Commonwealth Bank revealed a slew of tech announcements today, including Facebook payments, a redesigned Kaching app for Android devices and new business banking products.
CommBank also said it will move its banking website commbank.com.au to the cloud with Amazon Web services over the next couple of weeks.
Kaching for Facebook and Android
Kaching for Facebook launches in early January, said CommBank chief marketing officer Andy Lark.
The app lets user send payments to Facebook friends as well as group and event administrators on the social media site. Users can also request payments from friends and keep track of all their Kaching transaction across Facebook and the mobile app.
Users need a four-digit PIN code to log into the Kaching Facebook app, which runs on the bank's IT infrastructure. To confirm payments, users must enter another six-digit PIN sent to them via SMS. The code is also used by the payee to receive the payment. Customers with other banks are able to receive payments, Lark said.
A new Kaching app for Android is coming in mid-December. Kaching had already been available on Android devices but the app was largely a clone of the iPhone version. CommBank heard from Android customers that they wanted an app specifically built for the Android interface, Lark said.
For example, Android users prefer to swipe up and down rather than the left-right swipe, which is common for iPhone users, Lark said. The redesigned Android app also includes tighter integration with Google+, he said.
Updates to NetBank, the CommBank Internet banking site, include sharing payments with Facebook friends and tagging expenses. Among other features, users can upload receipts, add a tax file number, manage investments and send money overseas. A feature letting users set savings goals integrates with CommBank’s backend, allowing the bank to see the goal and make recommendations.
New business products
CommBank next year will release a product called SmartSign that lets business customers execute loan documents without paper, anywhere in the world. Documents can be reviewed, authorised and approved on any computer or mobile device.
A mobile CommBiz app launching early next year lets business customers manage banking with an Apple iPad or iPhone. The app includes NetLock for security. Later in the year, customers will be able to use the app for transfers and direct credits, as well as view customer analytics.
CommBank also revealed progress on Pi, the tablet-like payment terminal announced earlier this year. The “Leo” device that lets stores use iPhones to accept payments is available now, while the “Albert” tablet is still on track for release in mid-2013, said CBA executive general manager of corporate banking solutions, Kelly Bayer Rosmarin.
CommBank has signed up 500 businesses to use Pi, and more than 700 developers have agreed to build applications for the terminal, Rosmarin said.
CommBank plans to release a new iCarte case next year that adds near-field communications (NFC) capability to the iPhone 5. The iCarte is already available for iPhone 4.
The bank is currently “waiting on parts” to build the iPhone 5 sleeves, Lark said. Supporting the new Lightning plug on the iPhone 5 has caused delays in particular, he said.
CommBank doesn’t want to require users to have a special SIM card from a telco in order to do NFC payments, Lark said. ANZ, Vodafone and Visa announced such a service earlier this month. CommBank wants customers to have more flexibility to switch carriers, he said. The bank is looking at other mobile payment technologies besides NFC, he added.
Rosmarin said a difficulty with NFC is herding together phone carriers, manufacturers and Google. “We’re ready to go,” she said. “It’s really a matter of getting the rest of the ecosystem ready and embracing NFC technology.”
Windows and BlackBerry
CommBank is focused on iPhone and Android, but is “watching Windows with a lot of interest,” Lark said. CommBank will be watching the upcoming BlackBerry developer conference, but that platform is “a big question mark,” he said.
“If you look at the market share numbers today in Australia, they point in two directions, and that is Android and iOS for mobile smartphone devices,” Lark said. However, Microsoft is a partner and has the advantage of a strong ecosystem, he said.
The bank is working with Microsoft to determine how to offer and optimise its products for the Windows platform, he said, estimating it could happen in “the next 12 or so months.” However, “it’s not a cheap thing to do,” he said.
There may also be opportunities with Microsoft to bring a CommBank product to the Xbox gaming system, he added.
AWS and the cloud
CommBank has wanted to move its website to AWS for years, said the bank’s CIO Michael Harte. It’s doing so now because Amazon is finally offering the required scale and resiliency, he said.
“We will continue to look for those cloud service providers to host anything we can because we have better things to do with our money,” Harte said.
That doesn’t include customer and other more sensitive data, which CommBank “will not let out of our control,” Harte said. “Data sovereignty is important. Data privacy and security is important. And from our business model of trust, we will never compromise on that.”
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