Moving with the times: wearables suit next-gen banking

Using an Apple Watch or Android wrist device to check a balance or move money between accounts is so cutting edge most consumers haven’t even thought about it. In fact, most financial institutions are yet to formulate a policy. They are waiting to see if wearable banking is worth investing in.

Fortunately, a few pioneers are proving wearable banking works. Nationwide Building Society launched the UK’s first banking apps for the Apple Watch and the Android suite of wearable devices, and the response has been sensational.

The app builds on Nationwide’s mobile banking app, which pioneered a number of useful functions alongside the ability to check balances, move money, pay bills and manage overdrafts. For example, Quick Balance gives customers secure and immediate access to their account balance without logging in. Since June last year, Quick Balance has been used more than 51 million times, proving how much customers appreciate the speed and ease of the service.

The wearable app includes this function, which can be voice activated. No need to input a password. Just command Siri and your balance appears on screen.

The wearable app makes it even easier to check your balance and make decisions

Nationwide also invented the Impulse Saver. It’s based on the idea that putting a few pounds a day into a savings account can add up to big money in the long run. When a customer thinks of nipping out for a coffee and blowing £5 on a latte and chocolate-chip cookie, they can use Impulse Saver to forgo the treat and ping the money from their current account to a savings account.

Again, there is no need to log in, so the transaction can be truly impulsive – hence the name. Though not yet available on wearable devices, the Impulse Saver app was a hit on the mobile app with more than £10 million transacted so far.

“When you help customers get easier access to their money and financial information, they really feel much more financially empowered,” says Barnaby Davis, group retail strategy director at Nationwide.


“The wearable app makes it even easier to check your balance and make decisions. In the old days you’d get a paper statement and look at your balance once a month. With internet banking you might log in twice a week. Now you can check instantly. And you can make a decision on whether to save more or spend when you are in a shop. The wearable app changes behaviour.”

The biggest use for wearable banking may be payments. The UK has already seen contactless payments go mainstream. Enabling phones and watches to handle the contactless transaction is the next step. Apple Pay is exploding in popularity and Nationwide is at the forefront. Customers can use iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2 and Mini 3, and the Apple Watch to make payments.

“There’s no rooting around in a bag or pocket to pay,” says Mr Davis. “Apple Pay is quick, simple and secure. Putting it on to a wrist with the Apple Watch makes perfect sense and is already a hugely popular part of wearable banking.”

Logic of innovation

 A question that keeps popping up is why Nationwide is the leader in wearables. After all, it’s a sensible, stable and rather cautious mutual. Not an obvious candidate.

In fact, Nationwide boasts a string of firsts. It was the first to launch internet banking in the UK. It was the first to launch video meetings for mortgage applications. It recently developed a round-the-clock service on Twitter, capable of helping customers in the manner of a professional contact centre. And now it’s the first to launch apps for Apple and Android wearables.

So what’s going on? “We don’t say we want to be the first at everything,” says Mr Davis. “Only first with things our customers are going to value. You can see an incredible desire on social media for mobile and wearable services.”

One innovation leads naturally to the next. “Our wearable app is based on what we learnt from our mobile app,” he says. “For example, we saw how popular Quick Balance was on mobile, so we ensured it was part of our wearable app.”

Nationwide employees play a big role in shaping new products. Earlier this year a mass trial of the N.Band contactless payment wristband was conducted by employees. The lessons are invaluable. “Colleagues were sorry to lose the N.Band when the trial ended,” says Mr Davis. “We gained a lot of insight from the project, which we have taken to our Apple Pay and Apple Watch app.”

Does Nationwide see wearables as heralding the end of traditional banking? Absolutely not. “We are investing £500 million in our branches over the next five years,” he says. “We see wearables and mobile apps as completely complementary to branches, and they work alongside telephone banking, our Twitter service, video-conferencing and the internet. The same is true of payment. Apple Pay is great, and will complement cash, contactless, PayM and other services. It’s about providing our members with choice – it won’t replace our high street branches.”

It means there will be continuity for customers, no matter what technologies emerge. Mr Davis concludes: “We start from the goal of keeping customers’ money safe and connecting savers with people who want to borrow money, giving help and guidance along the way. We will stay true to those principles as we develop technologies to make our customers’ lives easier.”

Download the Nationwide mobile app from Google Play Store or Apple App Store