Community Banks Take the Lead in Launching Apple Watch Banking Apps, For Now…

As of today, the Apple Watch is available for purchase! Five banks have made the announcements that they will offer banking apps with the release of Apple Watch. Four of five are community banks. The only mega bank is CitiBank. Surprising, isn’t it?

Citi_Mobile_Lite_on_Apple_Watch

Community banks are changing because their customers are demanding technology. Unlike the mega banks, community banks are more vulnerable given their revenue streams are not as diverse (see article here). To survive, change is inevitable and being small can be an advantage as mentioned in a previous blog. With the announcement of the Apple Watch prototype in September 2014 and the deployment of developer toolkit, called WatchKit, on November 18, it gave Citi about 120 days to create an app. A bank insider commented that “it would have probably taken at least twice as long before the bank deployed its more aggressive development stance.” Evidently, it took a major overhaul of Citi’s development efforts to make it happen.

On the other hand, most community banks are fighting a different set of challenges. While being smaller institutions allow them to move quickly, smaller banks face a heavier reliance on vendors and lack resources to develop the most wanted features or brew up their own software fixes (see article here).  The most common approach according to the Top 10 Community Banks IT Initiatives surveyed by American Banker is that they forged intimate relationships with their vendors to help accomplish their most crucial innovative tech projects. Many of these projects were firsts not just in the community bank space but in the U.S. banking industry overall. For example, WinTrust Financial, a local Chicago bank, is the first bank in the U.S to enable customers to get cash from ATM using a mobile app instead of a physical card. There are challenges that face both big and small financial institutions. Apple Watch is an example of a growing “leveling of the playing field” to help smaller banks compete with the bigger guys on these sorts of innovative customer experiences. Being big doesn’t mean winning, and vice versa. If community banks are able to find their niche in the digital world and adapt quickly, it is likely to create significant growth opportunities.

Tammy Wu is a manager in West Monroe Partners’ West Coast Banking and Credit Unions Practice.  For more information on customer experience and target operating model strategies in the financial services industry, please contact her directly at twu@westmonroepartners.com.

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