NEW YORK (MainStreet)—Just maybe Albuquerque media expert Casey Echternacht has the slogan for today's mobile banking generation: "Lines are for losers," he said when asked why he is a self-professed fanboy for mobile banking.
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He's a new convert - "I just signed up a few weeks ago," he said, after discovering his credit union offered a mobile banking app. "They won't be seeing me in branches much anymore."
What Echternacht has discovered is what tens of millions of Americans are realizing: mobile banking is a game-changer that utterly shatters the analog banking paradigm where the branch served as the centerpiece of banking relationships and many of us routinely visited a branch weekly, certainly monthly, to make deposits, perhaps withdrawals, maybe even to chat with a teller or a bank officer.
No more. Now a free app, customized to run on either iPhone or Android (Windows Mobile and BlackBerry apps are as rare as those devices), lets users do pretty much everything they had done in branches...and they can do it dressed in pajamas at their kitchen table.
A new study out of Pew Research underlines the rapid and sharp ascendancy of mobile banking. In 2013 32% of US adults said they use phones to bank, a number that essentially doubled from the 2011 findings.
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What is critical is the demographic breakdown. A scant 14% of the 65 and up group bank with mobile phones. But 54% of the 18 to 29 group do, and 40% of the 30 to 49 age group do. The shift to mobile is inevitable.
What fuels this meteoric growth, said Haridas Nair, vice president of product and solutions for mCommerce and multi channel Banking at sAP, is that mobile banking enables compelling features that just are not readlly available through other channels. He pointed specifically to Mobile Remote Deposit Capture (MRDC) - snap an image of a check and deposit it without leaving your home. He also pointed to a lower tech tool available via mobile which is SMS alerts that tell users about account activity. The power of SMS is, wherever one is, one can get ready insight into the status of one's accounts. There no longer is a reason not to know account balances.
Mobile banking customers just have much more intimacy with their accounts. Pam Capalad, a Brooklyn financial planning analyst for WealthEdge Advisors, related how she uses mobile banking to monitor her accounts: "I can check balances and transfer money instantly – when I'm close to the end of the month and my checking account is low, I've found myself standing in front of the ATM and not only checking my balance, but transferring money from savings to checking right before I pull money out of my checking account. Mobile banking has definitely saved me in tight money situations!"
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It's not all love for mobile banking. There remain maddening foibles that limit usability.
Harry Hawk, a New York marketing specialist, said he "loves and hates mobile banking," mainly because of MRDC. He loves that he can make deposits from his desk, with the cash quickly showing up in his accounts. He hates that his bank - like most others - sets comparatively low MRDC ceilings, meaning that checks above a certain amount (often $3,000) cannot be deposited via MRDC but instead need to mailed in or, shudder, deposited at a branch. And that can add days to the moment when the cash is available.
Another grumble about mobile banking: many institutions put cautionary limitations on account activities permitted in the mobile channel. Few, for instance, allow new payees to be added in the mobile app. That has to occur via online banking. This arises from banker fears about lost and stolen devices -- but apps developers say, not for attribution, that most mobile apps out there can easily be toggled to allow for new payees and they further expect most financial institutions to open that up as the mobile tide transforms into a tidal wave.
The last quibble about mobile banking - and probably the hardest to solve - is that there still is no way to coax a smartphone into spitting out hard cash, For that, a visit to an ATM or a retailer who takes debit cards is still necessary.
But how hard is that?
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet