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Thursday, 18 March 2010 16:43

UBank to launch mobile banking this year

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NAB online banking offshoot UBank, which set up a five minute online savings account last August, plans to offer its first mobile banking service later this year.

According to Gerd Schenkel, UBank general manager, while the organisation is now 'writing positive income and working toward becoming cash positive' - which is banker-speak for 'we haven't quite got back what we invested in setting up UBank' - the organisation was already looking at additional products to offer online, and also at new distribution channels.

'Mobile is probably the next step for us. There will be a mobile platform sometime this year as we follow customer demand,' said Schenkel.

Users should not however expect a cut down version of the UBank website for phones, as Schenkel stressed that UBank did not plan 'to migrate the website to a Blackberry or iPhone.' Instead UBank was trying to determine what banking activities customers wanted to perform from a phone - whether it was to enquire about their balance, or execute a transaction for example. 

The bank would then develop a service to meet that requirement.

UBank wasn't the first to offer Australians online account applications, but still offers one of the more streamlined services as with little more than a driver's licence, Medicare card and a couple of personal details, a new USaver account, even for non NAB customers, can be set up in less than five minutes.

Schenkel explained that customers who needed to call the bank's call centre should also expect a different experience, as unlike many call centres which interview candidates for about half an hour, UBank subjected candidates to a four hour audition. This was intended to find out whether call centre operators 'have the ability to make an emotional connection with customers.'


Schenkel - something of a pin up boy for banking innovation in Australia, and surely the only bank general manager in the country to hold a Masters in robotics - was speaking at the first Financial Services Forum organised by the Australian Information Industry Association. The AIIA has formed the special interest group under the leadership of Carlisle Partners principal Charles Lindop.

According to Lindop the financial services sector spends almost $2 billion on research and development each year - with 98 percent of that spent on ICT.

With the financial sector being the single largest corporate spender on ICT in Australia, investing billions of dollars on ICT each year, forging stronger ties between the peak industry association and its members' largest customers seems only logical.  Just over 100 people attended the first event, although vendors significantly outnumbered financial sector attendees today.

Joining Schenkel on the platform for this first session were Steve Coles, the chief information and business improvement officer of insurance firm Allianz and Michael Walters, a director of payments and cards consulting firm Edgar, Dunn & Company.

Although Lindop remains optimistic about the innovation in the sector, Walters said much innovation from the traditional financial sector today was focused around channels rather than product.


Concentrating his comments on the payments and cards area Walters said that there was now 'A little less innovation, and a little more adaptation.'

He said that Australia had one of the most dynamic industries in payments in the 1990s, but that he had been disappointed over the levels of innovation in the last 5-10 years.

He added that; 'Innovation is not coming out of the banks but from fringe players because of regulatory reform which is opening the market.'



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