We asked board member Thomas Schaufler about designing Erste Bank’s online banking platform George

In Austria, banking has not always moved with the times. From the persistence of the transfer slip (Erlagschein) to the popularity of the savings account, progress has been conservative in terms of innovation. So who better to design a burgeoning new way to do banking than Austria’s oldest still existing credit institute, Erste Bank? Perhaps not your first answer.

Experience must be a good teacher, because in late 2012 they founded the Erste innovation lab – the Erste Hub. “The idea was to completely rethink banking, to try things out and be fast,” explains Schaufler. The George online banking system is both a user-friendly interface and a collection of banking and trading tools at each customer’s fingertips. “When we entered the market at the beginning of 2015 it was a big achievement, not just for us, but for the entire Austrian market.”

Today, George has well over 1 million users in Austria and is looking to expand into Slovakia and Czechia.

Designed for Today’s Customer

“From the start, George was an application that revolves completely around the customer,” says Schaufler. When designing the interface, the goal was a seamless integration into the online life their customers were already used to. Of course, in banking, security is paramount but Erste has set out to make it simple and fun.

“People don’t want to see any difference in usability, whether they’re using Google or their bank,” Schaufler maintained. “It just has to be intelligent.” So they launched a beta testing batch of 1,000 customers and 1,000 staffers to get the best picture of what the user wants. “George looks the way it does because of our customers. More importantly, it looks the way the customers want it to look.” Individualization is key, and also an important factor when it comes to security.

No More Brick & Mortar?

In the digital banking market, agile, innovative fintech companies have been rocking the boat for giants like Erste, which is why George was conceived using the strategies of a startup scenario at Erste Hub. Finding a middle ground means both the analogue and the digital customer experience need to be satisfying.

“Just look at big retailers, obviously digital alone isn’t enough. Otherwise we wouldn’t see Amazon starting to build shops. For us, the transformation is simply the other way around.”

Trust is what Schaufler is banking on to keep Erste’s competitive edge with fintech. Austrians still trust their Hausbank and personal adviser to a great extent. “As they should!” Schaufler also sees Erste’s advantage when it come to data privacy, since they are both more strongly regulated and they enjoy stronger customer relationships than fintech companies.

Austrians Bank Digital

A recent study shows that Austrian bank customers are the most digital in Europe. In fact, 53 percent of us do most of our banking online. “Who would have thought that 10 years ago?” Schaufler sees exciting possibilities for monetary transactions in the near future. “There’s Blockchain and cryptocurrencies – many things that have been made possible by digitalization.”

George is a competitive product that will continue to grow, says Schaufler, and they aim to keep surprising us with the new possibilities they create.