“This is a first from Union Bank,” Folorunsho Orimoloye, Head, Alternative Channels, Union Bank, said many times during his presentation at the Union Bank mobile app launch in July 2017. He was referring to some of the features contained in the new Union Bank mobile app. None of them was particularly new, just that they had never been integrated into a banking app before.

For example, the ‘Request Agent’ feature that allows users locate Union Bank field agents who can help them make withdrawals or deposits is a new innovation for any Nigerian bank, but it is also the idea on which Uber, the ridesharing service, built its core business. (Although the agents are only available from 8 am to 5 pm.) Through the feature, users can request that the sales agent pick up cash from them for deposit (a maximum of 25,000 naira) or withdraw cash on their behalf. To ensure security and guarantee trust, Union Bank will bear the risk; so, when a customer requests that an agent come pick up their cash for deposit, the agent enters the details of this transaction immediately so that the customer receives their credit alert right there, then the agent will leave to make the deposit. The agent can also help the user open a new account. These are all actions that erstwhile required a person to visit a bank branch; that requirement has now been eliminated in favour of convenience.

Union Bank mobile app's Request Agent feature

Another ‘first from Union Bank’ feature that I found interesting is the ‘Locate an ATM/branch’ feature because it solves an actual problem. There are weekends when you urgently need to withdraw cash but don’t know which ATMs are functioning, this feature alleviates that problem. Apart from letting you know where an ATM is located, the feature also tells you if the ATM is online and dispensing or not. Furthermore, the app will direct you to the exact location of the machine using Google Maps.

Union Bank mobile app's Locate an ATM feature

Other interesting features on the app, include the ‘Hot Deals’ and the ‘Cardless Withdrawal’ features. ‘Hot Deals’ offers users discounts on select services such as British Airways, 87 Origins, Emirates, and Cookie Jar and Gourmet Bakery. I expect Union Bank to expand this list in the future.

Union Bank mobile app's Hot Deals feature

The ‘Cardless Withdrawal’ feature allows users collect cash from any Union Bank ATM without their debit cards. Using a transaction pin you create by yourself, along with your account and phone numbers, you generate a token which you then use to make the withdrawal at the ATM. This feature was previously available on ATMs and a few secondary payment services, but not on any banking app.

Union Bank’s mobile app already covers the basics: bank transfers, in-app account opening, and bill payment. I find the attempt to make the app ‘all-encompassing’ by adding ‘News’ and ‘Weather Forecast’ rather unnecessary. I don’t need a banking app to read the news or check the weather report, every smartphone running on iOS or Android already has those. But the claim by Union Bank that they did extensive research and talked to focus groups consisting of their customers while developing this new app is evident in the simplicity of the interface and ease of use. The ‘first from Union Bank’ features are also thoughtful, add to that the security the bank guarantees all those using the ‘Request Agent’ feature.

The mobile app shows why it is important to listen to the customer because if they didn’t, it’s hard to see how they could have come up with the ideas they did. No other bank in Nigeria has these unique features integrated into their app. A lot of them do well to cover the basics, some even add extra features, but very few of them address the kinds of problems that Union Bank has addressed with its app. Stanbic IBTC does well in this department by including its ‘Mutual Money’ service on its app, allowing its customers to monitor their mutual money funds directly from their smartphones. However, that is only possible after a customer has walked into a Stanbic IBTC branch to fill a form; this feature will be more appreciate if the process couldn’t be completed entirely on a smartphone.

That said, I’m still waiting for the day a Nigerian bank will integrate budgeting into their mobile app. The idea is that since I already have all or most of my money deposited in a bank, and I already have their app, why can’t I budget directly from it and impose stringent spending measures on myself? Why can’t I just split my money into categories on the app and use specific features to ensure I never spend money meant for groceries on paying phone bills? Hopefully, someone picks this up soon enough.

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