Consumers are increasingly going mobile — and for good reasons.
Tellingly, 12 million people used mobile banking services in 2009, according to Frost & Sullivan, a research firm. That number will climb to 45 million by 2014.
Mobile banking offers many advantages, such as good security, easy access and plentiful applications for smart phones. “The biggest benefit is that you have more control of your money,” says James Van Dyke, president of Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton, Calif. “You don’t have Internet connections everywhere you go. But you do have a mobile connection.”
Mobile banking takes us back to the days when we used passwords, he says. “You knew where you stood at any moment.” For example, you can be sitting on an airport tarmac checking your account balance or looking at recent transactions.
The downside is that mobile banking isn’t as good as it could be, says Van Dyke. The reason: Many services are pretty basic. People use it to check balances and monitor finances. “Largely, it’s an augment to the Internet,” he adds.
Van Dyke gives the highest marks to Wells Fargo’s and Bank of America’s mobile banking services, though. “There are lots of great features,” he says. “They’re strong in security and they offer multiple downloadable applications.”
He adds that there are far fewer banking options for mobile banking than Internet banking. “On that front, mobile banking has a long way to go,” he says. But the best services offer bank transaction data and use personal finance software.
“Mobile banking isn’t as fully functional as online banking,” says Thomas Trebilcock, vice president of e-business and payments at PNC Bank. “We offer things you can do every day, such as looking at account activity and paying bills.”
Yet, many experts say that mobile banking offers many benefits worth using, and some are getting increasingly better. Here’s a rundown.
More ways to access accounts
Banks typically let you access accounts via texting, mobile browsers or downloadable applications.
Texting is the simplest method for many. “It’s the least sexy, but it plays an important role,” says Red Gillen, a senior analyst at Celent. “It’s best for alerts, especially when your account is low.” Using your Web browser accesses your online account. It’s the way most people do their mobile banking. But downloadable applications are expanding quickly.
For example, Bank of America’s mobile banking arm, which now has 4 million users, offers applications for over 800 devices. These include smart phones and BlackBerry devices. With these applications, you can even find the closest ATM by using the GPS system.
“The mobile industry is very dynamic,” says Bank of America’s Dottie Yates, senior vice president of the e-platforms team. “We make sure we’re up-to-date.”
“Most banks are going after the iPhone first and then the BlackBerry,” Gillen says, because it’s expensive for banks to develop apps. According to Yates, the iPhone is used by nearly half of all Bank of America’s mobile customers. Some other new smart phones may lack downloadable bank applications for a bank, he says.
“I’ve never heard of any major security breaches,” says Gillen.
Van Dyke agrees. “Security is a perceived disadvantage in mobile banking,” he says, “but it’s not a reality.” He believes that mobile banking is safer than other channels, including Internet banking. “Malware is less likely to threaten mobile banking because of the proliferation of platforms,” he says.
Even if you lose your phone, you’re safe, say many experts. Bank data is guarded with passwords and other ID checks. Also, you can disable your phone remotely, says Van Dyke.
Mobile banking is ramping up quickly
Mobile banking began catching on in 2007. But already, the big banks offer these services, along with 500 other banks and credit unions. What’s more, some of them offer robust features. For example, PNC offers a virtual wallet, where you can see how your money is being spent. It also offers a savings engine that lets you set aside money automatically, says Trebilcock.
For now, banks aren’t changing fees for mobile banking services. However, your phone provider may tack on extra charges. “Depending on your data plan, you may be paying for each message or download,” says Gillen. So, it pays to check what your plan pays for.
Being able to access financial records anytime, anywhere makes mobile banking appealing. You can check deposits, notice money transfers and monitor transaction history. Those actions give you a safety advantage, too. “The more you monitor your account, the safer you are,” says Van Dyke. “The bulk of identity fraud is discovered by people with their own accounts.”
In the future, people will have more access to all their accounts. “It will work more like remote control,” he says. There will also be more movement of funds and virtual wallets where you can make payments with mobile devices. Already, Bank of America is testing the ability to make deposits remotely.
“For now, mobile banking is in its infancy,” he says.