Indie Banker

Derek Dyson helps launch popular mobile app

By Michael Blankenheim

When Generations Bank decided to develop a mobile banking app, Derek Dyson was the obvious choice to lead the special project.

He has the formal education, including an unusual bachelor’s degree in financial market regulation, and practical work experience that would, taken together, allow him to manage all the necessary research, compliance issues and technology requirements, says Shelley Tafel LaFave, the bank’s vice president and CFO.

At 23, Dyson is also part of the young demographic the community bank in Seneca Falls, N.Y., planned to target for its mobile app. He knows what young customers would expect in a mobile app, Tafel LaFave notes.

Sandra Ferrara, Generations Bank’s vice president of retail and marketing, put it this way: “Derek is incredibly smart and talented, and he knows the tech.”

Branded as “mygenmobile,” the mobile app that Dyson and a team of other co-workers created is a clever and successful product. Released to the bank’s customers and into the vast digital ether this past January, the app had 830 users by mid-October, more than twice the number of users the bank had anticipated by then.

Some additional performance benchmarks for the $265 million-asset, 143-year-old community bank’s mobile app are these:

  • More than half of the app’s subscribers access it at least 10 times each month.
  • The app reaches new customers that the bank’s online banking platform did not.
  • Overall bill pay subscribers are up 29 percent, and the bank’s bill pay transactions have increased 17 percent since the app was launched.

Primary users of the app—versions of which are available for Android phones, iPhones and tablets—include young adults and middle-age folks in their early 40s. Their feedback, according to Dyson and others at Generations Bank, has been incredibly positive.

“All this illustrates that our customers truly wanted another convenient way to bank,” says Dyson, who led a project team that included two outside vendors.

By acting as a mobile version of Generations Bank’s Internet banking service, the mobile app offers a full range of banking functions and features. The ability to transfer funds is there, and so is bill pay. Dyson says those two mobile features are vital because the bank wanted the app’s functions to mirror those provided by its Internet service, to provide seamless capability between the two.

Other features of mygenmobile include the ability for customers to:

  • Chart their balances over time via a line graph;
  • Receive a low fund alert that sends a text message if an account balance dips below an amount set by the user; and
  • Experience what Dyson calls “enriched transactions,” where transaction data can be gathered and presented in more powerfully meaningful ways. An example is that if a customer made several transactions at Walmart, the app can easily be instructed to display all of and only those particular expenses.

“These tools are much more sophisticated than simply showing balance and transaction details,” Dyson explains. “With mygenmobile, our customers have the insights to make better financial decisions and act on that purchase or funding opportunity.”

The building process

Generations Bank’s app development process began in late summer 2012. The project involved a collaborative effort between Dyson, the bank’s entire data support and technology advancement departments (eight people) as well as the bank’s senior management team. Also, eight bank staff members formally tested the app once it was developed.

Generations Bank first looked at five service providers to help develop mygenmobile. Its development team considered cost, the capabilities of each potential mobile app and the ability of each vendor to update and modify its app in the future. Dyson says the vendor list was narrowed down to two companies—Generations Bank’s online bill pay service provider and its core service provider.

Dyson sought a vendor that offers an adaptable app. He notes the interface for mygenmobile has already been redesigned to offer a more intuitive experience for users. “Technology moves so fast in the mobile realm, you need a vendor who’s willing to work with you as the tech progresses—that may or may not be your core provider,” he points out.

The bank’s online bill pay provider, ProfitStars Inc. in Norcross, Ga., was chosen in late November 2012 to develop mygenmobile, in partnership with Banno Corp. in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Banno performed most of the coding and technical work, and ProfitStars provided back-end customer service and marketing support.

Along the way, Dyson says, the project was kept on time and on budget by an “in-depth management process” that included a vendor management assessment, a contract assessment and periodic project audit reports. The whole process took five months, from start to finish. The app development required about six weeks.

Dyson says the vendors required no development money upfront. Instead, the bank structured a back-end deal to pay $1.49 a customer per month. Dyson says the fee depends only on the number of customers who use the application. For example, if the bank had 1,000 customers signed up for mobile banking, but only 800 opened the application within a month, then the bank would be charged for those 800 users that month.

“This cost-point they were offering us allowed us to get into mobile without too much of a financial risk,” Dyson adds.

Securing customer data, Dyson says, is of course a vital component of the mobile banking service. The platform sends all data to and from customer mobile devices using Secure Socket Layer encryption protocol. It also employs multifactor authentication that requires a customer to use a password, a security question and a PIN.

Generations Bank actively engages social media. Its app development team used Facebook, along with face-to-face discussions with consumers, to sharpen its sense of what customers would want in a mobile app. The team also carefully examined mobile apps offered by competitors and local non-competitors.

“We wanted to make sure we would be offering something that was at the very least on par with what’s in our area,” Dyson says.

Ferrara says the bank used a “multi-medium approach” to market the app. The bank sent notices through its Internet banking service, email blasts, highway billboards, postal mailers and wobblers—small advertising cards mounted on bouncy springs that were set up throughout the bank’s nine retail outlets.

Ferrara advises community banks to be proactive in jumping into mobile banking and offering mobile apps. “You’re holding your customers back—and other banks will circle you like sharks—if you don’t have this,” she says. “In today’s competitive environment, it’s no longer an option. It’s a necessity.”

Michael Blankenheim is a writer in Bowie, Md.