Anand Ranchord knew what he did not want to do when he was tasked to create a new mobile app for home loans at Kiwibank: Start the project with the question, "How do I do an online mobile application form for a home loan?"

Ranchord, head of customer experience at Kiwibank, says buying a home is an "emotional experience".

"We thought of stepping away from the finance question and put ourselves in the buyers' shoes," says Ranchord. "If they are dreaming of buying a house, where are the points of angst?"

These include how prospective buyers get information on the properties available, what are the things they need to know and understand when they go to an open home, and getting pre-approval for the loan. How will the purchase impact their lifestyle?

"We looked at the end to end customer journey and asked, 'how do we improve that?'"

Kiwibank launched the resulting product -- Home Hunter app -- in late November and within days, it had delivered more business than all the channels combined, says Ranchord.

The app is designed to help the user find a house, get the estimated price and apply for pre-approval from a smartphone, tablet or computer. Getting pre-approval will take about 10 minutes.

"The mobile app is really a manifestation of us redesigning our process to be made available to the customers on mobile," says Ranchord.

Related: Linda Price of Gartner on surviving -- and thriving -- in the digital world

"It is fundamentally taking a different approach to a business process, looking at what are the key problems that customers want to solve, as opposed to producing a video, and putting up a cool app that has some information. But when you come to engage with the bank, you fall back and say, 'right, sign on a piece of paper'."

Next: The bank of the future

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For Ranchord, the project answers to some key questions the bank is facing. "Actually it is about being relevant in the digital world and not about coming from a banking context."

"How do we build the bank of the future? How do we think about new paradigms, new forces and different models in place? How would you reinvent the bank if you are building it as a digital bank first?" Customers are starting to do more and more with mobile, and they find themselves doing this when they have a few seconds of downtime, he says. "How do we rethink our services to be delivered to consumers, consumed in a mobile device? How would they interact with a digital world versus the retail store and build a digital version of that?"

Related:'The mobile phone? This is your store front'

Tech 'upstarts' and 'giants'

Ranchord says part of the development of the app was looking at what other technology firms are doing to improve customer experience. These included local and offshore "technology upstarts" as well as "technology giants" like Amazon, Google, Apple and PayPal.

"They have an advantage over digital enablement and doing things differently," he says.

He says one of the great successes for the project was forming a cross functional team of around 10 to work on the app. The group included representatives from credit management, risk management, mobile and online developers, experience and interaction designers, online channels team and customer experience.

The team was composed of specialists in several areas, so it was critical for the group to work offsite, "away from distractions of BAU (business as usual)", he says. They took a week out, building apps for iOS and Android and a website.

"If we have not collaborated that way, it would have been very difficult as each and every party had to give their input," says Sheenu Chawla, director of Sush Mobile, which worked with Kiwibank in developing the Home Hunter app. Ranchord says he has done previous work on mobile banking apps where the "hybrid approach" was taken, basically creating two standalone apps.

"With Home Hunter, it is a native mobile app for Android and iPhone with an incredibly responsive website and not just a big screen version," says Ranchord. "It automatically scales and adjusts."

Chawla says the team also incorporated features like augmented reality so the user is not just shown a "virtual house". They can use the app's 'sun finder' to see where the sun would come up on a particular property, or augmented reality features to check other properties for sale near the area.

Ranchord says before the team went on full commission mode, they got customers to test the app. These were people who were in the process of buying a house so were "actively in conversations" with Kiwibank or other banks, or have just bought a house.

Getting customer validation is important, says Ranchord. "It might be great, it might be a sexy technology and cool, but ultimately, is the customer going to buy in?"

He says this actually shifted the power to customers and saying "you drive the process, you talk to us when you want to and actually you can get approval upfront easily".

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Seven words to rule them all

The view from the trenches: New Zealand CIOs talk about key issues their teams are facing, and the new areas ICT is working on.

"You normally ask the customer to submit the information and then you make the assessment. Actually there are probably things out there and data publicly available that can tell us better than asking a question whether someone has a good credit," says Ranchord. "How do we get that data upfront so we can do all of the heavy loading? They don't need to send us all that information because we already have the information. It is quite a pivot on how we thought about solving the problem.

"You can do that without the fear of being embarrassed," says Ranchord as he taps on a concern for prospective buyers. "You can get your numbers and indications and when you are ready, talk to us. That is really empowering."

Next: Anand Ranchord: 'I am like a kid who never grew up'

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Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap

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