Extension Opportunities for Financial Services Mobile Apps

When mobile app developers talk about engagement analytics, we’re usually talking about what kinds of things users have been doing inside the context of our apps. This conversation about engagement started to change when Apple launched app extensions with iOS 8. Rather than asking, “What are users doing in our app,” brand leaders started asking, “How are our audiences experiencing our brand on mobile?” But why the change?

iOS app extensions enable brands to provide content and functionality to users outside their core application.

Back in 2014 when extensions were launched, app developers flocked to create Today view widgets (those are the card-looking content blocks that appear when you swipe your iPhone home screen all the way to the left). Since checking balances is one of the primary use cases for banking apps, financial services brands used Today widgets to show users a quick view of their account status without requiring those users to go through the hassle of logging in.

iOS app extensions have come a long way since 2014.

While biometric authentication has made complex login a thing of the past, Apple continues to offer app developers entirely new and advanced extensions that make it possible to expose their content across the operating system, creating opportunities to enhance app discoverability, engagement, and ease-of-use. Not every available extension is relevant for financial services brands, however, if you’re looking for inspiration on how you can extend the features of your existing iOS app, consider these three unique possibilities.

Be Part of the Conversation with Messages

Messages apps became an almost overnight hit because of how easy Apple made it for non-developers to create custom branded “sticker packs” and release a Messages app to the store, no coding experience necessary. But, the Messages extension truly shines when brands develop a custom app for Messages that’s linked to the features, functionality, and content of their application.

Some of the most recognizable names in mobile payments have built Messages extensions that let users complete or request peer-to-peer payments, for example, without ever having to leave a text message thread with their friends. Apple Cash provides one of the most recent examples for how brands can create a unique peer-to-peer payment experience.

Messages extensions work best when their functionality feels like it should be shared with others, which is why peer-to-peer payments have stood out from the crowd. However, financial services brands can do much more with the robust scope made possible through Messages. Shared account holders could send their account balances or relevant account alerts with one another without needing to login to their app. A primary cardholder could use a Messages conversation to add an authorized credit card user. There are even opportunities where members of a shared account can converse about and split up monthly payments for an account to ensure everyone pays their fair share. Some financial services brands have even adopted the sticker approach in hopes that Messages will become a new source of customer referrals.

Make Payments and Pay Bills with Sirikit

SiriKit is one of the most recent pieces of Apple technology made available to third-party developers. While the number of intents that SiriKit is currently configured to manage is still somewhat limited, Apple does make it possible for developers to create app extensions that allow users to pay their friends or their bills just by invoking Siri.

While it may not sound earth-shattering, it’s worth remembering that most banking apps that support bill payments require their users to complete lengthy and sometimes complex forms. These forms can introduce a variety of potential headaches for your users and even disincentivize them from using certain features in your app all together. This is where making bill payments using Siri, for example, could significantly improve your brand’s overall user experience while you overhaul a legacy process reliant on old technology that may be doing nothing more than frustrating your users.

Create Rich Context with Interactive Notifications

At this point, most financial services brands have been using push notifications to keep customers updated on the status of their accounts and to encourage app engagement. However, the simple act of sending a notification barely scratches the surface of what’s possible with iOS rich notifications.

Rich Notifications offer two unique opportunities for brands who are looking to extend content and functionality outside their core apps. First, Rich Notifications on iOS can include Quick Actions—CTA buttons that your users can tap in response to the content of the notification. Let’s suppose that, to combat fraudulent charges, you send your app users a push notification when you detect fraud on their account. When the customer users 3D Touch to expand the notification, he or she could see two buttons, one that opens the app to start a fraud report and one that freezes their credit card.

Second, Long Looks allow iOS users to view and interact with even more rich content without leaving the context of the notification. Just like Quick Actions, a notification’s Long Look is exposed using 3D Touch, and Long Looks can be developed to show the user just about anything, including images, video, audio, and even a completely custom user interface. Your users could configure and submit a payment, transfer funds, pay bills, and much more right from a notification.

These enhancements may sounds like window dressing. However, if you’re already sending push notifications for scenarios when a bill payment is approaching or a transaction was made, for example, rich notifications can significantly shorten the time between a user seeing a notification and ultimately doing something because of it.

The Extensions Universe is Growing, and So Should You

Notifications, SiriKit, and Messages aren’t the only extensions relevant for financial services brands. In fact, Today view widgets are still hugely popular among apps of all flavors, and extensions for WatchKit and Spotlight content indexing continue to help developers extend the possibilities of their apps outside the core user interface.

And, Apple will continue to invest in building extensions that provide incremental value for developers and users. Apple’s newest hardware HomePod, for example, supports just a few of the available intents users can invoke through Siri.

Consider adopting one or many of the available app extensions for you iOS app. You’ll give users more opportunities to discover and engage with your brand on their smartphones and tablets, and you’ll have a better chance of catching Apple’s eye when their teams are making decisions about which apps they want to feature in the App Store.