When Citi launched its Apple Watch app three months ago, it made the tough decision to offer it as a separate download from its Citi Mobile iOS app, rather than integrating it directly.
The alternative would have been to wait several months to offer an integrated app, and Citi weighed both options carefully. Its decision to offer separate apps is reminiscent of the early days of mobile check deposit, when some banks created a separate check-deposit app just to get the feature into customers' hands.
"When you have a feature ready that people are asking for, you want to get it out the door," said Melissa Stevens, global consumer banking head of digital for Citi.
The move paid off. Though Citi Mobile users had to seek out and download a separate Apple Watch app, Citi earned the prestige of being the very first bank to release an app for the new smartwatch.
The separate-app approach lingered until last week, when Citi announced a unified app. From then on, the Citi Mobile app would be able to communicate with Apple Watch without requiring a separate download.
Not unlike other companies, and those in financial services, Citi is constantly seeking ways to bring multiple apps together and respond to customer feedback to determine what features they value the most.
"We can't operate in a world where it takes a year or more to get a product out there that clients definitely want and would find great satisfaction in having," Stevens said.
In addition to integrating with Apple Watch, the new Citi mobile app allows users to add or modify payees for bill payments; it allows credit card payments through a "make a payment" button on the account summary page; leverages the iPhone camera for an auto-capture featured within the mobile check deposit feature; allows users to set up real-time notifications of spending over a pre-set amount; allows deeper searches of transaction history; and includes a new ATM finder. It also supports Touch ID fingerprint authentication.
The pace at which Citi has been able to update its mobile app was accelerated by the bank's "holistic look" at technology development, Stevens said.
Such an approach is becoming increasingly important as payment providers interact more with "connected consumers" who favor mobile devices.
"We have actually opened up to a huge number of developers," Stevens said. "Some of those are in companies, some in startups and some are just individuals with great ideas."
It benefits Citi to "get better connected and not be so traditional in our thinking from a financial services standpoint and a digital standpoint," Stevens added.
In that regard, Citi is staying at the forefront of a digital evolution that will pick up even more steam in financial services, said Scott Strumello of New York- and London-based Auriemma Consulting Group.
"Just like we saw with the evolution of online apps that originally had limited functionality, we are now seeing mobile as the latest direction in expanding functions," Strumello said. "Five years from now or less, every credit union and community bank will have powerful mobile apps, too."
If anything, it is surprising that the trend toward mobile financial services wasn't ignited sooner, Strumello added.
"Once upon a time, banks were viewed as stodgy and traditional, but not so much now," Strumello said. "This is the direction everybody is going and they will all be moving much in the same way at about the same speed."
It also helps the banking industry that regulators no longer see mobile and digital technology advancement as "something scary," but more as a place where everyone is going to better serve customers, Strumello said.