Crowd testing provider of the year — Applause

Testing apps for Europe’s open banking market: Applause, the Boston-based firm that specialises in crowd testing, teamed up with Santander to develop a mobile app for the Spanish market that will be fit for purpose in a new era of open banking.

Applause, the Boston-based firm that specialises in crowd testing, teamed up with Santander to develop a mobile app for the Spanish market that will be fit for purpose in a new era of open banking. The success of Applause is based on the expertise of the many manual testers that it brings to the table — a counterpoint to the dominant theme of automation in software testing.

The European Union’s Payments and Services Directive comes into force in January 2018, and there’s no doubt that it is already redefining the way financial services firm operate. Amongst other things the directive will force banks to open up their APIs to third parties — the PSD2 rule — which means they will be obliged to share customer account details to competitors, if that is approved by customers and regulators.

The EU hopes this will increase competition, allowing consumers access to new technologies that are dependent on access to that data. Naturally, many larger banks see this as a threat, as new challengers will be able to hitch a ride on established infrastructures for their new services.

Banco Santander, part of the giant Santander Group that has expanded rapidly through acquisitions both at home and abroad over recent years, says it sees the opportunity. It is building an app for its Spanish customers that will help them manage their money, partly by enabling the app to access information held for those customers at other financial services firms in Europe. The only condition will be that those third party firms have the open APIs.

In effect, says Banco Santander, it wants to be a fintech disruptor. It wants its customers to be able to use the Santander app to break down their spending in detail, to see where their money is going, and to better balance their budgets. All of which requires connectivity with the other online accounts they hold.

The app project is originated in Santander’s Digital Area, a specialised group that is managing partnerships with technology companies working on new products for Santander customers in Europe and Latin America. And one aspect of that innovative approach is software testing, where Santander decided to engage crowd-testing company Applause.

Crowd testing works by using a geographically distributed network of freelancers to test customer-facing applications and websites. This allows real world tests in different locations, on different devices, to make sure that regionally-specific features work as they are intended. It also allows testing to be scaled up and down to according to requirements.

“We first started using our own employees to test the app on the Applause platform in the second quarter of 2016,” said Victor Tavares, Madrid-based director at Santander’s Digital Area and product owner for the project. “When we saw how useful it was, we decided to go ahead and use Applause professional testers.”

According to Tavares, crowd testing was an effective response to the challenge presented by the proliferation of mobile systems and devices, allowing access to a pool of testers who personally own different mobile devices running different operating systems. These are professional testers who examined every detail of the new application to spot errors.

Another advantage is customer feedback early on in the development process. “Open banking is fundamentally customer-centric, and crowd testing is another step on that path,” Tavares. “It allows us to get the opinions of testers on how the app looks and feels overall. We want to build an app that provides a good experience, not just one that works.”

According to Rahul Shah, the Palo Alto-based senior vice president for global delivery and customer success at Applause, this granular level of qualitative analysis sets crowd testing apart from other methodologies.

“Testers can rate the quality of the sign-in process, for example, they can give feedback on the language that is used, whether it is straight-forward and whether it makes sense in the cultural context,” said Shah. “This kind of feedback is crucial to design apps that are simple. If a customer gets frustrated or if their banking takes too long, they will delete the app.”

It may be surprising that banks, notoriously and necessarily security conscious, are candidates for crowd testing. And indeed some do have reservations about the privacy and security issues involved in using freelance testing networks. Applause has a number of measures in place to stop information leaks, said Shah. “Security starts from our web portal, which is extremely secure. All our testers must sign non-disclosure agreements. We also have customer success experts that mediate between the community and the client, so that our customers can make sure that everything goes smoothly.”

The relationship between Applause and Santander is set to continue into 2018. “We are testing a new version of the app that has many added functionalities, and Applause will help us with that,” said Santander’s Tavares.

And one sign of the growing status of crowd testing for financial apps: Applause successfully completed a $35 million funding round in October 2016 that included Accenture as a minority investor in the company.

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