Why Nationwide's move into behavioural biometrics could revolutionise digital banking

Digital innovation is everywhere in banking right now, especially around mobile. The emergence in the UK of digital-only banks like Mondo and Atom is forever changing how we bank - 'adapt or die' might be a massive cliché in our industry, but in the case of finance it's actually very fitting, writes Robb Green, Creative Director at digital agency Rockpool.

As technology accelerates and digital becomes ever more important, we’ll see traditional brands race to keep up with change and even, in some cases, lead it.

Nationwide Building Society is about to launch a prototype of its new mobile banking app, which has the potential to revolutionise the space.

41% of 18-24 year olds check their bank balances on personal smartphones

Phones have been able to collect and expose data about us for years, but very few apps have taken advantage of the power of that data; Nationwide’s new apps uses ‘behavioural biometrics’ which will track and learn from a whole range of user behaviour: from simple finger swipes to password entries, time of use, and location.

For now, this extra data will only be used to authenticate payments made within the app, but in future we could see it employed as a much lower-friction way of logging into the entire service alongside other methods.


This is clearly the right time for respected, established brands to think smarter about how they use mobile - increasingly, customers expect personalised products and services that speak to them on an individual level, and the technology to facilitate those experiences is ready and waiting.

A recent survey by Accenture found that 41% of 18-24 year olds check their bank balances on personal smartphones, and this figure will only increase over the next five years.

However, in a customer-centric world, consumers expect the products they use to meet ever higher standards. Relevance and personal value are key, and a bog-standard banking app won’t cut it for much longer.

As such, Nationwide needs to ensure these new features resonate with an increasingly fickle generation.

Brands that inspire loyalty and engagement - today - are digital-focused disruptors like Netflix, Spotify and Uber, offering connected experiences that far outstrip their competitors. This bodes will for Nationwide, but tech for tech’s sake won’t win any brand advocates – real customer needs must remain at the heart of all  these features.

There’s not much a traditional bricks-and-mortar bank branch can do that your phone can’t

That being said, there is a clear and palpable need which taps into a larger shift in the banking sector. There’s not much a traditional bricks-and-mortar bank branch can do that your phone can’t, and, according to a recent Tandem study, a third of consumers polled would switch banks based purely on the strength of a mobile app. Nationwide’s prototype could arrive just in time to capture this audience, before Mondo and Atom hit critical mass and usher in the next wave of innovation. 

Staying safe

Data security is an issue for customers across demographics, and the app’s new features will prove to be a powerful way of addressing these fears. TalkTalk’s repeated security breaches, along with similar troubles experienced by other brands, have made safety a key issue for businesses and consumers. It’s certainly not out of the question to conceive that the real uplift in perceived value from Nationwide’s new app will come in the extra security offered by behavioural biometrics, rather than ease of use.

Consumers will need to match a pre-set ‘percentage likeness’ based on previous interactions and behaviour in order to unlock the app’s full potential. These layers of security could have a huge impact on the way we make payments, deposit money or make transfers between accounts.

A step in the right direction

Data’s all very well, but success lies in making it work perfectly and unobtrusively every time. As a rule, consumer’s aren’t keen to give up personal information – even if they’ve given you permission, suddenly exposing how much you know about them can lead to awkward questions, unless there’s a clear benefit. The revelation that iOS tracks users’ locations created a fairly major scandal in 2011.

Google Maps still does exactly the same thing, but because there’s a benefit (it uses the information to make assumptions about where you work, where you live and where you go for fun)and there’s never been a big reveal, they’ve gotten away with it so far.

Nationwide’s app certainly seems like a step in the right direction; the benefit to the user is clear and doesn’t come at a huge cost (in terms of the personal data that feeds it).  Only time will tell whether the app will  gain widespread consumer acceptance and adoption, and whether it will  be seen as a practical improvement (something that makes tasks easier) or an emotional one (something that makes tasks more fun).

Brands can make real headway by aligning both sets of needs, which leads to inspiring products that not only resonate with customers, but also genuinely improve their lives. That’s the point where incremental improvements turn into real disruption, and is almost certainly what Nationwide are aiming for.

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