In Sweden, already mobile banking is at a tipping point with several financial institutions reporting that, out of nowhere, usage has surged beyond the online channel.
Ditto for New Zealand where mobile access now outstrips online.
Word in the United Kingdom also is that mobile banking has reached a tipping point.
What about in the United States? The nation’s biggest credit union, $54 billion Navy Federal in Vienna, Va., is moving fast to make sure it is ready to stay on top of a rising mobile wave. In an interview, assistant vice president for eChannels Meghan Gound said, “We will double our mobile downloads in just one year. Mobile now has over half the traffic of online. It is growing by leaps and bounds.”
“Mobile is so convenient for our members,” said Gound, adding, “Yes, it’s possible that mobile will grow to be bigger than our online channel.”
Towards that end, Navy Federal is working briskly to introduce an iPad app – with much richer functionality than its iPhone app, to take advantage of the bigger screen and easier data input. “This app” – due out in the fall – “will offer more transactional capabilities and also more educational elements,” said Gound, who suggested that probably iPad users will log on for longer sessions than smartphone users.
Navy also is looking closely at expanding the range of functions available to smartphone users. Presently they cannot add new payees – that’s the norm in mobile banking – and they cannot fill out loans apps. Mobile users also cannot open a new account in that channel. But, said Gound, Navy is tracking all such advanced functions with an eye towards building them into the apps as needed.
Other credit unions need to be looking at Navy Federal and asking how they can keep up.
A fact: Smartphone adoption here is at the fastest pace in the history of the adoption of any new technology, going back to the telephone (which took 39 years to reach the market share already achieved by smartphones in five, per data crunched in MIT’s Technology Review). Per that article, “It took landline telephones about 45 years to get from 5% to 50% penetration among U.S. households, and mobile phones took around seven years to reach a similar proportion of consumers. Smart phones have gone from 5% to 40% in about four years, despite a recession.”
The numbers get dazzling. Research from Nielsen, the ratings company, underlines this. During June 2013, 53 million Americans used banking apps and mobile websites on their smartphones, about two out of five smartphone owners in the U.S.
Research from Google also makes plain that for financial institutions in particular, getting mobile right is a make or break, life or death imperative. Growing numbers of consumers say they will switch financial institutions based solely on the quality (or lack) of the mobile experience.
Looking forward, Fiserv vice president Steve Shaw said, “I agree, mobile will have more transactions than online. There are more use cases.”
The mobile banking showstopper of course is mobile remote deposit capture which most surveys show already is more popular than mobile bill pay. Mobile also allows a member to monitor – continuously if so desired – account activity and balances, usually with just a few taps on a glass screen.
A holdup at some credit unions, said Shaw, is that they ask, how can we make money on mobile – but he said that’s the wrong question. “You make money off this by looking at the money you are saving. Transitioning consumers from higher cost channels into lower cost mobile channels. That’s the power of mobile.”
Processing a deposit at a teller station costs upwards of $4 at most financial institutions. It costs a few cents via MRDC and, said Shaw, across a range of activities, mobile delivers powerful savings. As more credit unions get this parsimonious math, Shaw suggested, we will see more pervasive and creative efforts to shift member activities into more cost efficient mobile channels.
This very probably will start happening very soon, at least at the pioneering credit unions.
“Yes, I think mobile banking is at a tipping point here,” said Aubrey Meador, CEO of ARCA, which makes cash handling devices. He said his business nonetheless is on an uptick – “our sales are up five times over last year” – probably, he suggested, because financial institutions are envisioning a new role for tellers that shifts them out of activities like cash handling and into sales and consultative interactions.
Does the explosion of mobile banking mean the death of the branch as we have known it? Meador demurs. Branches will remain part of financial services but, he said, “they will change significantly. They will be smaller. There will be more automation. There will be fewer staff.”
When? “As traffic in branch decreases, those changes will happen,” said Meador, who acknowledged that right now among financial services executives, there is much more talk about branch redesign than there are concrete steps.
But that day is coming. The sheer convenience of the bank in a pocket – the mobile phone –makes a remapping of branches a matter of time. Short time.