Mobile banking is kind of like what roller skates were to kids in the 1950s: Many want to try it, but the risk of looking silly is pretty high, and the chance of getting hurt is pretty real. Not too worry, there are ways to make your mobile banking app work for you.

Banking on smartphones is becoming more pervasive, and at lightning speed. According to Javelin Strategy & Research, 19 out of 30 major U.S. banks now offer mobile banking apps.

Apparently, these banks aren’t doing such a great job of promoting the benefits of their mobile banking applications. According to a 2010 study  from WorkLight, a New York-based software services provider, about half of all cell phone users are “not happy’ with their bank’s mobile banking apps.

Not meeting consumer expectations could be a big problem for banks. “This is an indication of the high standards that exist in the fragmented smartphone application market, creating a real challenge for banks and mobile application developers,” commented Kurt Daniel, COO at WorkLight. “Facing growing market demand for this class of applications, companies often compromise on quality and depth for a quick go-to-market. Unfortunately, this approach creates the risk of offering mobile applications that do not meet expectations and reflect negatively on banks’ brands.”

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But consumers can often take matters into their own hands and improve their mobile banking experience.

Here are the three ways to do it:

Sign up for your bank’s text programs
You can often get your bank’s best rate deals in one simple step: Sign up for your bank’s text service. Not only can you get personalized, real-time messages on your account (such as low balances and potential late payment issues), you can also be among the first to hear about a great certificate of deposit rate or credit card deal).

Don’t risk a security breach
The No. 1 concern among bank customers about mobile banking is security – and with good reason. There are scam artists out there who will try to lure you into signing up for your “bank’s” mobile banking platform, only to give you a fake app or website that has nothing to do with your actual bank. Never, ever sign up for a bank’s mobile banking app without checking with them first. Almost always, the best way to go is through a secure sign-up feature on your bank’s website, or via a mobile app on your cell phone downloaded straight from your bank. Never sign up through an unsolicited phone call or email. When you do sign up, make sure your password is protected by a “three strikes and you’re out” feature. Most cell phones have a “tools” or “security” application where you can set password limits on sensitive accounts. Limit your bank password entries to three to thwart potential cyber thieves.

Try PayPal first

If you’re anxious about using a mobile banking app and want a trial run at the process, why not use PayPal first? No, PayPal is not a bank, but it can get you up and running on how basic banking apps work by investing only a few dollars into the process. PayPal apps exist on the Blackberry, IPhone and Android platforms. Plus, setting up a PayPal account is free, and you can open an account with $25 or $50 and start learning how mobile banking-type apps really work, with little risk.

Sooner or later, we’ll all be banking via our cell phones. Start taking full advantage of everything that mobile banking offers – safely and productively.

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