Even big banks like Bank of America and Citibank are rapidly climbing the online banking technology curve.
"Large banks are doing a better job with comprehensive online offerings," says Hank Israel, a director at New York-based financial services consulting firm Novantas LLC. "It's the 'iPodification' of banking."
Israel says 65 percent of consumers use some online banking features; only 20 percent still need face-to-face contact.
More pop for a buck
Online checking accounts come in two versions: via the online arm of a brick-and-mortar bank or through online-only banks with no physical branches. Online-only banks usually have fewer fees. But they also have a downside. They have more basic, and fewer, checking account offerings.
"Virtual banks are designed to be simple," says Stessa Cohen, research director at Gartner, based in Stamford, Conn.
The result is you could miss out on high-yield checking accounts offered by online branches of brick-and-mortar banks. According to Bankrate.com, high-yield accounts now pay an average of 2.56 percent. Online-only banks' top rate was recently 0.9 percent.
Either way, online checking accounts have many perks. View your account transactions online, transfer money between accounts, pay bills online and even manage your spending. You also can get text alerts for certain transactions or note when your balance slips.
New online tools are empowering consumers too. Many big banks now offer free money management charts and graphs to track spending or saving. And remote check deposits are making banking online easier. For example, Chase now allows electronic check deposits, in which you use a smartphone application to scan a check and deposit it.
"And there's anytime, anywhere access," Cohen says.
Here's a rundown of more online checking advantages and disadvantages to consider.
Fewer fees than traditional banks. As free checking disappears, online-only banks are gaining popularity. Why? They have fewer expenses, so they also have fewer fees, Israel says. And some virtual banks such as ING reimburse you for ATM fees nationwide.
Consumer Reports gives ING high scores for its low fees and high yields. There are no fees for low balances, and there are no minimum deposit amounts. There's also free bill pay and ATM access. HSBC Direct and Citibank also racked up high scores.