Competitors may have been faster to market, but Nationwide has relied on a homegrown approach to deliver across multiple channels.
Tony Prestedge, COO of Nationwide Building Society, is feeling a mix of accomplishment and relief. In November, the UK building society finally joined the app age, with the launch of mobile banking software for iPhone and Android devices — a core service that offers the company’s existing Internet banking customers the ability to manage their money on the go, to check balances, to move funds between Nationwide accounts, and to make payments to existing payees. It’s a project that Prestedge has led personally, as part of a wider, £1.5 billion ($2.4bn) IT transformation program that was already underway when he joined the building society in 2010, but which he has overseen since then. That was in addition to an already full plate: he is also responsible for operational strategy, customer operations, and governance and risk.
Even though many of Nationwide’s financial services competitors are already on the second or third iterations of their mobile offerings, and smartphone penetration among UK mobile subscribers has risen to over 50%, Prestedge is unapologetic about the delayed entry to the market. “We took the decision early on — about 18 months ago — that we would take longer to launch, but that when we did, mobile banking would be properly and fully integrated with our multichannel operations.” In contrast, many rival offerings are standalone apps that offer little more than balance checking.
Prestedge also ruled out the possibility of using packaged software and third-party intellectual property to create the Nationwide mobile banking app, which would at least have had the advantage of speeding up delivery. “It was critical to me that, as a company, we owned the intellectual property around our mobile banking offering right from the start,” he says.
If Nationwide had used a packaged platform to deliver its app, he believes, it might have been too similar to the mobile apps offered by its rivals. “That would not be good for a company that wants every element of its service to customers to be unique and distinct,” he says.
“My other concern was that, if we had used a package, such as Monetise, we’d be committing to a third-party development program in which the technology might not be able to adapt if, over time, the way that our customers want to use the mobile technology changes. I wanted technology that we could exploit for some time to come, without having to look at a replacement,” he adds.
As a result, Nationwide has had third-party help to code the app, but kept tight control over the intellectual property and has built it with future developments, such as near-field communication (NFC), firmly in mind. Prestedge has also committed to an ambitious three-monthly upgrade cycle for mobile banking. “This first iteration is just that — a first iteration. We didn’t need to include all the possible capabilities on day one and we also intend to be led by our customers in terms of expanding those capabilities in future,” he says.
“We’re a building society, and that’s a very special type of organization, but we’re also one with 15 million individual customers, which touches one in four British households,” he says. “What I worry about most is using technology in a way that keeps our brand relevant for all of our customers. Some will still want a traditional passbook, made of paper, but others might consider a digital passbook on their mobile phone — that could be part of our next upgrade, for example. But what I keep in mind at all times is that this is a marathon, not a sprint.”