Local companies expand mobile banking apps

Saturday , August 30, 2014 - 11:47 AM

Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN — With a swipe of a finger or a press of a stylus, thousands of people are interacting with Utah financial institutions through mobile apps.

The services available through a smartphone or a tablet go beyond reviewing an account balance or transferring from savings to checking; mobile banking users can pay their light bills, apply for loans or pay back friends for that $20 they lent them.

Mobile banking services will not be limited to personal accounts, either. Businesses will be able to control payroll and wire approvals through smartphones.

“It’s an excellent way for our customers to conduct their financial transactions on the go or wherever it is convenient,” said Diana Windley, vice president of marketing for Goldenwest Credit Union.

The Ogden-based credit union launched its mobile app in 2009, in addition to its online banking services, which started about 15 years ago. Through its mobile app, it is able to reach its customers 24 hours a day with services that previously would have been done in a local branch.

As the technology improves and mobile banking becomes more popular, the services offered also continue to expand.

In the last few months, Goldenwest began to offer its GoPay mobile merchant services.

GoPay is similar to the “Square,” but Goldenwest officials said it has lower fees.

Mobile users can insert the card reader into their mobile device and accept credit/debit cards. All of the transactions are automatically deposited into the member’s checking account without having to visit a branch.

The reason for adding mobile banking is not to eliminate a teller.

There are always advantages to automation, said Brice Mindrum, America First Credit Union’s mobile services manager, but that is not the driving force behind adding the technology.

Adding new services has an expensive upfront cost, but Mindrum said it is important to offer the best services for the customers no matter the venue the customer chooses.

Investing in mobile services also helps the smaller institutions compete with the large banks.

A national bank is physically everywhere, with branches, ATMs and services available in cities across the country and sometimes the world, but through technology, customers of a smaller institution can do their financial business 24 hours a day, almost anywhere in the world.

“It’s expensive to get into the business early on,” Mindrum said. “That being said, the benefits and service behind it allows it to move forward.”

Through its app, America First Credit Union customers can make person-to-person payments, make a payment through an email or text, and can apply for a loan.

One of the America First app’s latest features allows customers to browse a list of cars for sale or scan a VIN bar code and apply for an auto loan immediately.

In June, America First launched ABC Deals. Through the program, mobile app customers get rebates from local merchants that have partnered with the credit union.

Mindrum said the credit union can offer all of these services through mobile banking because of the willingness of their customers.

“When we offer something, they are fast adopters to that technology,” Mindrum said. “We have a membership whose reactions to what we are doing justifies why we’re doing it. We have a membership that enjoys tech and we enjoy providing it.”

The use of mobile banking is growing rapidly, said Julie Conroy, research director for Boston-based Aite Group, which has researched use of financial applications on smartphones.

“We’re seeing mobile banking grow by leaps and bounds,” Conroy said. “This is the year where mobile banking will outpace online banking.”

For most financial institutions, the number of mobile users is still a small fraction of their business. Most people still do their business in a branch or online.

While the number of users may not be larger, Conroy said the average mobile banking user accesses his or her account 14 to 15 times a month, compared with four to five times for an online user.

Mobile apps can also address many security concerns.

Since it is a downloaded piece of software, as opposed to a visit on a browser, financial institutions can add extra protection against malware and viruses to their apps.

As the popularity of mobile banking grows, criminals will continue to create more hacking software to try to gain access and steal money.

For now, the biggest concerns come from fake apps, made to look like legitimate banking apps, that criminals create to fool users into giving up their financial information.

To protect against such intrusions, Conroy recommends using common sense. Download apps directly from a financial institution and password-protect devices.

“Common sense is often the best way to protect yourself from this,” Conroy said.

Protection is important as the use of smartphone banking grows from the early adopters and the amount of services grows.

Bank of Utah is working on expanding its mobile capabilities to include business.

Craig Roper, the bank’s chief deposit officer, said its business customers will be able to conduct payroll, wire approval and make outgoing payments. Small businesses can make credit card transactions.

“We give them the things they need to be able to manage their business on the fly,” Roper said. “It will allow businesses to bank anywhere and everywhere via mobile.”

In addition to expanding into business capabilities, Bank of Utah and other institutions are expanding the way an app is accessed; whether it be a small phone screen or a larger tablet, designers want the app experience to be easy to navigate.

“We are here to deliver something easy and intuitive for our customers to use,” Roper said.

TAB Bank is also working on expanding the business side of mobile banking.

Trisha Stephens, director of operations for TAB Bank, said such services will make it more convenient to conduct business.

Those who have run a small business know that there always isn’t enough time to run to the bank between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. That logic applies to customers on the consumer side as well.

“It’s a mobile world, and those are the needs of our customers,” Stephens said.

Contact Jesus Lopez Jr. at 801-625-4239 or jlopez@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @jesuslopezSE and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/JesusLopezSE.

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