Mobile Banking User Acquisition Strategies to Accelerate Recovery of UAE Banks in 2021

An opinion piece by Paul Wright, Managing Director UK, FR, ME & Turkey at AppsFlyer

As the UAE emerges from what looks to have been the peak of the pandemic, analysts have started to make predictions about the recovery of the country’s banking sector. While the UAE economy is projected to achieve 2.5% real GDP growth this year, in dollar terms, we’re only expected to see 2019 GDP levels by 2023. For this reason, rating agency Standard & Poor’s has stated that the recovery of the banking sector will be ‘gradual’. This sentiment is echoed by Redmond Ramsdale, Head of Middle East Bank Ratings at Fitch who expects the general business and operating environment for banks to remain as challenging in 2021 as in 2020.

Against this backdrop, it is imperative that UAE banks find ways to identify and capitalize on every opportunity. And they won’t have to look far for inspiration — according to a recent article which cited Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BoAML) analysts, 2020 was not a terrible year for Saudi banks and many saw strong loan growth driven largely by the consumer and credit card segment. Retail banks in the UAE could accelerate their recovery by growing their base of customers who are now more inclined than ever towards digital payments, contactless cards, and mobile banking.

It’s clear a number of UAE banks recognize the importance of going digital, and the transformation of the sector has been truly impressive. Today, most traditional banks in the UAE offer slick digital banking options and with the latest announcement about the upcoming launch of Zand — the UAE’s first digital bank — it is probably a matter of time before most, if not all, banks go ‘digital-first’. This however makes it a challenging segment to stand out in.

But in the rush to avoid FOMO, banks can run the risk of failing to create compelling digital offerings that really stand out — ultimately, it is not the volume and variety of digital services, but rather the quality of digital experiences that customers are most concerned with. The reason every bank would like to believe it is a ‘FinTech’ is because customers today have the same expectations of their financial institutions as they do of tech giants such as Apple, Amazon, and Google. In short, they want fast and intuitive user experiences.

And just as they have in so many other industries, mobile apps are arguably the cornerstone in this digital transformation of the banking customer experience. As demand from consumers, with more mobile accessibility and expectations for top notch services on-the-go have grown, financial institutions, both traditional and digital-first, are in a race to remain relevant. Mobile finance, including a suite of activities like banking, investing, trading, and transferring peer-to-peer, has become a lot more personal, and at user’s fingertips 24/7. Beyond accessing banking services, these apps are also a key channel through which customers communicate with their service providers.

But for all the money that banks invest into creating feature-rich apps that are secure and easy to use, they’re only going to see a return on investment, if they can get their users to utilize these apps. So, with mobile user acquisition being critically important to UAE banks in the current economic climate, let’s set a roadmap for success by outlining best practices.

Personalize, personalize, personalize

Personalization of your user’s experience should be a priority, both inside and outside of the app. Emphasize a contextually relevant onboarding process that encourages users to register for an account and set their own preferences. You can also use granular in-app event data to guide users to specific functions within the app, or suggest related products or services for greater upsell or even affiliate revenue opportunities.

Keep messaging simple

While personalization keeps ongoing mobile financial management relevant, it is also important not to overcomplicate the messaging. Given the diverse range of functions available within a single finance app, or across a related family of apps, be intentional about using targeted and simple messages for maximum effect.

The web-mobile combination

Despite the continued growth of mobile finance, users still rely on desktop websites and apps for their digital finance needs. Particularly for banks that embrace the mobile-first approach, it is important to create a sustainable web presence to use as a strategic touchpoint, driving users to relevant, specific functionality where they’re most likely to convert.

Segmentation sweet spots: Scale vs specific

When utilizing advertising platforms such as Facebook and Google to acquire users, it’s worth keeping target audiences broad enough to have sufficient scale for machine learning, but specific enough to find the unique users you’re looking for. Bear in mind that this cap will change per platform and can also change over time.

Follow the funnel

As a general rule, almost all marketing efforts, especially audience segmentation, follow the specific conversion funnel of the app, or suite of apps, given the diverse functionality offerings of mobile finance. However, beyond keeping the app experience relevant for, likely, existing web or offline users, following your funnel also improves the collaboration and communication across departments, leaving less room for confusion and duplication.

Customer adoption of a financial institution’s app is a vital step in digital marketing, as it enables banks to build a picture of the entire customer journey. Using data, it becomes possible to understand, model, and predict user behavior. This allows for profitable targeted marketing, as well as giving insight into how customers are interacting with a service. In turn, this enables financial institutions to efficiently cross-sell banking products to an audience that modelling shows will be receptive to it. This level of mobile measurement of users enhances the relationship between business and customer, increasing the ‘stickiness’ of mobile users. Done well, it can give banks a true competitive advantage and contribute to the all-important goal of attracting and retaining customers.