Mobile Banking: The Monetization Code

Mobile banking in its current form—complete with company-specific apps and services to match—has been with us forever, or at least five years, whichever comes first. Either way, in tech years, that’s an eternity. So why does it still feel like the financial services industry us still trying to figure out what to do about this whole mobile thing?

One reason we’re always playing catch-up is that there’s a lot to catch up to. Technology delivers progress in its purest form, which innovations come down the pike on a regular basis. However, mobile advances seem to arrive faster than ever before. There are always new apps, new channels and new capabilities, and far from being tentative about changing too much too soon, users jump from one bandwagon to another with relish. Meanwhile, the servers in the back room have to ensure that it’s all compatible, not mention secure and compliant, and that’s a whole lot more difficult than trying out a free download to see if we like it.

That said, it’s still sobering to hear that we haven’t yet really cracked the code on how best to monetize this phenomenon, if indeed we can. Here’s one indication: “The 2014 Monetizing Mobile Banking for Small Business Customers Study,” a new research initiative from consulting firm Simon-Kucher & Partners, tells us that, unlike consumers, many small businesses are willing to pay for mobile banking services—perhaps a small monthly fee of $5 for peer-to-peer transfers, or to add money to prepaid cards.

It’s good to ask these questions, of course, but shouldn’t we have figured out the answers by now?

For the record, the study also reveals the diversity of the market, which is a nice way of saying that it’s still emerging. Fully a third of the respondents report using mobile banking on a weekly basis, while on the other end of the spectrum 18% say they see no need for such services at all. The numbers are similarly widespread for online banking.

To put this in perspective, let’s understand the basic elements in this equation. First, the only thing small businesses have in common is that they’re small; in every other way, they’re completely different. A corner deli and a dentist’s office might be neighbors with the same number of employees, but their business needs are hardly similar. More to the point, waiting for a mass market in the traditional sense is an exercise in futility. By the time a sizeable segment of the target demographic has adopted a particular mobile platform, channel or app, there are multiple options already available and finding an audience.

It’s not that the market for mobile banking is still emerging; it’s that it will always be emerging. It will never settle down.

So what should the industry do about this? There’s clearly a huge market out there, with banking customers hungry and waiting for capabilities they don’t have, even if they can’t or won’t articulate specific preferences. We’ve covered on this blog how customers are rapidly eschewing branch banking to go digital, and that trend continues with mobile. For example, M&T Bank claims that 65% of its online customer base, some 700,000 customers, have already registered for mobile services, and the numbers keep growing.

However, we might have to acknowledge a harsh reality—waiting to see what these customers want is often a mistake. In a traditional sense, the wise course of action would be to see which specific technologies users prefer, these developing services for those sub-markets. But technology isn’t traditional, and mobile is even less so. This is why following the lead set by others means always being behind the curve.

Trying to stay ahead, meanwhile, means investing in platforms that either don’t catch on or, worse, go from killer app to legacy overnight. It means making blind choices and predictions. It means risk.

So, mobile banking is risky business. But when done right—when the monetizing model is just right—it’s also very good business. It’s up to us to figure out the difference, and we need to do it soon.

Mobile Trend-Setting

It’s obviously inevitable that the dawn of a new year will produce a rash of predictions for the months ahead. It’s also obvious that many of these prognostications focus on mobile banking—after all, that’s where the action is right now (if we can skip the messy government settlement stuff). Still, that doesn’t mean we have any real idea what’s going to happen.

There’s certainly no question that this is the new battleground: Banks able to build on mobile innovation will reap the rewards of more engaged customers, higher market share and, ultimately, greater profits. And more than just competing against traditional rivals, they will be able to hold off online-only banking startups. That said, as with any advance, there might be a price to pay.

For example, increased mobile adoption in 2014 will take its toll on branch networks. There’s a new generation of consumers that has no real memory of traditional banking, which means the idea of actually stepping into a brick-and-mortar outlet seems quaint. For their part, financial institutions will market their services directly (and perhaps exclusively) to mobile-only customers.

Hand on mobile phone

Here’s one recent example of the effects of this trend: More than 140,000 customers of First Niagara, a community-oriented bank with some 420 branches in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts—downloaded its mobile app in just the first year. Early in 2014, the bank announced an organizational restructuring that cuts 170 positions. Expect to see many more such stories in the next few months.

While things are busy on the consumer front, we could see even greater transformation on the business side. ‘The ath Power Small Business Banking Study,’ a new research initiative from ath Power Consulting, highlights a potentially worrisome divide between what the market appears to want, and what it’s actually getting. Fully two-thirds of the small business owners surveyed for the study say that they’re likely to switch banks in favor of better mobile options. However, some 37% of the bankers surveyed for the same research omitted to even mention their mobile offerings.

Isn’t it a little late in the day for mobile banking to not be on the forefront? In fact, one prediction for 2014 is that this is the year in which mobile banking will actually eclipse online banking, at least in users (within certain parameters, the number of transactions is already higher). That’s a remarkable advance for a capability that essentially didn’t exist just a few years ago. But with affordable smartphones now ubiquitous and 4G networks more widely available, the infrastructure certainly exists to speed the change.

