In the span of just 12 months, a revolution in financial transactions has occurred. Mobile banking has shifted from nice to have to must have at credit unions across the country as a stampede of institutions have embraced the idea that members demand the convenience of banking from the palm of their hands.
“About 3,000 of some 14,000 banks and credit unions in the country now offer mobile banking,” said Drew Sievers, CEO of mobile banking apps developer mFoundry. “We sell mobile banking to a new financial institution every 26 hours.”
At Fiserv, Kelly Rodriguez, director of strategy, sees similar penetration, “About 30% of credit unions now offer some form of mobile banking.”
But this is a you-ain’t-seen-nothing-yet moment for mobile banking, according to Sievers.
“In 2012, just about every credit union will accept that it needs a mobile banking offering to stay competitive,” he said.
More numbers show that members are using the mobile banking tools that have flooded the market.
“Nearly one in four Americans currently use mobile banking, and another 17% plan to try it in 2012,” said Tobin Lee, a spokesperson for Intuit Financial Services, another developer of mobile banking tools for credit unions.
Easing the fast adoption of mobile banking is that by this stage in the offering’s life, implementation has, in most cases, become trouble-free. At Apple Federal Credit Union in northern Virginia, Jennifer Peart, a vice president, said of the institution’s recent rollout of smartphone apps for Android and iPhone, “We had a great time with the rollouts.” Importantly, she added, member adoption has been vigorous, “About 15% of our members now use mobile banking.” That compares to about 40% who are active online banking users. But online banking has had over a decade to accumulate users, whereas Apple unveiled its first version of mobile banking, TXT-based messages, in 2009.
Like most credit unions, Apple turned to a third-party vendor, Intuit Financial Services, to implement its mobile banking tools. That is the norm. The largest institutions may create in-house tools, but the vast majority decide to buy a proven solution that they customize with their own front end.
“You really can’t home-brew mobile banking,” said Sievers, who indicated there is a range of challenges around real-time data updating, interfacing with cores and security that, for all but a handful of giants, make it improbable that DIY approaches will prove cost effective.
However an institution gets to mobile banking, the reality is that users appear to be clamoring for these tools, and nowhere is this more apparent than in a key demographic. Young people, 18 to 32 year olds, are three times more likely to adopt mobile banking than older users, according to data from Intuit Financial Services. That looms large as many credit unions seek to recruit younger members. However, the experts stress that without mobile banking a credit union won’t be able to do so.
But it’s not just younger users who want mobile banking.
“Mobile banking is driving great engagement for credit unions,” added John Flora, an Intuit Financial Services spokesperson. An emerging reality is that, in addition to barebones account info and transactions, a compelling plus of mobile banking is that it enables more valuable communication between a financial institution and its members. With warnings about bills about to become overdue and perilously low account balances, mobile banking has become a tool for the credit union to put important information in front of members when they need to know it– before a bill is overdue as opposed to after. This, suggested Flora, helps spawn deeper ties, and he added that mobile banking tools also bring more use. “We see 45% more logins by mobile banking users than online users.”
At the same time, the mobile banking offering is gradually becoming more powerful, said Rodriguez. While some credit unions offer only informational tools, balance checking, alerts and transfers to other accounts at the same institution, 2011 saw many more institutions adding remote-deposit capture and bill payment, she said. The consensus from experts is that in 2012 both remote-deposit capture and mobile bill pay will emerge as must haves for most credit unions.
Optimistic as all that is, there remains an area of gnawing worry. Will cyber criminals find riches in stealing mobile banking data? “Security is the number one concern for many credit unions and members alike,” said Rodriguez.
A sliver of cheery news is that, so far, there have been no significant outbreaks of mobile banking malware, said Brendon Wilson, senior product marketing manager with Symantec, which creates tools to combat viruses, trojans and malware. But that day probably is coming and soon, said Wilson, whose advice to credit unions is that they take steps to toughen their back ends to heighten sensitivities to possible fraud.
Right now, however, Wilson indicated that a frontline defense is more training for support staff. For instance, customer service reps need to be taught to be wary when a member calls in and says he or she has “a new cell phone number; I lost my old phone.” This is a big issue as more institutions bring in cell phones as multifactor authentication tools. “There needs to be more training,” said Wilson.
A last note about the necessity of mobile banking. No mainstream expert expects Near Field Communications’ tap and pay mobile payments to take off broadly in the U.S. in 2012, in 2011 NFC mainly won press coverage because search giant Google integrated it into its Nexus smartphone. Although many do see a slow pick-up starting in 2012 and then accelerating in 2013. At that point, NFC may emerge as a must have. Credit unions with solid, heavily used mobile banking tools will be the ones that see the fastest pickup of NFC, said Serge van Dam, a vice president at Fiserv. “My advice to credit unions is, get really good at mobile banking. Get members ready for NFC when it comes available.”