5 best mobile banking features that make your financial life easier

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If it’s been ages since you’ve set foot inside a bank or opened an account statement, you probably have mobile banking to thank. Mobile banking apps are designed to make our financial lives easier and the best mobile banking features make us wonder how we ever got by without them.

Functions like mobile deposit have become standard, but newer features allow you to send money to a friend by voice command, set up an ATM withdrawal remotely or get a reminder when a big expense is about to clear. And for consumers in 2020, any features that eliminate points of contact and the need to handle cash or cards can be a big plus.

“What we’ve seen is an exponential increase in the awareness and adoption of contactless payments,” says Richard Crone, founder of mobile payments research firm Crone Consulting.

Here’s a look at some of the best mobile banking features.

1. Cardless ATM withdrawal

In these germ-conscious times, consumers want transactions to involve as little contact as necessary. The good news is that some banks let you to make an ATM withdrawal without ever having to insert a card, or even touch a PIN pad in some cases.

“This allows you to stage a cash withdrawal before you ever get to the ATM, and minimize the risk of a COVID transmission by putting your card into the machine,” Crone says.

Banks are doing this in a few different ways. BMO Harris Bank, for example, lets you scan a QR code the mobile bank app generates so that you can make a withdrawal at the ATM without a physical card.

Another method, offered by banks like Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo, lets you add your debit card to your digital wallet and withdraw cash by waving your phone over a contactless reader on the ATM. You may need to punch in your PIN first, though.

One thing to keep in mind is that to use this feature, you’ll need to find a compatible ATM with a contactless reader. And even though cardless ATM withdrawal is still an emerging feature, expect more banks to follow suit.

“We expect that within one to two years, this capability will be considered mainstream,” says Amit Aggarwal, managing director of digital solutions for J.D. Power.

2. Virtual assistants

You probably already know Siri and Alexa. But have you met Erica?

Virtual assistants like Bank of America’s Erica, U.S. Bank’s Smart Assistant and Ally Bank’s Ally Assist let you perform basic banking tasks like making transfers, paying bills and checking balances through talk, type or tap commands.

Banks are working on making their virtual assistants more sophisticated than yesteryears’ chatbots, which have had limited functions in the past.

“Chatbots are good for canned answers, whereas a virtual assistant is about providing more in-depth and detailed help,” says Emmett Higdon, director of digital banking for Javelin Strategy & Research.

So if you have the Bank of America app and need to send $50 to your sister, you can tell Erica to set up a Zelle transfer for you. “That saves me 10 swipes or taps,” Higdon says. “Anything that involves a multi-screen transaction is the perfect thing to do with your bank’s virtual assistant.”

3. Advanced account insights

Through artificial intelligence, banks can gain insights into your spending habits, follow your cash flow patterns and warn you if it looks like your account is creeping toward zero – instead of notifying you after you’re overdrawn.

“If I see you’ve got three bills scheduled to go out next week but don’t get paid until Thursday, there’s a pretty good chance that you might have an overdraft next week,” Higdon says.

Institutions like Bank of America, Huntington and BBVA’s Simple are using AI to tackle the complex task of mapping your cash flow trends – where and when your money’s coming and going. “There are all these variables that come into play that make calculating your cash flow pretty difficult,” Higdon says.

Simple’s in-app Safe-to-Spend budget manager analyzes your regular expenses and deposits to forecast how much money you have to spend in the moment.

Banks can also monitor and send you push, text and email alerts so you can take action before it’s too late in various scenarios. Bank of America’s mobile assistant will notify you if it finds a duplicate charge, or if there’s a recurring charge like an annual subscription fee you may have forgotten about, for instance.

4. Geolocation services

If you’ve ever traveled abroad only to have your card declined as a fraud risk after just a few purchases, consider your bank’s location-sharing services.

Some banks still require that you set a travel alert whenever you go out of town or travel abroad.

“This is the 21st century. Why do we still need to do that?,” Higdon says. “Well, you don’t. If you use mobile banking, it will track the location of your phone continuously so you don’t have to worry about it.”

Institutions like U.S. Bank let you share your location to make sure your spending is happening in the same places where you are.

Some banks can even let you use geolocation to help you control your spending and limit card usage outside a specific area. “You can actually set geofencing and draw an invisible fence around where you want to allow your debit card to be used,” Higdon says, adding that your card won’t be accepted at any locations outside the designated area.

5. Automatic savings

Decision fatigue is real, and that’s especially true when it comes to savings. Banks that know this offer mobile tools that let you save automatically without having to put any thought into it.

“Many consumers want to feel like they have control over their financial lives,” Aggarwal says. “And the response by banks has been to provide automatic savings tools and insights.”

For instance, the Surprise Savings function by Ally Bank analyzes your spending to identify areas where you could save more, and then safely transfers that money for you. Ally also allows you to set up “buckets” within your app so you can organize your savings into up to 10 different savings goals.

The neobank Current, for another, has a feature that automatically sets aside money for specific purchases and lets you create “savings pods” where you can organize your goals. The list goes on.

Why choose mobile banking

With COVID-19 concerns presenting a growing need for remote transactions, mobile banking is only gaining in importance. At the height of the pandemic, more than two-thirds of retail bank customers said they were using their bank’s mobile app more than ever, and nearly half said they preferred using their phones to deposit checks, according to J.D. Power research.

Accessibility offers a major advantage of mobile banking, and it puts power into the hands of consumers that they didn’t always have. To that end, banks continue to seek out not only the next go-to feature, ways to make the classic ones even better.

“Even as banks produce new and exciting features, they need to ensure that this core set is easily accessed, easy to use and continually improving,” Aggarwal says.

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