Banking goes mobile, with a few hitches

  • Article by: MARK DAVIS , Kansas City Star
  • Updated: June 16, 2013 - 3:34 PM
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Mobile banking

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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Dan Brower fished a much-awaited check from his mailbox but didn’t have time to swing by his bank’s branch.

So the Kansas City resident fired up his two-week-old iPhone, and with just a flick of his finger — disappointment. Commerce Bank’s mobile banking application doesn’t accept deposits.

“It’s funny because with PayPal’s app, you can take a picture of your check and put it in your PayPal account,” Brower said.

Mobile banking apps are widely available even if all of them don’t do the same things. A photo-based check deposit tool is coming soon to Commerce’s bank app.

New mobile banking ideas are popping up, too. One banking app maker offers a feature that shows shoppers just what their planned purchase will do to their bank balance, taking into account those coming bills.

“We’re not very rational creatures when it comes to shopping,” said Lee Wetherington, director of strategic insight at ProfitStars, a division of Missouri-based bank technology company Jack Henry & Associates Inc.

And what about those who don’t have a bank?

No problem. There’s a mobile banking app for that, too. It’s a new mobile wallet feature on Boost Mobile phones from Sprint Nextel Corp. that taps into a venture backed by Leawood, Kan.-based Euronet Worldwide Inc.

Cool. Convenient. Timesaving. Free (mostly). Oh, and a little scary.

A survey last fall found that security concerns are one reason mobile banking has yet to catch on as much as banking from the home computer has.

Banking through a computer is nearly as popular as stopping at a branch. And shopping by phone is nothing new.

But mobile banking is relatively new, and consumers are still getting used to the idea.

A Federal Reserve survey last November found that only 29 percent of cellphone users had done any mobile banking in the preceding 12 months. Fewer than half of smartphone users had.

Those who do tap in from their phones find standard features. Apps allow them to check their account balances, whether it’s in a checking account, savings account or credit card. Apps typically let customers transfer money between accounts at their bank, too.

Apps let users see recent transactions and find out whether a check has cleared. Some offer e-mail alerts, to remind you that the bills are coming due so you don’t forget to pay.

And you can pay those bills using some banks’ mobile apps.

Many of these tools are possible with older-style phones that don’t link to the Internet but can communicate with the bank’s computer through text messages.

It’s the camera that makes smartphones handier with money these days.

Increasingly, banks’ apps allow a customer to take a picture of a check — both sides, please — and remotely deposit it into a bank account.

U.S. Bank is putting the camera to work for bills, too.

Bill-paying features in bank apps generally require the customer to set up each biller by typing in key information such as whom to pay and the customer’s billing account number.

U.S. Bank’s add-a-biller feature does all that from the smartphone’s photograph of the bill. The bank recently went a step further. Its latest app feature uses that photograph of a bill to set up and make the payment.

Commerce built its first banking app in-house and has been letting customers find them rather than promote them actively. It launched an app for iPhones last summer, and its Android version began early this year.

“We don’t rush products or services to our customers until we’re sure that it will offer the best experience that our customers expect,” said Cindy Tetrault, website and online banking manager at Commerce.

Customers are responding. Mobile apps are one reason Commerce has customers in all 50 states, though its branch network is limited to six Midwestern states.

Commerce said it is seeing fewer visits to its branches, but Commerce customers bank more than ever, thanks to online and mobile banking.

“We’re looking right now at our next generation of mobile apps,” Tetrault said.

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