WASHINGTON -- As credit unions decide whether to offer mobile banking, they might want to keep this in mind: More people own mobile phones than have banking accounts.
And when they decide to deploy, another thing to keep in mind: Members are interested in functionality--in what the service does, not how it does it.
Those are some of the takeaways in a new report from Callahan and Associates titled "Integrating Mobile Banking into Your Retail Delivery Strategy: What do Members Really Want?"
The report is based on a recent month-long online survey conducted by Callahan's Internet Strategy Consortium and assessed the responses of more than 11,500 members from 12 participating credit unions.
The survey, taken by members at their credit union Web sites, found that six in 10 of those online members were interested in mobile account access (although only one of the participating credit unions was currently offering the service.)
"The thing is, when you say mobile banking, people are not really interested in it as a product in and of itself," said lead researcher and reporter author Denise Senecal. "What they're interested in is functionality."
That can range from text-message alerts about account balances to being able to check those balances while at the grocery store to being able to transfer funds and pay bills on the handset.
Rather than taking a firm stance one way or the other, the report laid out the reasons for adopting mobile banking and the barriers to deployment and adoption.
For instance, it cited the following reasons for offering mobile banking: ability to reach the "young segment," retaining mobile Internet uses, increase in touch points and access that enhances relationships, credit union branding and perceptions of convenience, and reaching the unbanked.
Arguments for a cautious mobile strategy were low familiarity with mobile banking, concerns about security, mobile phone technology questions and ease of Internet use, cost of mobile Internet access, and compatibility with local mobile carriers.
"It'll be interesting to see over the next few years how the whole market evolves in terms of technology," Senecal said. "One of the biggest problems right now is that there is such a wide range of devices" and the software--some downloadable, some built-in, some Web-based--that drives them.
For instance, the survey found that many members were uncertain they would get a new phone just to access their credit union's mobile banking service, for reasons that include having to learn how to use a new device.
And as for the effect of the local mobile carrier market, Senecal said, "A market dominated by one or two carriers makes it easier to develop partnerships and ensure member access.
"For credit unions in an area with mobile competition, it could be a more daunting task to ensure compatibility with all of the dominant local market carriers. This also could mean a greater burden in terms of customer service and support questions from members who are attempting mobile access."
The Callahan researcher did say, however, that "industry trends show that mobile banking and payments are here to stay and will continue to evolve over the next five years."
The popularity of the Web-savvy iPhone and the competitors to follow bode well for mobile banking adoption. Senecal sees another main trigger being mobile phones reaching the point where they can be used to simply scan a purchase.
"When people can actually start doing payments with mobile phones, it's just going to completely revolutionize how people think about their mobile phones," she predicted.
Meanwhile, she noted, new partnerships between mobile banking and payment technology providers should continue to make adoption easier, and that "as more banks and credit unions announce plans to offer mobile banking, credit unions will need to carefully consider their strategy in order to ensure they retain valuable members and also potentially attract new members."
The 27-page report also includes case studies of mobile banking deployment at Amplify FCU, America First CU, KeyPoint CU, CitiBank and Bank of America. It costs $249 and is available at www.creditunions.com.