Big Banks and Mobile Banking

Researchers predict that more than half of us will own a smartphone by the end of the year, and even people who consider themselves tech-shy probably have an ordinary cell phone in their purse or clipped to a belt. Not just for texting or surfing the net, these devices are at the cutting edge of the way we interact with our financial institutions.

A rapidly growing number of activities you can do in person or via a phone call can now be accomplished – sometimes faster, because there’s no waiting in line or on-hold time – with a few taps of the keyboard on your cell phone. In fact, five years from now, Javelin Strategy and Research predicts that 86 million of us will use our mobile phones to conduct our banking activities.

WalletPop contacted the nation’s biggest banks to find out a little more about the applications, alerts and other tools that are bringing banking into the 21st century.

Representatives from Wells Fargo, Chase, Citi and Bank of America provided WalletPop with a rundown of their mobile services, and experts both within those banks and in the industry at large offered some thoughts about the growth of mobile banking and predictions about this channel’s future.

“We’re very focused on having a tool for [consumers] regardless of where they are from a servicing perspective,” says Tracey Weber, managing director of internet and mobile banking at Citi.

If you own a smartphone, such as an iPhone, you have several different options when it comes to mobile banking. First of all, you could use text-message notification the same way as someone with a standard cell phone (which might not be a bad idea if you have a plan that gives you unlimited texting but limits your data use). You can also use the browser on your phone to access the bank’s website. Furthermore, you can easily deposit a check into your account with simply taking a photo of it (if the bank uses Mitek Systems’ Mobile Deposit ® solution).

“The amount of engagement customers have is promising,” says Secil Watson, senior vice president within Wells Fargo’s Internet Services Group Wells Fargo’s Watson “[Mobile banking] really allows customers to be continually in touch with their finances.” She adds that a lot of users will use the cell phone tools when they’re home and in the vicinity of a computer; while this might sound surprising, if you think of how easy it would be to grab your phone while helping a child with homework or watching a favorite TV show, the appeal begins to make sense. Customers also like being able to check their balance while shopping, she adds. “We learned that when they’re in a store environment, before they use their debit card, they often check their balances with a text message.”

In the future, Watson says customers can expect mobile apps to take advantage of more smartphone tools such as the GPS (for locating nearby branches or ATMs) and the camera. Some apps already incorporate these kinds of functions; Bank of America’s app includes geo-location, and Chase’s app lets the user deposit checks by taking a picture of it.

“Over the course of the next few years, we’re going to see substantial growth. What people will demand is increased functionality on all devices,” Johnson predicts. “Mobile is becoming almost interchangeable with online banking in terms of functionality. The phones have a much higher level of sophistication.”

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