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American Express exec: Serve’s prepaid users over-index on some mobile app features

NEW YORK – An American Express executive at Mobile Marketer’s Mobile FirstLook: Strategy 2016 discussed several challenges and benefits from building mobile solutions for unbanked and underbanked consumers, including millennials.

The financial services institution created its Serve prepaid banking card to meet the needs of the significant number of Americans who do not have a traditional credit card or banking account for a variety of reasons. When the target audience was not engaging with Serve as much as the company had expected, it did some research and discovered how important mobile is to this customer.

“They weren’t as engaged as we thought they would be,” said Milli Doshi, mobile and API product development and innovation at American Express. “We started doing some digging and found that 73 percent of underbanked customers have access to mobile phones – for many it is their main way online.

“Also, 97 percent of millennials have access to mobile devices and nearly half use their devices for more than four hours per day,” she said. “This is a mobile-only customer.

“Mobile app customers are highly engaged. If you take our broad feature set, some over index on mobile.”

Android customers
A significant number of American consumers do not have traditional bank accounts or credit cards because they do have a credit history, often because they are paid in cash. Many are also millennials who have not built a financial history yet.

With this in mind, American Express has ramped up its mobile strategy for Serve over the past couple of years.

At the time, Serve had an outdated Android app.

“The vast majority of underbanked are on Android devices, which is very different from the traditional American Express customers,” Ms. Doshi said.

With this in mind, American Express scrapped its platform and built two native apps, building a service layer using APIs and powering both iOS and Android while adding on a responsive design layer.

“Our Android use skyrocketed and are among our most avid users now,” Ms. Doshi said.

Quick balances
American Express also learned the importance of understanding which mobile features that matter to customers, as customers were dropping out of the app and prioritizing building the features they want.

For example, American Express noticed that Serve customers were frequently calling customer service to inquire about their balance or logging into the app and only spending 30 seconds there, just long enough to check their balance or recent transactions.

Based on this information, the company was one of the first to build a quick balance service for a prepaid card, enabling users to swipe the home screen of the app to see their balance and recently paid transactions.

The results have been promising, with 90 percent of customers who have opted in to this serviced continuing to use it, with some using it more than 16 times per month.

“This is one of the features that drives the most loyalty,” Ms. Doshi said. “It has had a significant impact on our bottom line.”

Another popular feature is the ability to activate an account by scanning a card.

“Customers that come to the app to activate the card are the most engaged,” Ms. Doshi said. “It is a more seamless experience – an image of the card pops up, it helps them with cues and tips that aren’t available in other channels.

“We know that the mobile app channel is very different and want to optimize for that,” she said. “Quick balances is only available in app.”