What instigated the ‘bob World’ issue must have been the drive to showcase a fat user base, the way most fintechs or app developers do. While the manner in which the volume expanded is incorrect, the larger question is whether such incidents are par for the course.
In other words, should super apps be something that banks must aspire to build, and even more, make it function like a separate business unit, generating and handling its own revenue statements and balance sheet?
Ask this question to a banker, the answer you’ll get is a thumping yes, because from a business perspective, it doesn’t make sense to pour crores of rupees and manpower into a vertical if it cannot sustain on its own and contribute to the profits of the bank. In that case, accidents such as bob World are bound to happen. Field or branch employee will have a mandate (and maybe an incentive) to push the number of downloads and usage for their super apps, and selling and mis-selling tend to be the same side of the coin when aspirations are high.
But if the same banker should field this question as a custodian of depositors, the answer would be different. Banks started chasing the mobile banking and super app model because they had lost the game to fintechs on the payments space, and circling a customer on this front means ensuring stickiness for the banking life of the customer. While there is merit to this approach, there emerges a larger point to touch upon – should banks focus on facilitating a customer’s requirements or ringfencing everything that (s)he does with the money? Super apps involve an element of handling personal finance, including insurance and mutual funds, QR payments, travel, movie ticket booking, and what not. These allied offerings are not things that banks must focus on just to ensure a customer doesn’t seek out for other payment services. More importantly, using a super app should be at the discretion of the customer, and not a mandatory part of onboarding a customer, the way a branch banking or net banking cannot be imposed on a customer. To put simply, a super app is a form factor of service delivery and not a product itself. Whenever a form factor is exploited for higher revenues or profit, accidents are bound to happen, and the history of frauds in branch banking that was very common until a decade ago is a perfect example.
In bob World’s case, this was somewhere forgotten in the chase of making it big and profitable. It’s a lesson for the industry, and banks should take a step back to introspect on how they will up their game in an increasingly digital-first banking world, keeping integrity ahead of profitability.