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Westpac integrates augmented reality into bank account management

Historically, augmented reality’s utilitarian use case in banking disappeared once consumers reached a branch, but Westpac New Zealand has extended the technology to support account management within its mobile app.

Westpac New Zealand is among financial institutions embracing the mobile and social revolution as transactions are more frequently executed through mobile devices. Its implementation of augmented reality adds a new dimension to mobile banking that has not been introduced before, as several banks have previously introduced AR apps but solely to enable customers to find the nearest branch or ATM by looking through the camera feed on a smartphone.

“Not so long ago augmented reality was considered a futuristic prop in the movies but a growing number of people believe it has the potential to change our lives as much as the internet and mobile phone,” said Simon Pomeroy, chief digital officer with Westpac.

“From the moment we saw the concept for this app in our crowdsourcing competition in the United Kingdom and started to develop it the impact augmented reality can have in adding a new dimension to mobile banking became apparent.

“This is the first time it has been used for account management in banking and we see a number of possibilities for it in the future,” he said.

New implications
Once a user downloads the Westpac app, relevant banking cards are registered and the account is active. Customers merely have to slide their credit or debit card under their phone which activates the camera. Balances, transaction history, spend locations and other information is then presented in 3D bar charts showing how the money was spent – say in travel, food or utilities.

It also summarizes loyalty points, flags how many days left to pay a bill, and allows for payment on the spot.


Because it only works with a customer’s authorized cards, in the same way as linked accounts in online banking, one person’s registered app cannot read another person’s credit card.

The complementing Web platform also enables customers to do about 90 percent of the activity that currently requires a visit to a branch online, including originating loans, and will be fully responsive, meaning it will deliver the same functionality on any internet enabled mobile device. Westpac New Zealand will be one of only a handful of banks in the world to deliver this capability and the only one in Australasia.

The app was the winning concept from the bank’s crowd sourcing initiative, The Westpac Global App Challenge – UK that asked developers and others to present ideas that solved a personal pain point or ongoing problem with banking experiences. It will be available to customers in September and further development for future updates include payments and transfers between accounts and making the hotpoints rewards catalogue available.

Hotpoints rewards

Westpac is also working with Samsung and Apple to implement fingerprinting authentication for online banking login in future smartphone models and has also launched Google Glass trials and rolled out a smartwatch app.

Feeling the pressure
Banks have been engaged in a technology arms race in recent years, as a number of incremental techno-driven banking facilities, including bumping phones and using Facebook to pay another party, are becoming commonplace.

Banks are also feeling pressure from non-traditional players, with a number of payment and virtual wallets, such as those that process bitcoins, vying for a slice of transactions that bypass traditional banking.

Standard Chartered in China has applied AR in location-based coupons about deals available to customers through partnered merchants.

Standard Chartered Breeze platform

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia has used the tech for property search to deliver data such as current listings and past sales mapped to a real world view through a smartphone’s camera.


Additionally, ING in Italy and Bankinter is Spain launched an AR service that gives customers the faculty to point their camera at a specific area and receive information and routes to the nearest branch or ATM location, overlaying directions onto real-time views the surrounding areas.

Similar tech application

It is valid to question the ROI on some of these apps, beyond the short-term cool factor. Certainly, branch and ATM locator tools have value, but is AR the best way to help people with their objectives or would a GPS-based solution with live mapping be better? And can a bank provide better utility, a better app — with a specific and limited focus — than try to compete with the omnipotence of Google, which can not only locate branches but guide consumers there by foot, car or transit, and show street views the whole way?

While a lot of customers might download and try an app, unless it serves a really useful purpose, they will not try it again. And with banks looking to further utilize sensors and other features of smartphones to meet consumer expectations, self-service is undergoing a digital renaissance.

If banks do not grasp the need for true self-service, they will face backlash, as they are now the victims during a new age where consumers control who and what stays or goes.

“The world is changing, customers want access to all of their banking, 24/7, on all their devices,” Mr. Pomeroy said.

“[In] our industry we’ve spent 200 years perfecting the art of physical [banking]. It’s always been the customers’ money, and for a long time we dictated how they got access to that money.”

“It’s not going to be long before we become victims,” he said.

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York