How we carried out our analysis
The subjects we picked for this analysis were six large incumbent banks and five challengers.
The incumbent banks we evaluated were Bank of America, Capital One, Citibank, Chase, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo. And the challengers were Acorns, Chime, MoneyLion, SoFi, and Varo Bank.
We started by looking at each incumbent bank and challenger's user interface as a whole, and at the specific feature set and functionality they offer on web and on mobile.
First, we compared each bank's web and mobile offerings and used our Perfect 1000 scoring system
to quantify how much effort every available user journey requires.
Then we compared each incumbent and challenger bank's overall score to that of the other banks and challengers we picked for our analysis.
Because consistency is somewhat subjective and so tricky to evaluate, we also used our analyst's perspective. Put simply, alongside objective UX scoring criteria, we also took into consideration our personal perception of how similar — or different — each user journey felt for us as users.
So what did we discover?
Drawing the battle lines
Right off the bat, it was evident that incumbent banks and challengers have very distinct approaches to cross-channel design.
Overall, consistency doesn't seem to be a priority for incumbent banks.
By contrast, most challengers we evaluated make an effort to create a consistent user experience across their web platform and mobile apps.
Most challengers we evaluated make an effort to create a consistent user experience.
Let's look at our findings in more detail.
How incumbent banks approach web and mobile app UX design
With the exception of Capital One — which has the exact same number of features across web and mobile and the most consistent cross-channel experience out of the six legacy banks we evaluated — incumbent banks' web offerings are more feature-rich than their mobile apps.
Bank of America, for instance, only supports open banking on the web. Similarly, some of Wells Fargo's personal financial management features, such as budgeting, are only available on their web platform.
Even where functionalities are available both on the web and on mobile, there are differences in how they're implemented. Wells Fargo customers, for example, have to take different pathways when viewing their account details on the bank's web platform and on the mobile app.
Banks' web and mobile user interfaces also differ from a design perspective.
In particular Chase, TD Bank, and Wells Fargo's web interfaces have a more traditional look and feel, while their mobile UIs look slicker, cleaner, and generally more closely resemble challengers' mobile apps.
Cross-channel consistency is key for challengers
Out of the five challengers we evaluated, Acorns, SoFi, and Varo Bank have the most consistent web and mobile user experiences. Their web and mobile UIs are closely aligned, and user journeys are implemented in much the same way across both channels.
Chime's web and mobile offerings are less consistent, with features and functionality implemented in different ways across web and mobile.
And MoneyLion's mobile app is far more feature-rich than the web platform, probably because the mobile app is their main focus, while the web is meant to be secondary.
Consistency doesn't necessarily guarantee a great user experience
Given that, consistency is widely considered a cornerstone of good UX design, we expected the banks and challengers with the most similar web and mobile offerings to have the highest UX scores.
But, far from supporting this theory, our findings suggest the opposite.
Capital One's web UX score is 73 points higher than their mobile UX score, even though their web portal and mobile app have the exact same number of features and a highly consistent user experience.
The same goes for challengers SoFi and Acorns, which, interestingly for digital-first companies, had higher UX scores on web than they did on mobile. Acorn's web UX score is 67 points higher than their mobile UX score, and SoFi's web UX score is 62 points higher than their mobile score.
More significantly, having a greater number of features doesn't necessarily equate to a better UX score.
Case in point, Bank of America's mobile app has a better UX score than its web version — and the highest UX score of any incumbent bank mobile app we evaluated — despite lacking critical functionality.
Good UX design can't be one-size-fits-all
If there's no doubt that cross-channel consistency has compelling benefits, good UX design requires trade-offs.
The web and mobile versions are two distinct channels with differing technical requirements and user needs. So, while you may be able to implement complicated features on the web with relative ease, the limitations inherent in mobile apps mean you simply may not be able to implement those same features consistently without negatively impacting the user experience.
The better approach is to start by understanding the user pain points that are unique to a specific channel and design a user journey that helps customers get from A to B in the quickest, most effortless way possible.
As tempting as it may be to try and replicate the exact same UX across all digital banking channels, that may be neither possible, nor desirable.
Want to learn more about how legacy banks and challengers approach and implement UX across different digital channels?
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