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Tommy Green should have known he was underestimating the enthusiasm his “blue-collar credit union” would show for mobile banking.All he had to do was look at his own iPhone. Which he does. A lot.“If it were a woman, I’d buy it a diamond,” he says of the handheld mobile communications device of his dreams.Green is vice president of information systems for AMOCO FCU (www.amocofcu.org) in Texas City, a Houston suburb steeped in the oil industry. His $510 million employer launched mobile banking as part of conversion of its online services from Digital Insight to PM Systems on March 9. It has already signed up more than 1,700 users from its overall membership of about 51,000.“I don’t care if you’re 16 or 76, a lot of people are abandoning their landlines at home, and I just think mobile use is going to continue to climb,” Green said.And the growing sophistication of smart phones are helping to speed that conversion, said Tom Campbell, vice president of sales at PM Systems, a South Carolina-based developer and provider of online banking, security and other services to about 185 credit unions.About 30 of those credit unions are using PM Systems’ mobile banking service, and of those 20,000 or so end users, about 30% are using iPhones, Campbell said. But it’s not necessary.“I have a BlackBerry Storm and, unlike Tommy, I don’t have that kind of relationship with my phone, but I can tell you, it has a full-featured browser and, like other phones like it on the market right now, all you have to have is a data plan and you’re ready to go,” he said.That’s because the growing sophistication and ease of use of smart phones may now be making possible the revolution that was supposed to have happened when mobile banking was first a fad in 2002.“It fizzled. We offered it then, and not a soul would buy it, and a lot of credit unions still remember that, but the new phones have changed that, and so has the Web-based approach we’re using now,” Campbell said.As mobile banking’s second big launch has taken off, the choice has been between downloadable applications, SMS software or browser-based service. The latter appears to be leading because of the development of Web-friendly phones, Campbell said.Green at AMOCO FCU agrees. “I love my iPhone. And I love the iPhone apps, but I have to tell you, from a support standpoint, if I had to support iPhones, and I had to support BlackBerrys, and I had to support all that separately, I don’t know that we could deal with that. Being Web-based, the service is device agnostic and just a lot more user friendly,” he said.Campbell at PM Systems said simplicity is a key to making that sophisticated mobile technology palatable to the average user. “We can make the image larger now with larger screens, and we keep it clear of clutter. People want to try this way of banking, but they want it to be simple and right to the point.”And it doesn’t have to be pretty. “What I like about the PM Systems system is that it’s very light, so it loads quickly and runs fast. You see our logo when you sign on, but then that’s about it. It’s not pretty, but quite honestly, who cares? We just want it to function and function fast,” said Green at AMOCO FCU.In addition to mobile banking, AMOCO FCU is using the South Carolina company’s home-grown online banking, bill pay and presentment, interinstitution transfers, automated lending and online enrollment solutions.“We’re getting a lot more and paying in the neighborhood of 40% to 45% less than we were for Digital Insight and their third-party counterparts for what we’re getting now in an integrated package from PM Systems,” Green said.Besides the pleasures of working with one vendor instead of third parties for mobile banking, transfers and online enrollment, Green said, his credit union can now avoid the fee disintermediation that comes with committing a growing portion of its fee income to the bill-pay provider.Of course, PM Systems still will be making money on the deal, perhaps more than the credit union initially expected, Green said. Turns out, he said, “we negotiated a flat fee for the first so many users and then after that the user fee would be calculated and billed monthly, and here the numbers have just blown us away.”“Our goal was to be PM Systems’ top mobile user, but here’s the deal: To be quite honest, we’re a mostly blue-collar credit union and really didn’t expect these kinds of numbers. I figured that we would maybe hit 625 users in the first year or two and not have to pay a penny extra on monthly billing,” he said. “I’m pleasantly surprised that I have to say that hasn’t happened.”“I just really think the blue collar-white collar thing is fading away because cell phones are just getting so multifeatured and at the same time easier to use, it just makes sense to use it for mobile banking, too,” Green said.“These little phones are literally more powerful than my first PC.”–[email protected]

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