A new survey of more than 500 mobile phone users found that 60% not currently banking online would be interested in using at least one mobile banking service if it was offered during a typical month.
The same survey also showed that those estimated 55 million non-online banking households in the United States are heavy users of traditional banking channels-with nearly two-thirds of them contacting their financial institution once a week or more through contact centers, interactive voice response (IVR) systems and other more costly channels.
"With this in mind, financial institutions should evaluate mobile banking services based on their ability to meet the needs of both online and offline users," said Eric Litch, senior vice president and general manager of consumer services for Fiserv Inc., which collaborated on the Palmer Research survey commissioned by VeriSign's messaging and mobile media division.
"This is particularly important if financial institutions intend to achieve costs savings by encouraging consumers to migrate routine transactions from traditional channels to the lowest-cost-to-serve mobile channel," Litch said.
In addition to lowering operating costs-survey co-sponsor M-Com estimates mobile banking at 8 cents a transaction compared with $3.75 for a call center, $1.25 through IVR and 85 cents for an ATM-mobile banking promises to establish firm relationships with the rising generation that is coming into the majority as heavy mobile users.
That's the take from key industry participants such as Howie Wu, vice president of virtual banking, and Kyle Welsh, vice president of technology services, at $8.6 billion BECU in Seattle and Steve Shaw, Fiserv's group director of Internet banking and electronic payments.
"I think it's obvious that the mobile user is the wave of the future. The more difficult question is how long it will take," Wu said. "I think it will definitely trump the pace of how online banking grew, especially as the younger generation moves through their lives and interact with their financial institutions."
Wu said BECU-currently at about 816,000 members-has been averaging 10% to 12% in overall membership and in online banking adoption as well, currently seeing 250,000 to 270,000 active users among its nearly 350,000 enrolled.
Mobile banking is relatively new there. A soft launch earlier this year-noted only with "a little blurb on our Web site"-has attracted about 3,000 active users so far to the credit union's Web-based solution from M Shift. Wu said he expects those numbers to grow significantly when a full marketing campaign accompanies the offering of a downloadable Firethorn application next year.
BECU has decided not to go with the third channel of mobile banking-SMS text messaging-"because of how clunky it can be and from the security perspective," Wu said.
The expansion of mobile banking will be accompanied by another new offering-peer-to-peer payments-also to be rolled out next year.
"Our whole operation model is increasingly geared toward electronic channels," Wu said of his 45-branch employer. "We only really have teller services at a couple locations. The rest are generally cashless branches geared toward member decisions and relationship building."
A key driver of the mobile banking channel is the rapid expansion of the tools that make it possible-smart phones and increasingly robust mobile data networks. The survey found that users of smart phones are more likely to use mobile banking and the creation of a 3G nationwide network is "already being followed by a migration to a 4G network," said Welsh at BECU.
"It usually doesn't work out this way, but it looks like the infrastructure and the technology are really kind of pushing each other. With Blackberrys and iPhones, people are attached to the Internet 24 hours a day, and they really are expecting to interact with their financial services solutions on their own terms," he said.
Fiserv's Shaw, whose own career path has seen him go from online banking pioneer Corillian to payments frontrunner CheckFree to Fiserv and its growing emphasis on integration, agrees.
"Mobile banking is the next big thing. It was the big thing once before, early in this decade, but the technology was not there to back up the hype," he said "We think it is now, and that the proliferation and ubiquity of devices is here now to see mobile banking seriously take off."
The BECU executives and Shaw noted that the mobile channel is part of an integrated approach to credit unions seeking to compete for wallet share and their place as consumers' primary financial institution.
That includes continuing to support multiple channels of delivery and expanding electronic bill pay, with an eye toward persuading consumers to use their credit union as a central point for bill pay instead of going to multiple direct sites.
Fiserv is working on integrating that payment flow from both the biller direct and financial institution sides and has begun introducing solutions that integrate electronic presentment and pay solutions, alerts and other functions into multiple channels.
Shaw said tighter integration of bill pay into a single landing page has been deployed as an ASP at a couple client credit unions ahead of a product launch expected later this year, something BECU said it is considering licensing.
"We're always driving toward ensuring our members have us as their PFI, and having our members come to recognize us as one-stop shop for paying bills is very important to us," said Wu at BECU, adding that while all channels of member contact continue to be important, the mobile channel seems to hold particular promise.
"What's the full potential of mobile banking? We don't know. It depends on consumer adoption and the kinds of services that we can deliver to those devices," added Shaw at Fiserv.
"We're planning for huge growth and are preparing to deliver those services to whatever growth patterns come our way."