Big Banks Arm Themselves (and You) for Looming Mobile War
By: Brian O'Connell

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The rough and tumble economy isn’t keeping Americans from buying smart phones, or using them to revolutionize the way they handle their personal finances. That's leading the biggest U.S. banks to move quickly in developing a suite of mobile account services, from person-to-person smart phone payment to account deposit via an image text message of a check, all in anticipation of a day when customers will come to expect banking by smart phone as opposed to view it as a novelty.
 
In a March report on mobile phone usage, the Federal Reserve said the “ubiquity of mobile phones is changing the way consumers access financial services.”
 
The Fed cites the following figures on mobile phone usage:
 
21% of mobile phone owners have used mobile banking in the past 12 months.
 
11% of those not currently using mobile banking think that they will probably use it within the next 12 months.
 
The most common use of mobile banking is to check account balances or recent transactions (90% of mobile banking users).
 
Transferring money between accounts is the second most common use of mobile banking (42% of mobile banking users).
 
One major bank that is steering its mobile phone operation toward these mobile trends is Wells Fargo (Stock Quote: WFC).
 
The bank has rolled out a new “person-to-person” (P2P) money transfer service that enables bank customers to send cash to other bank customers at the click of a smart phone, tab computer, or email key -- without having to know their account number.
 
The money is sent directly to the recipient’s Wells Fargo account, a nice feature for a Mom sending money to her collegiate daughter, or a home business owner paying for a new web site design from a freelancer.
 
For the recipient, the fact that no account number is needed is an added security benefit -- the less people who know your account number, the better.
 
 “Customers want options and convenience,” said Brett Pitts, senior vice president at Wells Fargo’s Internet Services Group, in a statement.

As mobile money transfer becomes more common, remembering multiple account numbers will also become harder. The Wells Fargo service allows customers to pay another person using information they typically either know or have programmed on their phone.
 
All the sender needs is the recipient’s email address (just like PayPal) or, in a new wrinkle, their mobile phone number. Wells Fargo already has plans to take the technology to other bank customers (but not to Bank of America (Stock Quote: BAC) customers specifically, the company says.
 
Wells Fargo is also launching a new mobile check deposit service for customers, as well. Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) and Android smart phone users in Arizona and Washington are testing a new service where they can simply snap a photo of the front and back of their checks, and have them automatically deposited into their Wells Fargo bank accounts.
 
The smart phone has a “mobile deposit” icon from Wells Fargo, and there is no fee for the service.
 
The bank expects to gradually expand the service into other states throughout 2012.
 
The mobile phone banking war is heating up, as Wells Fargo joins J.P. Morgan Chase (Stock Quote: JPMP) and Citibank (Stock Quote: C) in offering mobile deposits to customers.
 
Consumers definitely want to see more mobile banking features, and increasingly, seem to be making banking choices based on mobile services.
 
Wells Fargo and other banks going mobile are moving ahead of the market with a service it looks like customers are soon simply going to expect.
 

—For more ways to save, spend, invest and borrow, visit MainStreet.com.

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