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When most companies consider creating a mobile app, the first question they ask is, What's the return on investment? For most banks and financial institutions, it's obvious: They are trying to reduce in-person banking, where you walk in and talk to a teller, because they know that's an expensive proposition in terms of their overhead costs. That's one reason they're all pushing Internet banking so much.
So it makes sense to have people access their accounts through their mobile devices, but anyone who has tried it knows it's just about impossible to use a traditional banking website from a mobile device. You have to scroll all over the place. So banks started creating mobile websites with Web applications designed for smartphone users.
Consider the 'Cool' Factor of Apps
The new trend, brought on by the iPhone, is to move the market in another direction, toward apps. Most of the time, if you have a website designed for the mobile device, then the app is more window dressing than necessity for a small or midsized business. (The larger financial institutions already have their apps in place.)
That window dressing can be beneficial, though. For small institutions, getting into an app store gives you a certain amount of name recognition -- especially for younger users, who have completely adopted smartphones.
Don't Go Crazy for Bells and Whistles
As for tablet apps, tablets are such a new market that it really hasn't defined itself well yet. If you have an iPhone and an Android app, then creating an iPad app seems reasonable, and it can just be a somewhat expanded version of your iPhone app. You'll have additional real estate, and you want your marketing department to figure out what to do with it -- but don't have it overloaded with too many buttons or small images. With smartphone apps, your screen space is very limited, and it's easier to design because there's only so much you can do and still have a reasonable-looking app. With more screen space, you have to avoid the tendency to cram too much in there.
Keep in mind that if an app isn't well-designed or if it's confusing to look at, you'll lose the ROI that you gained by having people not come into the bank to talk to tellers -- because they'll be talking to support people instead.
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