Tim Mitra remembers what banking used to be like when he was in college: if you needed money, you had to get it from a bank teller Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. If you needed money in the evening or on the weekend? Sorry, you would just have to wait it out.

As an iOS Engineering Manager for a global bank, today Mitra works to ensure that customers can conduct their banking transactions whenever and wherever is most convenient for them. Of course, it takes more than just coding an app and calling it a day. Mitra, who is also the founder of iT Guy Technologies, works to understand the needs of users so that the app adapts to their needs instead of forcing users to adapt to the app.

On the most recent episode of our podcast, Decoded, I talked to Mitra about what he’s learned about the art and science of building mobile banking applications.


The Right Tool for the Job

Mitra came to his career as an iOS developer the long way. Working as a commercial artist in the 80s, he began to explore how to use technology to replace a lot of the manual, labor-intensive work involved in creating large-scale drawings. This led him to a Mac running Illustrator and Photoshop. As he explained:

“Within three or four months of having a computer at my desk every day working on it, I started to think to myself, ‘What more can I do with this?’ I wanted to find out how I could break the mold. I was never satisfied using the apps the way they were intended.
“I’ve always been creative, an outside-of-the-box thinker, so to me using the Mac became a tool. I saw it as just another knife or paintbrush or whatever.”

From Art to Apps

By Mitra’s own admission, the last place he thought his career as a developer would take him is to a bank. As a dedicated Mac user, he recalls,

“There was a stigma in my office because Macs were toys. I was doing creative, artsy stuff while they were doing serious work on IBM mainframes.”

However, as banks have evolved from bankers’ hours to becoming 24/7-accessible operations, people like Mitra are invaluable for being able to use creativity to understand the needs of customers while also having the engineering skills to create the product.

“We debate this all the time at work. You must accommodate the desire to add all the shiny new features while still serving the client, which at the end of the day is the guy who’s trying to buy milk, pay their rent, or pay their bills.”

Mitigating Risk

For Mitra, that means understanding the risk in every decision the bank makes when it comes to the app. Many app developers can iterate constantly, knowing that any issues can get fixed the following day. However, a new feature in a banking app that impacts performance even temporarily can lead to significant customer hardship.

This means that banking app developers need to take a slow and steady approach to adding new functionality and features. Part of the process of an engineer at a bank is building out complex transactions that typically took place at brick-and-mortar branches into a mobile application. As Mitra said:

“If you write a feature incorrectly, or if we release something incorrectly, you can ruin somebody’s life by not allowing their rent check to go through. If somebody’s check bounces, they’re on the street.
“Having been here and seeing the far-reaching impact of the decisions we make, you can see why the development of a banking app is slower than you would see at a startup. The less at stake, the more risk you can take.”

Check out this week’s Decoded podcast to hear more from Tim Mitra about perils and joys of building applications for financial services. Listen and subscribe to future episodes.