Imagine paying your house payment while riding in a double decker bus in London or making your Visa payment while waiting for a plane.
For Greg Meyer, community relations manager at the $1.2 billion Meriwest Credit Union in San Jose, Calif., those scenarios are beyond dreams. He believes they need to become realities for credit unions that hope to compete in an increasingly technological financial services landscape.
“Mobile payments are a necessary and practicable addition to any credit union’s mobile offering,” Meyer said.
He is predicting the death of the neutered mobile app, which lets users do a tiny subset of banking tasks on their handheld devices.
“We will offer mobile bill pay to our members by spring. It definitely is the future.”
Eric Clemons, director of software development at the $560 million Amplify Credit Union in Austin Texas, agreed.
“This now is definitely the time to get into mobile bill pay,” Clemons said. “Consumers are gravitating there.”
That last point is seconded by Javelin researcher Mary Monahan who, in a recent report on mobile banking, said that 2011 is the year mobile banking got real. By 2016, many consumers will use mobile banking to do everything, she predicted.
That means some will not visit branches or access an online banking website with a PC or laptop, Monahan said. Where they will bank is via a mobile device in their hands. That will not be true for every consumer but, according to Monahan’s research, it may be the case for a growing number of consumers, especially the young, high income demographic that many financial institutions want.
According to the Javelin report, after a pause in 2010, mobile banking adoption surged by 63% in 2011, rising to 57 million from 35 million in the United States. That’s a meteoric increase of 22 million consumers in one year. Over the next five years, mobile banking is projected to increase at a steady compound annual growth rate of 10.3% as financial institutions roll out new offerings, the data showed.
Still, the Javelin report had bad news for credit unions. Monahan said, as a group, they are desperately lagging behind big banks when it comes to mobile banking.
“Over twice as many consumers at the nation’s giant banks over $750 billion in deposits are using mobile banking than are those at credit unions,” Monahan said.
At the nation’s four giant banks, 37% used mobile banking in the past 90 days compared to approximately 22% at midsized and regional banks and 14% at credit unions, according to Javelin. Now that 92% of the top 25 largest banks by deposit size offer mobile banking, institutions that lack the service risk losing valuable customers to those that offer it, the report found.
A primary reason for this laggard performance is many credit unions do not offer mobile apps, Monahan said. Among those that do, some offer feature-poor apps that don’t deliver the wow factors of mobile banking such as mobile bill pay, she added.
“If an institution does not have mobile bill pay by 2012, it is behind the eight ball,” said Eric Leiserson, an analyst with Fiserv, who envisions 2012 as the year when mobile devices are transformed from primarily informational tools into transactional tools where users will expect to be able to transfer funds among accounts. As a result, credit unions need to be thinking about bill payment on the mobile device, Leiserson suggested.
“Mobile payments are all about member convenience,” agreed Carlos Miro, an IT executive with Tropical Financial Credit Union, a $700 million institution based in Miramar, Fla. “We compete with a bank on every corner. That’s why we see electronic tools as critical.”
Tropical Financial plans to roll out mobile bill pay in 2012 along with remote deposit capture, a feature believed by some to be mobile banking’s killer app because it enables users to deposit checks into their accounts by using a cellphone camera to take a picture of the instrument.
“This is not yet mainstream but it is coming,” Miro said. “Members will use these technology channels if we provide them, and we will.”
More fuel for mobile payments comes from the fast proliferation of tablet computers. Nearly 50 million Apple iPads had sold by the end of 2011 along with another 10 million Android tablets such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire, according to reports from both companies.
With their comparatively spacious screen real estate tablet, users are telling financial institutions they want to do much more on their devices, said John Flora, a spokesperson with Intuit Financial Services. High on that list is the demand to make payments. Users are also making it clear that they will take their business to the institutions that deliver the tools they want, Flora said.
Leiserson agreed saying there is growing consumer demand for accessing transactions on tablets.
Experts also point out that with or without credit union agreement, mobile bill pay is happening anyway. For one, some financial institutions that offer anemic apps with few features nonetheless let users access bill pay via the mobile Web and at least some power users have figured that out.
Another reality is that many retailers are building bill pay into their mobile apps, said Leiserson, who elaborated that national department stores and credit card companies increasingly invite users to pay their bills from within their apps. Other third parties also are starting to swoop into mobile bill pay.
“We believe it is ready for prime time,” said Steve Schultz, chief operating officer at mobile app provider PageOnce. “People are spending more and more time on their devices. Mobile bill pay is already happening.”
While mobile bill pay is becoming more common, it simply hasn’t caught on at some credit unions and banks, experts have noticed. Still, 2012 may prove to be a turning point as some institutions get it right while others may not.
“Mobile bill pay has become the hot topic,” Leiserson said. “And it will continue to be the hot topic. There is that much interest, from institutions and consumers alike.”