Only a small percentage of U.S. mobile users are banking via mobile devices, but the practice appears to be picking up steam as consumers grow more comfortable transacting business via cell phones. Data released last month by comScore showed 13.2 million people accessed bank accounts through mobile sites in April, up nearly 70% from a year ago. Only the mobile audience for social networking sites grew faster, at 90%.
Similarly, the number of people using mobile banking apps more than doubled, to about 5 million in the last year. New features in the latest version of Chase's iPhone application could help accelerate usage even more.
The app feature that's gained widespread publicity in recent days is the ability to deposit checks by photographing both sides of a check with the phone's camera. The deposit is handled completely electronically, so users don't even have to visit an ATM. (A prospect that seems especially welcome on a day when temperatures in the Northeast are hitting triple digits.)
USAA, a smaller, privately held bank and insurance company, rolled out the same type of mobile check deposit service almost a year ago through its iPhone app.
A USAA spokesman said use of the feature has exceeded expectations, with $750 million deposited in the first nine months since it was introduced last August, and another milestone to be announced soon by the bank. Perhaps deposits have hit $1 billion by now?
Because it has just one branch in San Antonio and serves mostly military personnel deployed worldwide, USAA figured the feature would be a good fit for its customers. "We knew it was something customers would use -- we just didn't know how much," said a USAA spokesman. But with 7.4 million customers, about 1 million of whom use mobile banking services, USAA doesn't compare in size to Chase, with 28 million retail and credit card online customers and 3.3 million mobile ones.
With one of the nation's largest banks now offering mobile deposits, there's more pressure on other big banks to add a similar capability -- and overall. makes mobile banking a more attractive option for consumers who aren't doing so already. As a further encouragement, Chase also added a PayPal-like feature in its iPhone app that lets people make direct payments to other people via email. The recipient also doesn't need to have a Chase account.
Gartner last month forecast that mobile payment users worldwide will jump by 54.5% this year, to 108.6 million. North America still lags way behind other parts of the world, though, when it comes to mobile payments, and is expected to account for just 3.5 million of that total. With more banks offering a wider variety of services like check depositing and person-to-person payments on more mobile platforms, overall usage in the U.S. should continue to ramp up.
And if Apple, Google, BlackBerry or any bank can come up with an app that lets people make mobile withdrawals -- well, then things would really take off.