UOB responds to gripes on new app

UOB said the issues are likely due to the fact such users' phones have been "rooted" or "jailbroken".
UOB said the issues are likely due to the fact such users' phones have been "rooted" or "jailbroken". PHOTO: REUTERS

United Overseas Bank set an industry benchmark on Tuesday, launching Singapore's first mobile banking app with a contactless payment feature, but a small number of customers are complaining that the app is actually a step backwards.

The bank's explanation: The problems these customers face may well lie in malware lurking in their phones - and when the app shuts down in such cases, it is doing what it is designed to do.

UOB Mighty allows customers with Android smartphones to turn their phones into electronic wallets. Users just have to tap the phone against a payment terminal, key in a PIN and the transaction is done.

The three-in-one app, which is also available for iPhones, has mobile banking capabilities and dining-related features, allowing customers to book tables and leave restaurant reviews as well. But a quick scroll through the reviews of the app in both the Google Play Store and Apple's App Store throws up a series of one- and two-star reviews and scathing remarks.

"Irritating. It always immediately closes upon launching," says a reviewer in the Play Store.

"Keeps crashing and makes doing any kind of mobile banking transaction impossible!" reads another from the App Store.

To be fair, there are positive reviews, too - some users have praised the innovative features of the app and said they found it easy to use. And after some 50,000 downloads, only about 100 one- and two-star reviews have appeared on both stores. But among the 100, the same list of complaints keeps popping up - the app is prone to crashing, simple transactions cannot be completed, or users just see a blank white or black screen when they try to launch the app.

UOB said the issues are likely due to the fact such users' phones have been "rooted" or "jailbroken" - amending the software - or may have been infected by malware.

The app has been designed to instantly block access to such devices, said the head of personal financial services for Singapore, Mr Dennis Khoo. "We always want to ensure UOB customers are protected because we take the security of their accounts seriously. Naturally, safeguarding the financial transactions our customers make on their mobile phones is our priority," he told The Straits Times.

"Many customers may not even be aware that they have malware or jailbroken phones and the security risks that come with it. We do not want our customers' details in their phones to be exposed to such risks."

Customers who have difficulty launching the app should check the security features of their phones, Mr Khoo added.

The bank is working on having a message pop up to alert a customer when an attempt to launch the app is blocked.

To "jailbreak" an Apple device is to remove software restrictions put in place by Apple on devices that run the iOS operating system. "Rooting" is the Android equivalent.

By doing so, the user of the device can, for example, download apps that have not been approved by either platform and make all kinds of customisations to the device that would otherwise not be possible.

However, users also run a higher risk of unintentionally downloading malware into their devices when they do that, as hackers tend to target jailbroken or rooted phones.

UOB is not the only company to have blocked jailbroken or rooted devices from using its payment app. Samsung Pay, for example, cannot be used on such devices either.

Yasmine Yahya

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'UOB responds to gripes on new app'. Subscribe