The Best and Worst Banking Apps and How to Use Them

Estimated read time: 6 minutes

In some ways technology has leveled the playing field for finances. Everyone with a smartphone and internet connection has access to the same financial tools, more or less. But access isn't the same thing as success. Some mobile apps will simplify your financial life for the better while others make a trip to the nearest physical branch sound appealing.

If you're wondering which mobile banking apps soar and which ones flounder, look no further. Here are some of the best and worst mobile banking apps out there.

Why Mobile Banking?

Mobile banking is worth highlighting for three reasons. For one, it's incredibly popular. Last year, the Federal Reserve said more than 40% of people with a cell phone used mobile apps. Secondly, that popularity will only increase as more people learn the extensive capabilities of mobile apps. You can make financial moves from the comfort of your couch, or check in on your accounts during a quick break at work.

Each bank's app offers a slightly different set of features, but most banks try to put as many tools in your pocket as they can. You can pay bills, make transfers, open accounts, and even make investments with just a few taps of your finger.

How to Use Mobile Banking Apps

Thanks to encrypted messaging and secure connections, mobile banking is about as safe as any other banking method, but that doesn't mean you should ever let your guard down. Make sure you're only downloading official apps that are produced by the banks themselves, and update them as often as possible so you don't miss any security patches.

You'll also want to make use of two-step verification, which requires an additional one-time password when you're signing in on a new device. That password is delivered either through a text to your phone, or an email to your inbox. That way, even if someone gets ahold of your password they still can't log into your account without access to your phone or email. It's also a good idea to install some sort of phone tracking app so if your phone is ever stolen you can find it or delete sensitive information remotely.

Best and Worst

Now that we know a little bit about what banking apps do, it's time to look at which ones do it well and which ones fall short. As with any product, customers will differ on what exactly they're looking for in a banking app, so crowning one app "the best" is somewhat subjective. However, there are key mobile banking aspects that are important to nail, and some just don't hit the mark.

Best Big Bank Apps: Capital One & Chase

Let's start off on a positive note. Capital One and Chase are two big banks that offer stellar apps to support their wide range of services. Chase's app is clean, and users on both iOS and Android phones hardly ever report significant bugs. Similarly, Capital One app users praise the no fuss layout, security features, and advanced bill payment options. Capital One and Chase also offer a wide range of credit cards, so these apps are an easy way to keep tabs on your spending and debt. Capital One's app, in particular, is a favorite among credit card users.

Most Improved Big Bank App: BB&T

Branch Banking and Trust Company has had issues with its apps in the past, but instead of writing off mobile banking, BB&T took the criticism to heart. The app has really stepped up its service, earning itself a place among the best big banking apps. Past faults came from a place of not understanding the mobile banking customer; it offered basic services but was slow to adopt key mobile features like touch ID and landscape views. Now, BB&T is investing more into its tech department, including about $1 billion in 2018. That's actually a trend across the world of big banking. Banks like BB&T may not have recognized the importance of mobile banking in the past, but now they're seeing a meaningful shift to mobile banking across all customer demographics.

Worst Big Bank App: SunTrust

While most big banks are fully onboard with mobile apps at this point, SunTrust still has a long way to go. It's not an entirely useless app, and it gets better reviews than some credit union apps (which often can't afford to spend the same amount on app development). However, users report frustrating lapses in service, including outages during the crucial holiday shopping season. Others raised issues with mobile check deposits. When users encounter problems like these, they say customer service is unhelpful or nonexistent.

Best Credit Union App: Alliant Credit Union

When it comes to credit unions, Alliant's mobile app separates itself from the pack by perfecting standard services and then offering a little something more. The app makes it easy to find an ATM, check your balances, transfer funds, and pay bills. It separates itself from the competition by providing financial planning tools, like graphs and charts that helps users track their spending. It also lets users deposit up to $50,000 worth of checks through the app every day. That's a huge benefit for a credit union, which can't afford to open as many physical branches as big banks.

Most Improved Credit Union App: First Tech Federal Credit Union

With an emphasis on serving the tech community, it should come as no surprise that First Tech Federal Credit Union is working hard to improve its mobile and online banking experiences. In 2018 the bank opened innovation.firsttechfed.com, which essentially lifts the veil and gives members a look into their digital efforts. Members can see and give input on the bank's overall goals, strategies, and recent developments. Since their customer base is tech-savvy, the transparency benefits everyone, and several sites have named the app "most improved" as a result.

Worst Credit Union App: Golden 1 Credit Union

Golden 1 Credit Union can't blame its bad year on buggy updates or feature rollout flops (though users have complained about a recent update). Instead, the bank's app suffers from stagnation. User ratings on the App Store and Google Play have hovered around 3 stars for more than a year, which means it isn't awful, but there are plenty of issues Golden 1 hasn't taken the time to address. In years past, a 3-star rating would have landed Golden 1 in the middle of the pack, but as other banks invest more in their mobile experience Golden 1 is falling behind.

Best Overall: Discover

Finally, here's one app that's doing everything well and leading the industry in mobile experience. Discover is primarily an online bank, and as more customers switch from using their computers to using their smartphones, a superb mobile app is crucial to Discover's survival. Luckily, the bank delivers. The app combines quantity and quality, offering a wide range of services with a seamless browsing experience. In addition to basic banking app functions, you can also freeze and unfreeze accounts when you lose a card, set up travel alerts, check your credit score, and more. That's a great match with their range of different credit card offerings. Users have democratically voiced their approval through App Store and Google Play reviews; the app's average rating hasn't dipped below 4.5 stars on either store.

What Consumers Want

So, what exactly do users look for in their mobile banking app? Everyone's financial goals, priorities, and habits vary, but there are some clear trends emerging in 2019. One of the most important aspects of a banking app to users doesn't actually have anything to do with banking: aesthetics. Users want a clean, satisfying layout that looks good and gets the most important information across in the simplest way possible. Buggy landing pages, blank spaces, and clashing designs will ruin a user's banking experience, even if their money is safe.

What Consumers Don't Want

As far as what users don't want, the answer may also seem counterintuitive. App users don't want to be left alone. That could come across as confusing since one of the points of mobile banking is to cut down on human interaction. A perfect banking app functions like an extension of your mind – you think it, you tap your phone a couple times, and it's done. But in reality all apps have bugs and glitches. Users won't fault banks for that (unless the bugs become excessive), but the banks will take a hit in their ratings if they don't have the customer service to back it up. If a user runs into a problem and is met with silence from the bank, there's a good chance that person will take their business elsewhere.

Mobile banking is only going to become more popular, and the quality of banking apps will keep improving in the coming years. These are the best apps for the start of 2019, but keep an eye out for up-and-comers throughout the year. You never know what new feature will shake up the banking industry or how the established favorites will keep pace with those developments.