and uptake of the application has been positive, and we are on target to achieve our download KPI (key performance indicator).
You cannot underestimate physical proximity, because app development is a very creative process,” he says.
When working with consultants, the project team made a concerted effort to form a true partnership and avoid an “us-versus-them mentality,” Mr. Narain says. “You try to reduce the ‘blamestorming’ and try to make people jointly accountable for the app.”
The current version of the Breeze Living app is available for the iPhone and uses GPS to identify discounts at nearby merchants.
It also incorporates a social networking feature to let users see—and take advantage of—the coupons their friends have chosen. In turn, users can share their coupons on popular social networking sites, including Renren and Douban.
The app offers several ways to search for coupons, such as by category or “daily deal.” In addition, users can view information on all of the available coupons offered in list form, overlaid on the surrounding city (via Google Maps), or in an augmented-reality view.
Standard Chartered hopes these features will appeal to young consumers and connect with them in a personalized way, which was one of the project’s overall goals. As part of this mission, Standard Chartered added an unusual twist to the project: The bank crowdsourced the design for one of the app’s background screen illustrations. That took the form of a competition launched in March. Design school students and other young designers were invited to come up with a “design to change the world.” More than 200 illustrations were submitted, from 75 design schools in 20 countries.
The testing phase of the Breeze Living app took nearly two months. Face-to-face meetings with developers and an iterative approach (a build every few days) meant that fixes were efficiently turned over.
In retrospect, though, team members spent too long on internal testing at the expense of beta testing, says Melissa Wong, head of remote banking, technology and operations for Standard Chartered in Shanghai, China. She worked as the business project manager for the Breeze Living app.
“During the next iteration of Breeze Living or other mobile projects, we will be more wary to schedule in more beta tests earlier during the mobile development cycle to ensure we can implement as many user-generated changes to the application before going live to market,” she says.
The app became available to the public on 16 March. Three weeks later, more than 2,700 users had downloaded it.
“The response and uptake of the application has been positive, and we are on target to achieve our download KPI (key performance indicator),” Ms. Wong says. “In comparison to our direct competitor’s applications and other foreign banks in China, we are extremely happy with the response rate to the application.”
Media attention has also been favorable, Mr. Lynch says, generating exposure to the brand and meeting the project’s main ROI requirement.
The bank will continue to add new merchant deals to the app, and aims to launch it in other cities in China, beginning with Beijing, Shenzhen and Guangzhou. By the end of the year, the bank plans to launch Breeze Living in India and South Korea as well.
“Development for other markets will use a slightly different project scope,” Ms. Wong points out. “However, it will follow the same project management and development approach as in China. In most cases, the base source code will be used, but iterative improvements will be made to each version of the application and ported into all markets.” PM
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