Tech Talk: Mobile Evolution


The next step in mobile delivery offers lots of options

By Don Sadler

In just a few short years, mobile banking services have transformed from a fringe specialty banking service to almost a commonplace offering at community banks. Faster than other new banking technologies, the mobile delivery channel is moving into a second-generation evolution in the product life cycle.

Checking account balances, transferring funds, paying bills and making deposits are first-generation mobile banking services. However, most community banks have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential of mobile banking, some mobile developers and technology experts say.

Community banks are already asking and planning to answer the question of what’s next in mobile delivery?

Most community banks with mobile banking services—which are expected to be a large majority of community banks by next year, according to ICBA’s most recent payments survey—are already deciding which new mobile functions would be the most practical and useful to add.

From adding P2P text payments to allowing bill payments and remote deposit capture, enhancing existing mobile banking platforms with mobile payments is a common next step in mobile for most community banks, technology experts say. One Boston community bank has taken that step by adding a third-party payment loyalty rewards app to enable its customers to use their mobile devices to make payments in the same way they swipe plastic cards at the point of sale.

First Trade Union Bank, a $670 million-asset community bank, partnered with mobile payments network provider LevelUp to offer a mobile payment and loyalty app to its current and prospective customers last year. The FT Pay mobile payment app is part of the bank’s suite of mobile banking apps.

The FT Pay app is available for general consumer usage, not just bank customers, on any iOS or Android device. Users simply download the FT Pay app onto their mobile device and link it to a credit or debit card. They can then pay by swiping the app on their phone wherever the service is accepted, just like they would swipe a card. About 3,000 merchants in the Northeast deliver rewards through the third-party app.

“We saw the explosive growth in smartphone usage among consumers and the growing number of ways they are using their mobile devices,” says First Trade Union Executive Vice President and CIO Robert Landstein, “so we decided it was the right time to develop a mobile payment strategy for the bank.”

Account aggregation apps, by which mobile consumers can view financial account balances, investment accounts, transactions and other information from different institutions on a single website, are becoming a common mobile access enhancement for community banks, mobile software providers say. Brett Allred, vice president of marketing for MoneyDesktop Inc., a company in Provo, Utah, that develops mobile account aggregation apps, says a smartphone provides an ideal platform to deliver a constant stream of a wide range of timely personal financial information to consumers on the go.

Other community banks are evaluating whether to add geolocation satellite-technology functions that, for instance, could verify a customer’s transaction by identifying his or her location or could automatically fill in information, such as addresses and telephone numbers, into online forms based on a customer’s current location. Voice-activation functions that would allow consumers to conduct a variety of hands-free actions on their smartphones are also surfacing as a next-stage mobile enhancement.

Aside from developing new mobile banking functions and apps, however, David Eads, CEO of Mobile Strategy Partners LLC, a mobile software developer in Alpharetta, Ga., says community banks are moving to improve their current mobile banking offerings. He says that includes improving how well customers can best view a bank’s website on mobile devices, building so-called mobile-enabled websites.

However, some community banks have already begun moving beyond mobile-enabled websites to an altogether separate next generation of mobile platforms, says Mark Dittman, CEO of core software and bank technology provider Integrated Bank Technology in Cedar Park, Texas. Such new mobile platforms are built specifically to deliver information and services the best way possible to provide what Dittman terms an overall “true mobile presence.”

More functional than a mobile version of a bank’s website, these stand-alone mobile platforms are engineered with a dashboard delivery concept to best serve the needs of a bank, its customers and potential customers—whether providing loan rates or communicating a bank’s history—more dynamically, interactively and cost effectively in the mobile channel.

Dittman calls these next generation platforms “key to harnessing the power and leveraging the unique attributes of mobile technology.”

Don Sadler is a writer in Georgia.