The critical element here is that mobile isn’t really one thing anymore. For example, what we know as the camera dates back to 500 B.C., but putting one inside the phone now enables everything from Remote Deposit Capture to Picture Pay. This has had the effect of turning our business on its head, and it’s likely that we’re still in the nascent stages of this change—there are many more apps and capabilities still to come. Or consider digital wallets, particularly with aggressive marketing from institutions that see greater opportunities with this capability. Surely there will be discounts and other customer goodies, which in turn will affect the bottom line.

The more sobering reality is that these larger trends will only affect us as financial services institutions and professionals only to the extent that we are able to shape them. It’s not as if we’re just entering this brave new mobile world; we’ve been here for some time, and doing our part to develop new apps, adapt traditional offerings and empower customers. As always, we can identify emerging market needs and provide solutions to meet them.

However, the most successful companies are those than function ahead of the curve. They create technology and service solutions to problems that don’t exist, and in the process provide transformative capabilities to their customers. We can look ahead to 2014 and see what trends are coming down the pike. But we can also help drive those trends ourselves.

*Image courtesy of  twobee

What We’re Reading: Mobile Deposit, Payments and Mobile

Below are interesting stories the staff has been reading over the past week. What have you been reading? Let us know in the comments section below or Tweet @bankingdotcom.


  • First Niagara Website Redesign Drives 30% Increase in Traffic

American Banker

Since the First Niagara’s website re-launch, traffic has gone up 30% and the time customers spend on the site has gone from 10-15 seconds to two minutes and thirty seconds. “They’re actively shopping and looking for information on the site,” Thomas Bontempo, senior vice president and digital marketing director says. “We’ve improved online account opening and are now getting 500 funded new accounts online a month. That’s still not where we need to be for a bank our size, but we’ve taken the right steps and it’s the right direction.” Customer satisfaction rose from 64% to 72% after the redesign, according to a survey the bank conducted.

Read more

  • Brand expansion through branchless banking

ATM Marketplace

While transactions at financial institution branches across the U.S. are dropping by approximately 5 percent per year, PC and Internet use are on the rise. The trend toward nationwide and even global connectivity is providing a unique opportunity for FIs to reach new markets and drive services from declining bank branches directly into the homes and hands of customers. Conventional banking channels are reaching inherent limits while increased access to Internet and mobile are making banking from home far more attractive for consumers. A 2010 survey by the American Banking Association found that 36 percent of bank customers preferred to do their banking online.

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  • Best Practices for New Product Roll-Outs

Building out or improving remote delivery channels, such as online banking, mobile banking and electronic bill pay, with new products and systems represents one of the greatest opportunities a bank can face – and one of the greatest challenges, as well. Relying too heavily on vendor expertise has meant a missed opportunity for many institutions. While vendors have a lot of insight into best practices, they typically do not offer or bring that experience to their clients unless specifically asked. Leveraging internal resources and expertise, as opposed to simply implementing new software, will help banks bridge the gaps in a vendor’s statement of work (SOW) and successfully launch these important strategic products.

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  • The New Ecosystem for Mobile: Technology Alliances for M-Payments and M-Banking

Bank Systems & Technology

Banks and financial institutions are most effective when they can utilize technology and outsourcing services to give customers full accessibility to their accounts – but reduce their direct interaction with customers. To this end, we are seeing banking technology vendors continuously generate innovative ideas and solutions. During the past decades, we’ve witnessed the evolution of Checks and their Clearing Systems, Automated Teller Machines (ATM), Point of Sale (POS) devices, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) Systems and the list continues. The evolution of mobile technology has allowed banks to embed mobile in their front-end solutions offering flexibility, ease of use, and accessibility to their banked customers and account holders. Through Mobile Banking (m-Banking) services; users can review their balance, transfer money between accounts, and perform some sort of utility payments along with many other services that enables interaction between the account owner and the bank’s back office systems.

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  • China, South Korea lead world mobile commerce

Inside Retail Asia

Mobile commerce is playing an increasingly significant role across Asia-Pacific according to a new report.  The study found that 55 per cent of internet users in China made a purchase via a mobile phone in the fourth quarter 2012, making China the country with the world’s highest mobile shopping penetration rate. For an idea of just how dominant the mobile purchase channel is in Asia, consider the case of North America. There, just 19 per cent of US internet users and 13 per cent of internet users in Canada made a mobile purchase in the fourth quarter. In other words, China’s mobile purchase penetration rate is nearly triple that of the US. eMarketer estimates that 270.9 million internet users in China will make an online purchase this year – counting purchases made through mobile devices. By 2016, eMarketer projects that number to rise to 423.4 million, and mobile will clearly play a significant role in that transition.

