To get in front of the growing problem of user complaints tied to mobile payments, First Direct is using online video to put a human face on its replies to a frustrated group of customers.

"Mobile payments are growing in importance but it's not an exaggeration to say that customers expect to be able to take a majority of their transactional banking tasks while on the move," says Mark Mullen, CEO of First Direct, a unit of HSBC. Mullen was formerly the marketing director for First Direct before becoming CEO in September.

Mobile payment applications across the industry are struggling through a variety problems that afflict user experience. For example, location-based services sometimes don't work, and security problems have reduced confidence in using mobile phones to execute payments. Google Wallet alone suffered through a difficult year of performance problems and security vulnerabilities for its mobile wallet. The issues at First Direct were not as severe, but were instead related to navigation hiccups and speed, Mullen says.

After a slew of recent complaints about the performance if a wide array of mobile services, including access to credit card and payment information, Mullen recorded a video addressed to First Direct's customers in an attempt to smooth over their concerns.

In the video, Mullen acknowledged the problems and apologized to users. "I've never been a believer in hiding when our customers aren't happy with something we've done," Mullen says.

It posted the video on an internally run social network First Direct calls a "lab." The lab, which the bank has run since mid-2011, encourages users to leave feedback on issues such as its credit card rewards program.


Partly in response to the complaints about mobile service that were registered in the lab and on Facebook, First Direct has embarked on a redesign that, over the course of January and February, will improve navigation and add information and functions for credit card accounts accessed via the mobile app, along with improvements for other mobile banking services.

The video is also on YouTube, but tagged to be accessed from locations where consumers are conversing about the bank, such as the bank’s social lab, Facebook and Twitter, rather than a more general venue. As such, it isn’t searchable under First Direct. The bank says there no plans to publicly list the video.

While the video has drawn praise from users — many people who posted in the lab mentioned it was unusual for a bank CEO to apologize to customers in a Web video — there was some detail missing.

Via mobile, First Direct allows person to person transfers, bill payment/presentment, account transfers and balance queries.  All of this will be improved, the bank says, but it did not specify how.

Many of the user comments posted in the lab last week contended the look and feel of the mobile apps hadn't changed substantially after the earlier upgrades. Also, Mullen's video and the bank did not address mobile payments at the point of sale, a big topic of conversation in the lab.

"Please, please, please add support for [Near Field Communication] contactless payments. It would be awesome to have a small service running in the background when NFC is switched on, thereby allowing me to purchase goods simply by waving my handset at the card terminal. Lloyds TSB and Visa had this working a treat at the Olympic Park, so let's roll it out to the whole of the UK. Tons of retailers have contactless terminals…" posted one commenter on Feb 2. This comment that was "liked" by six other users.

NFC is on the radar at First Direct, and the user comments regarding NFC and other issues would be passed along to developers, the bank says.

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