As smartphone popularity grows – and not just across Gen Y, but all generations – some experts say so does the demand for mobile banking functionality.
According to Callahan & Associates Inc., 34% of adults in the U.S. own a smartphone, and industry specialists agree mobile banking services have become critical to a financial institution’s success.
While credit unions still fall behind the largest banks in mobile banking service offerings, the majority of credit unions are placing a high priority on smartphone applications, mobile Web banking and text banking, according to Aite Group Research Director Christine Barry. Advanced capabilities such as peer-to-peer and remote deposit capture are on the horizon.
Here are eight of the top mobile trends going on right now in CUs, according to several industry experts, research firms and one mobile-savvy CU.
Based on a survey of 83 CUs conducted by Aite Group in December 2010 and January 2011, 57% of them listed mobile banking implementation as a high priority and 19% say they are likely to invest in the technology.
“By far, mobile is one of the top priorities for credit unions,” Barry said. “The current penetration is low, but that will rise dramatically in the next two years.”
John Best, chief technology officer for Wescom Resources Group, a wholly owned CUSO of the Pasadena, Calif.-based, $3 billion Wescom Credit Union and a provider of mobile banking solutions, added that the mobile channel is growing at a much more rapid rate than the online channel did 10 years ago.
At most financial institutions, mobile banking functionality is not comparable to online banking functionality, Barry said. Credit unions ready to invest in mobile banking will roll out basic capabilities first, then move into P2P and RDC, she predicted.
The Vancouver, Wash.-based, $777 million Columbia Credit Union is an example of this formula. Columbia introduced smartphone apps, mobile Web banking and text banking in July, which allowed members to view their account balances and history, make transfers, pay bills and locate nearby branches, said Jen Shefner, Columbia’s assistant vice president of e-commerce. SMS alerts, P2P and RDC are next on Columbia's list.
Best added that equating online and mobile channel functionality should not be a goal for CUs. “Mobile devices lend themselves to different uses, with a focus on quick convenience,” he said. “The heavy lifting should probably still be left to the full online banking sites.”
Columbia CU offers apps for iPhone, Blackberry and Android and tracks the number of downloads for each operating system. So far, their results have shown Android to be most popular.
“We wanted to be able to reach more of our members,” Shefner said in regards to building all three apps.
But don’t forget Windows. Best said in a recent test with 1,000 mobile banking users, WRG found Windows Phone 7 to be the second most popular user interface after iPhone.
As members become specific about their mobile banking requests, service providers are taking them to heart. Best said WRG’s mobile service users desire regular app updates, for instance.
“We’re sometimes able to incorporate their direct feedback about features into the next release we publish,” he said. “So it is a two-way relationship.”
Barry said the co-operative nature of credit union culture lends itself to an increased level of interest in mobile banking.
“Credit union members are generally more tech-savvy than the customers of banks,” she said. “All members own the technology, so there is an increased level of trust.”
One Columbia CU statistic demonstrates this demand. Shefner said the CU set a goal that 8% of its online bankers would sign up for mobile banking in the first six months. After just one month, 12% were on board. Eighteen months into deployment, WRG said it had 23,000 active mobile banking users.
A recent Filene Research Institute report authored by Aite Group Senior Analyst Ron Shevlin said that while many CUs are focused on bringing existing online banking capabilities to mobile phones, the future will involve functionality that’s exclusive to the mobile channel.
These tools include GPS-powered ATM finder applications, P2P payment capabilities, which allow members to transfer funds to another person’s account via text message or e-mail, and property information apps, which display details about nearby for-sale or for-rent properties.
The IT budgets of CUs are smaller than those of large banks, and in recent years, compliance has been eating up a large part of the cooperatives’ resources, Barry noted. Some CUs also face mobile security concerns from their members, she added.
Education is key to increasing members’ mobile banking comfort levels. Columbia CU said it posted a mobile security FAQ section on its website to address the most common security questions.
Best noted that in the optimal mobile banking implementation setting, the providers of a CU’s core system, online banking system and bill pay system will open up their architecture to the CU’s mobile system provider. In many cases, vendors choose to promote the mobile solution offered by them or a partner.
Best said "credit unions need to hold their vendors’ feet to the fire. They need to make it a pre-condition of doing business together that their vendor will not hold them or their data hostage.”