Mobile and Text Banking Give Rise to Special Challenges


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A whopping 27% of consumers choose to access their bank by smart phone or tablet devices as opposed to their desktop or laptop computers, according to a new report.

The "Branchless Banking: A New Era of Online & Mobile Banking" study further found that 37% of consumers who visit their bank's website or mobile site are checking their account balances, 21% are depositing funds and 17% are transferring funds.

"The evidence is clear – the mobile channel is primed for growth in the banking industry," said Michael Blumenfeld, consultant with Maxymiser, an online and mobile testing firm.

But despite the always-on-always-connected nature of mobile devices, a mere 2% conduct research about a bank's products and services on their cell phones and mobile payments are still not widely used today. "The technology exists but a payment leader, such as Visa or Paypal, has yet to emerge, causing a very fragmented industry," said Brian McGuire, vice president of treasury management services with Private Bank of Buckhead in Atlanta.

While banking services available by text at the Private Bank of Buckhead include accessing account balances, history of recent transactions and recovering activation codes, the newest trend in small business finance is the growth of applying for a loan using an Android or iOS device -- be it a smartphone or a tablet.

"Ease is what has led to the rise of using cell phones for business," said Rohit Arora, chief executive officer of Biz2Credit. "Difficulty depends on the platform. If the bank's site is optimized for mobile, it works better. You cannot complete a loan application via smart phone or tablet if the bank has not optimized, which is the case for most banks."

With 14 million active users, Bank of America's mobile banking platform appears optimized. Customers are depositing 140,000 checks daily through the national bank's mobile check deposit with a mobile banking app.

"Customers simply take a picture of the front and back of their endorsed check and choose the account they wish to deposit to. The images are not stored on the device only securely at the bank," said David Godsman, digital banking solutions and operations executive with Bank of America.

But security experts contend that there is nothing safe about text or mobile banking.

"The majority of people assume that their mobile device comes with some level of security and that downloading security apps or a password adds to their protection," said Gregg Smith, CEO of mobile security company Koolspan. "This is simply not the case."

Most people's cell phones aren't secure enough to entrust private and sensitive banking information to the security of a smart phone or tablet, according to Smith.

"Transferring funds between bank accounts while out shopping or in public can lead to using banking apps on unsecure and public WiFi networks, which are easy for hackers to infiltrate," Smith told MainStreet.

Without encryption technology that works on both ends, texting can be just as dangerous.

"You can never trust that a text message is secure," Smith said. "If you give any financial or banking information in a text message, such as account numbers, it is just as dangerous as yelling that information out loud in a crowded room."

Nevertheless, nearly 40% of the loan applications on Biz2Credit's small business loan online platform are done by mobile phone, and that number is expected to grow.

"As banks change the way they do business by increasingly upgrading technology to allow online small business loan applications, the branch system of banking is fading," Arora told MainStreet.

In fact, traditional branches may soon be a thing of the past.

"We're seeing more financial institutions shutting down many of their physical branches around the country," Blumenfeld said. "This has also led to many financial institutions eliminating redundancies of teller roles since basic transactions like depositing checks, transferring funds and checking balances can be completed in a matter of seconds with greater ease and convenience directly from our smartphones and tablets now."

The role of the bank teller is also undergoing rapid transformation.

"Transactions at the teller line continue to decline due in part to the advances in mobile deposit options," McGuire said.

But for now, freeing up the hands of bank tellers may benefit the consumer as the banking industry evolves.

"Many customers are finding mobile and ATM are convenient alternatives to branches and for routine transactions," said Tom Trebilcock, vice president of digital for PNC Financial Services. "This allows tellers to spend more time with customers on overall financial matters that are of greater concern to customers, such as retirement, planning and college education."

--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet

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