Technology

The app advantage

Published: Apr 2014

Until recently, a large majority of treasurers maintained that they could not see any great functionality benefits from using tablet or mobile applications in their particular roles. Apps simply didn’t help them to do their job better, or offer sufficient benefits to spend time investigating. Add to that a widely held perception, not always correct, that mobile devices are less secure than their desktop equivalents, and it is not that difficult to see why the app breakthrough has taken a while to materialise.

Those initial assessments are evidently changing, though. “It’s an exciting time right now,” says Graham Warner, Global Head of Online, Mobile and Desktop Client Access Products, Global Transaction Banking, Deutsche Bank. “The last time we saw this type of revolution in delivery channels was back in the late 1990s.”

Drivers for change

Part of the reason for this shift might be that software developers are becoming progressively more aware of the richer functionality that can be derived from a mobile app as opposed to a mobile web browser. As these products hit the market, treasurers using them are hastily revising their views. “When tablets first began to become available, banks were initially just sticking with that browser-based format,” says Colin Kerr, who has been working closely with development teams at a number of leading banks in his role as Head of Industry Solutions at Microsoft. Given the larger size of a tablet screen that seemed reasonably logical. But it soon became apparent that there are certain scenarios in which utilising the native software of the tablet or smartphone – such as the ability to receive push notifications – can be used to create fully integrated, actionable workflows.

Chart 1: The benefit of mobile apps vs mobile websites
Chart 1: The benefit of mobile apps vs mobile websites

Source: Compuware

Treasurers are also finding that the dashboard view that comes with an app lends itself well to activities such as analytics, so much so that some continue to use it for that purpose even when they are in the office and have access to their desktops. Although it is a factor, the benefits are about much more than eliminating the need for users to navigate through multiple URLs and logins on a touch screen keyboard to make transactions. There are also opportunities for integration with the treasurer’s desktop software applications, transforming the app into a tool for cross-collaboration. “We are starting to see a lot of interest in that,” says Kerr. “From a Microsoft perspective, Office is pervasive on the desktop and in Window’s tablets so there can be a very natural integration into the Outlook calendar and emails, triggering off workflow scenarios.”

Listen and learn

Sensing the scope of the opportunities native apps offer over web apps, developers have been refocusing their efforts on user experience. It is an important shift. By listening to the market, developers say they have learnt that treasurers do not care to see all their online tools transformed into a single, cumbersome mobile application. What they want instead, the developers claim, are apps specifically tailored for certain core activities, such as authorisation alerting, actionable analytics and the ability to execute simple transactions remotely (see our article on mobile payments for more detail on the latter).

It is those capabilities that now form the main focus for Deutsche Bank’s ‘Autobahn Mobile’ offering. With ‘Autobahn Mobile’, we have started to introduce selected services from our existing 160 online applications of the Autobahn App Market to the mobile space. More Apps will be added throughout 2014 and will soon also be available for iPhone usage. “Clients are becoming more receptive to mobile,” says Warner. “Keeping our clients involved throughout the development of our mobile offering has created an end product with which they are much happier,” he notes. “It enables us to get where we want to be a lot faster. Rather than offering a long list of solutions, which might not be seen as important by the corporate, we’re able to quickly roll out the key functions we know to be the most useful.”

“It’s an exciting time right now. The last time we saw this type of revolution in delivery channels was back in the late 1990s.”

Graham Warner, Global Head of Online, Mobile and Desktop Client Access Products, Global Transaction Banking, Deutsche Bank

Bob Stark, Vice President of Strategy at Kyriba says the TMS provider’s own client research produced similar findings. Like Deutsche Bank, Kyriba asked treasurers how they want to use mobile apps in a professional context and, similarly, found them to be focused on a few key functions. “There are definitely some core things that are really important to them,” says Stark. Above all they want to get visibility into cash – a core activity for treasury teams worldwide – and know that a payment can be both initiated and approved. Finally, they also want complete visibility over reporting. “They just want to make sure that their ability to do their jobs is not device dependent,” adds Stark.

A size that fits

It seems obvious that certain types of devices are likely to be better suited for different functions. Treasurers might, quite rightly, wonder what value they could possibly derive from attempting to analyse complex analytics data on a small smartphone screen, for example. But the mobile medium also includes larger tablet devices which, with screens often comparable to a laptop, are much more suited for complex activities such as analytics. While early movers in the app space seemed to ignore this distinction, there are examples of apps now coming onto the market designed with a particular device in mind. “Choosing the right information to be consumed through the right form factor is crucial to developing apps that the corporate treasury professional finds valuable”, explains Microsoft’s Kerr.

“Most apps designed for corporate treasurers are not only very restrictive with regards to login authentication and permissions, but also have extra features that provide a safety net should the treasurers device ever become misplaced or stolen.”

Colin Kerr, Head of Industry Solutions, Microsoft

About a year ago, the company rolled out a new app developed in-house for the benefit of its treasury team. The Wire Request Tool (WRT), a Windows Phone app that the company developed illustrates perfectly how the capabilities of native apps are allowing developers to do things that wouldn’t have been possible before with web apps. The WRT app checks against the company’s active employee directory and safe approvals list – that details respective authorisation limits – to find the correct person to authorise the transaction and then alerts them to it using a push notification sent to their smartphone handset.

“This is a good example of the right kind of app functionality for the right size form factor,” says Kerr. Unlike a tablet, he explains, a mobile phone is more likely to remain switched on throughout the working day, allowing push notifications to be received when needed. In addition to that, the smaller screen size of the phone makes it safer to reveal private information in a public space. “A tablet is a device that the treasurer might refer back to at certain points in the day, but when there is an urgent issue which requires some kind of resolution, the phone is the ideal way of initiating,” he says.

Is it safe?

Despite the careful measures outlined above, security is often raised by treasurers when talking about apps. Clearly, given the difference in the sums of money involved, a corporate banking app needs to be even more robust than a retail banking app. Banks and treasury technology specialists, however, insist that the apps they release to the market are as secure as they can be. “Treasurers ask about security every time, as they should,” says Kyriba’s Stark. Often the problem is that treasurers are not typically IT experts with an extensive knowledge of computer security, they are just aware there is a threat. In light of that it is important for treasurers to discuss security with both their software provider and their IT teams.

“Sometimes treasurers are educated and come to us with a list of specific requirements which they ask us to meet,” says Stark. “Other times, they will say this is really important, can we have some help from you to understand what we should be doing.”

Nevertheless, most apps designed for corporate treasurers are not only very restrictive with regards to login authentication and permissions, but also have extra features that provide a safety net should the treasurer’s device ever become misplaced or stolen, Microsoft’s Kerr explains. “If a treasurer’s tablet or mobile was left on the train, for example, the company’s IT department would have the ability to wipe all of the data held on the device remotely,” he says. “A thief would be picking up a brick, basically.”

The revolution will be mobilised

It is all very well hearing what developers have to say about their app products, but what do treasurers think? Do those that have mobile access to their treasury software actually use apps much or are they, despite all the reassurance, still questioning the safety of the technology? “I actually use it every day,” says Anita Prasad, General Manager, Treasury Capital Management at Microsoft. Prasad now finds herself at her desk less and yet is still able to approve wire payments using the WRT app designed for Windows smartphone. The app is used by her and executive management with wire approval authorisations. She also finds herself referring back to a treasury analytics app on her tablet at regular points during the day, just to check on how operations are running.

Prasad says that she has demonstrated how she is now able to work away from the office when networking with her peers at conferences such as last years’ Sibos event. Most, she says are very enthusiastic about the technology, even if that is still tempered for some with a degree of caution due to the security question. “Of course, nobody wants to see their face on the front page of the Wall Street Journal because something has gone wrong with an application they were using,” she says. “But we did not take the decision lightly either. We went through vigorous testing and had it in pilot for a long time. What we have found is that there is much greater security in these mobile apps and dashboards on tablets than ever before and this is driving deployment across functions in treasury, finance and business more broadly.”

“We’ve been using it for a year now,” she adds, “and billions of dollars are now getting processed in a far more secure way than was feasible before and in a way that suits the needs of a mobile management team.” Evidently, the lesson that Prasad and a growing number of treasurers are learning is that the key to getting more done at work is, perhaps, giving yourself more to work with.

Five apps for the corporate treasurer

In addition to the various offerings from banks and treasury software vendors there are also a range of apps available in the Apple and Android app stores that the corporate treasurer might find useful. Here we provide a quick rundown of five essentials that no discerning treasurer should be without.

  1. EZ Financial Calculators (iOS, free)

    This app offers corporate treasurers – and other financial professionals – a quick and accurate way to perform many frequently used financial calculations including APR and ROI all from their iPhone or iPad.

  2. Keynote (iOS, £6.99)

    Imagine the scenario. You are moments away from delivering a presentation to a packed conference room at an international treasury conference. Suddenly, important economic data is released that might bolster your address. There’s no desktop computer to hand but that doesn’t matter as last minute edits can be made on the slides saved on your smartphone.

  3. iSpreadsheet (iOS, free)

    No matter what up-to-date, fully integrated, STP-enabling software one buys, treasury will always need spreadsheets in some shape or form. With this app the corporate treasurer can read, edit and save Excel documents on the go.

  4. Bloomberg (iOS and Android, free)

    Staying on top in today’s increasingly volatile markets requires constant vigilance from the corporate treasurer to signs of market stress. There are a range of apps out there providing financial markets news, data and portfolio tracking tools, but few better than this one from Bloomberg. One of the app’s many innovative features is the ability to create personalised views of the news by industry, region or popularity.

  5. CardMunch (iOS and Android, free)

    Treasurers have been using LinkedIn to stay informed with the latest industry trends for many years now. This app utilises the native hardware of smartphones to allow users to take photographs of business cards, which are then automatically added as LinkedIn contacts.

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