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  • Evolution to Revolution: Real-Time Payments Initiatives Unfold

Javelin Strategy & Research Blog

The Australian Payments Clearing Association (APCA) was the latest multi-stakeholder group to approve a real-time payments initiative in support of evolving consumer and business needs for accelerated transacting. As noted in Javelin’s recently released report, Real-Time Payments 2013: Struggling Toward Revolutionary Change, many of the payments mechanisms in use today — as well as the networks that support them — were developed before the era of “always on” connectivity, before Internet commerce, and prior to the ubiquity of mobile devices. These new market components, however, are driving a global paradigm shift that is beginning to snowball.

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  • Mobile banking will break the 1 billion user mark in 4 years

Mobile Commerce News

By the year 2017, studies are showing that the use of these services will have skyrocketed. The latest mobile banking study data from Juniper Research has indicated that an increasing acceptance of this type of smartphone and tablet based service has caused users to bring the number of users up to nearly 200 million. It is expected that the growing use of tablets will play an important role of the industry’s adoption. In fact, while mobile banking over tablets represents 9 percent of the total number of customers at the moment, it is expected to represent 19 percent by the close of 2017, said the Juniper Research data. Consumers are taking on increasingly mobile lifestyles, which is allowing them to turn to this type of service more and more.

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  • Mitek: 12 Million Americans Have Deposited Checks Via Mobile

Mobile Marketing Watch

The rate of adoption observed in mobile banking is surprising even the most bullish of industry advocates. According to the latest data available, Americans have now deposited more than $40 billion into their accounts by simply snapping a photo of a check. All told, some 12 million mobile users have now made a mobile deposit, a number that is poised to expand further in the wake of new partnerships and opportunities that make mobile banking options more readily accessible. Mobile Commerce Daily reported Tuesday, for example, that 708 banks and credit unions have signed agreements with Mitek – makers of the leading mobile document capture software – to provide mobile deposit options to customers.

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  • The knives come out: Mastercard will charge PayPal and Google for their mobile wallets (updated)

The Verge

Visa’s CEO Charlie Scharf said that “it is totally appropriate” to charge companies like PayPal and Google a fee when their digital wallets get used. Both PayPal and Google offer something called a “staged wallet,” which means that those companies act as a kind of intermediary between you and your credit card. That theoretically helps make your wallet easier to use — since it can contain multiple cards — but Visa and Mastercard really hate this approach because it means they can’t collect as much data about your purchasing habits. Scharf’s statement comes on the heels of an already-announced Mastercard program called the “staged digital wallet operator annual network access fee,” which is a long way of saying that it wil begin charging companies like PayPal when they use a Mastercard plugged into a PayPal digital wallet.

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Mobile Maturity

Here’s a conundrum: Is the rising concern over security as it relates mobile banking a sign that mobile banking is gaining legitimacy?

Sadly, yes.

There’s been a lot of talk here and in plenty of other places how mobile banking is being adopted more broadly by providers and consumers alike. With a little push on the innovation front, it’s likely to gain even more traction as the social media generation comes of age. Walking into financial institutions, or even sitting down in front of the PC, is too much work; let your phone or tablet do the banking. We’re surely about to see a plethora of mobile apps that enable us to deal with our finances in ways we never have before. As with every other shift in technology, this is turn will affect our behavior—perhaps even our attitude toward our personal finances.

The flip side to all this, of course, is the downside— a new breed of criminal that poaches on looser protection standards. The goal: to secure access to insecure data.

But again, as with the emergence of every new platform, form factor or application, security takes on a new urgency. The very point of mobile adoption is convenience—everything absolutely must get easier. Now, if something is easier, does that mean it’s automatically less secure?

Let’s hope not, but there’s more work involved to make that happen. Every financial institution is currently rushing products to market, knowing that there’s a huge potential audience for something customizable, unique and useful (so much easier said than done). But given the need for speed, is security getting the attention it should?

In an interview with BankInfoSecurity, Joe Rogalski, information security officer at New York-based First Niagara Bank, warns of the perils of this trade-off. He stresses that every product offering related to mobile banking—be it remote check deposit or just bill pay—needs to be evaluated from a fraud perspective before it goes to market.

But we all know that in the real world, getting there first can be more important than being the best. Is the threat of a serious data breach somewhere down the road worth losing critical market share now?

Just to be clear, even the PCI Security Standards Council is continually playing catch-up with regards to protocols and best practices—the whole field is still too new, and in perpetual motion, to set comprehensive standards. For their part, the bad guys have no trouble finding weaknesses and loopholes. For example, we’re only just starting to learn about a new breed of attack that fools consumers out of their SIM cards. (This mode should concern telecoms as much as FIs.) This is particularly troubling because SIM cards are the favored tool for securing mobile payments at many mobile payment schemes around the world, ironically because it gives the telecom provider more control.

The problem is that too much of this discussion remains in the theoretical realm, and belongs in the real world. So let’s take it as an article of faith that consumer adoption will continue to grow, that FIs will continue to push products out to market that makes diverse banking processes easier, and that criminal elements will use any tactic they can to steal access, steal data and steal money. Because they will.

Moving forward, we need ironclad guidelines, rock-solid processes and innovative technologies to (try and) stay one step ahead of the downside. Mobile banking is natural, beneficial and inevitable. It’s up to us to minimize the threats that emanate from it.