Banks Scrambling to Serve Tablet Users

Devin Davis wanted to use his tablet for his online banking. But after one too many botched transfers from account to account -- because of the imprecision of using the touchscreen without an application designed for the tablet -- he went back to his laptop.

"I found myself going to my computer because it was faster, easier and more exact," the Oakland, California resident says. Then a new app came out. Now, he says, the experience is far better.

With the success of Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet on the heels of Apple's pioneering iPad, the growing number of tablet users like Davis who want to do their banking on the device are likely to notice something lacking in the experience.

Of the nation's biggest banks, only 30 percent offer a tablet-specific app, says Mary Monahan, the head of mobile devices research at Javelin Research & Strategies. And that's just for iPad users. So far, none of the banks have a specific application for iPad's Android-based competitors that are gobbling up market share, including Kindle Fire.

For tablet junkies, that means an often frustrating experience. They can either do their online banking through the less-visual mobile portal or through the less-functional website.

Monahan says banks need to serve this space because of demand from tech-savvy consumers. "It's going to revolutionize banking in the same way the smartphone did. The banks have to be ready for this," she says. And there are signs that many will be be moving there within the next year. Software developers hired by financial institutions say they are under pressure to quickly put their clients into the tablet marketplace.

Big banks currently offering iPad apps include Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank and USAA. Bank of America officials say they've tried to stay at the front of the pack when it comes to mobile applications. "It is about providing our customers with a safe and secure way to bank while at the same time providing them with convenience, choice and flexibility," says Marc Warshawsky, a mobile channel executive for Bank of America.

Being something of a cross between computers and smartphones, tablets benefit greatly from applications being written specifically for them so users can easily move through touchscreen menus.

"It's an entirely new kind of device, and needs a new type of user experience to go with it," says Carl Tsukahara, vice president of Clairmail, which designs mobile programs for banks. "It can't be smartphone banking, but bigger, and it can't be a shrunken version of online banking."

Already, Monahan says, 8 percent of consumers have tablets and this holiday shopping season is sure to grow that figure significantly. "There are going to be a lot of Kindle Fires under Christmas trees this year," she says.

One of the main differences with tablets vs. smartphones when it comes to banking is the time users have. Tablet users are more likely to be at home. They tend to be less rushed and expect a richer visual experience.

"We're seeing the opportunity coming alive right before our eyes," says John Flora, director of product management for mobile for Intuit Financial Services. "The demand for it is very high. We have a backlog of customers were are working on."

There are no real limitations for tablet usage, Flora says. It's just a matter of designing the applications to take advantage of all that the tablet can deliver. "They're going to become part of everyone's everyday life," he says.


The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his own. (Editing by Lauren Young and Beth Gladstone)