The Great British Mobile Banking Review 2016

By Oliver Smith 18 April 2016

With more of us using apps to manage our money than ever before, getting the right banking app has never been more important.

When was the last time you went into your bank branch?

It’s widely expected that across the UK, Europe and indeed in the developing world, mobile banking will quickly become the No.1 way we manage our money (if it hasn’t already).

The change is already happening in Britain where branch visits continue to fall. The British Banking Association (BBA) revealed branch interactions fell 6% last year to 427m visits while mobile interactions rose to over 895m, a trend that is only accelerating in 2016.

Today huge numbers of high street bank branches are being closed.

Read more: Mobile apps set to kill off high street banks

Last year The Memo embarked on a mission to find Britain’s best mobile banking app. Along the way we explored the pros and cons of mobile banking apps and caught a glimpse into the future of money.

Read more: The Great British Mobile Banking Review 2015

NatWest and RBS took the Great British Mobile Banking Review’s crown, with their innovative cardless cash feature and fingerprint access.

But, 12 months later, with so much having changed in the world of mobile banking, does NatWest still rule the roost? Or are there new contenders vying for the crown?

We went back to find out.

Banking on your wrist

Do you really want your bank account on your wrist?

One of the most surprising mobile banking trend of the last 12 months, and one that we didn’t really see coming, has been the arrival of Apple Watch and wrist-based banking.

Within months of Apple Watch’s debut last April, NatWest, Barclays and Nationwide all raced to launch smartwatch apps with exciting press releases promising they heralded a “digital transformation” for banking.

Disappointingly only NatWest’s Apple Watch app is really worth mentioning today, as both Barclays and Nationwide merely offer you the ability to check your balance.

On the other hand NatWest’s app has grown to include some of the bank’s most popular mobile features, including its innovative ‘GetCash’ feature to withdraw money from an ATM without a bank card and the ability to see recent transactions, all from your wrist.

With Apple Watch adoption still very low and the questionable usefulness of these apps, is the smartwatch the next frontier for mobile banking? Well no, not yet anyway.

Challenging times

You might have noticed that we’ve been keeping a close eye on a number of digital challenger banks over the last year, from Mondo to Atom Bank.

These banks are promising an exclusively mobile experience which covers all of the banking basics along with advanced new features like predicting your spending patterns and offering you smart loans.

Read more: 4 digital challenger banks worth watching

We’ve come up close and personal with Mondo and Atom Bank over the last few months, but for today these banks are still working hard on building the basics.

They will undoubtedly feature heavily in our 2017 Great British Mobile Banking Review, but today as we look over the mobile banking landscape they just aren’t ready for the prime time, yet.

Biometric banking

“How much did I spend on groceries last month?”

Soon rather than trawling through bank statements for these answers, it might be as simple as asking the question to your smartphone.

In fact for some Santander customers, this is already the reality.

In March the bank added the ability for its student account holders to ask questions directly to their bank accounts, using the Santander SmartBank App, the bank’s first foray into what is called biometric banking.

Read more: Biometric banking has arrived – HSBC dumping PINs for your ‘voice print’

Others quickly followed suit and HSBC has been rolling out voice logins for its mobile app, finally allowing users to ditch passwords and PINs, while Santander is promising to extend voice banking to more customers in the future.

“The voice activated app from Santander is a great innovation, allowing consumers to ask for information about their banking using voice commands,” John Rakowski, director of technology strategy at AppDynamics which tracks the performance of mobile apps in the financial services sector, told The Memo.

Back to basics

One of our big gripes with mobile banking apps in 2015 was their inability to set up new new payees, that is you could only pay or set up new direct debits to people or companies you’d already paid through their apps.

Surely, we asked, isn’t this a core feature that every app should offer in 2015? But last year only Lloyds, Halifax and the Bank of Scotland boasted this ability.

12 months later, after dragging their feet and blaming security fears, Barclays, NatWest and RBS have all finally added the ability to send money to new payees this year.

But, amazingly, Nationwide, HSBC and Santander STILL won’t let you go truly mobile as they STILL don’t support setting up new payments from their mobile apps.

You win some, you lose some.

Your one-stop mobile bank

Speaking of the basics, last year we were impressed by the overall fit and finish of Barclays Mobile Banking app and particularly some of its innovative extras like Direct Call:

“With Barclays Mobile Banking simply hit the ‘Direct Call’ anywhere within the app and the operator who answers will already know your name and account details. It’s a small feature that you might not use often, but when you do it feels like a massive leap forward.”

Over the last 12 months Barclays has travelled the furthest among traditional banks in bringing services from online banking into its mobile app.

Whether that’s adding support for your corporate Barclaycard account, your child’s BarclayPlus account or even advanced current account features like making a mortgage overpayment or monitoring the interest on a personal loan.

With Barclays Mobile Banking app you might never have to go into a bank branch ever again.

At the end of the day that’s exactly what we’re looking for in a mobile banking app. Letting your customers go truly mobile is what every bank should strive to achieve with their apps and it’s why Barclays Mobile Banking is head-and-shoulders above the rest in 2016.

Check balance Make payment to new recipient Send money to a mobile number (PAYM) Apple Watch app Touch ID support
Lloyds, Halifax and the Bank of Scotland YES YES YES NO NO
Nationwide YES NO YES YES NO

Bold = new feature since 2015

The Great British Banking Review 2016 was independently created by The Memo, and supported by AppDynamics.