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Mobile banking useful, not universal

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Thursday, December 20, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

If you've seen any bank commercials lately, you'd think mobile banking is a standard feature on bank accounts these days. But while it's gaining in popularity, it's still not a given that your bank offers it.

There are now around 7,000 financial institutions offering mobile banking to retail banking customers, according to an estimate in a new report by Aite Group. Considering there are about a little more than 14,000 banks, thrifts and credit unions in the country, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the National Credit Union Administration, that means about half of all financial institutions offer customers the ability to bank on their cellphones.

But, to get the most out of mobile banking, you need a smartphone. Just 37 percent of U.S. consumers have one  compared to 43 percent still rocking a less advanced, less expensive "feature phone," according to the report.

Considering the limited tech offerings available on feature phones, it's no surprise that  fewer than 10 percent of feature-phone users do something as simple as check their bank balances from their phones, according to the Aite report.

Even if you do have a smartphone, you're more likely than not to skip mobile banking. Just 36 percent of smartphone users say they use their phone to check their account balances, according to the Aite report.

We may see those numbers grow quickly. The reports' authors expect smartphone ownership to rise by about two-thirds over the next four years. But, it's worth remembering that this is a technology still being used by a relatively small number of bank customers. Most people still prefer banking via PC or in person, which is why a significant percentage of banks are still holding back on offering mobile banking.

I think that's a shame. Mobile banking is one of the quickest and most convenient ways to check on your money in real time. If you happen to be shopping for a bank and are also a fan of mobile banking, it might worth asking about a bank's tech features before signing on the dotted line.

What do you think? Is not offering up-to-date technology, including mobile banking, a deal breaker for you? Do you use mobile banking?

Follow me on Twitter: @claesbell.

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