You CAN take it with you

Posted on Sep 1, 2011 :: Industries
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Area banks and credit unions roll out mobile banking services

The creators of Wisconsin’s old TYME network were on to something.

While the ATM network – TYME stands for take your money everywhere – may seem quaint now, the banks that originated it correctly guessed that people on the go wanted to have access to their money without visiting a bank. Now, consumers don’t even need the ATM.

Mobile money has graduated to the killer app of modern times: the smart phone. Consumers can take care of many of their banking tasks just by picking up the phone. Banks and credit unions across Northeast Wisconsin are rolling out products as quickly as they can to meet the demand.

“We exceeded our first year projections in just the first few months,” says Laura Kahl, senior vice president, director of e-commerce marketing at Associated Bank.

While Associated Bank has had online banking services that could be accessed by some smart phone browsers for several years, it launched several new components in June designed specifically for mobile banking, such as mobile web, text and a downloadable app that allows customers to access a wide array of services, from checking balances to paying bills to customizable alerts.

“The customers that are using it are giving us some pretty good feedback,” Kahl says. “Customers really want to be able to access their accounts from anywhere at any time.”

That’s part of a global trend as smart phones become smarter and their usage more prevalent. A recent survey by Yankee Group, a Boston-based research group, projected mobile banking usage would grow to more than 500 million users globally by 2015.

Kahl says Associated is just trying to keep up with what its customers want. A popular feature among Associated customers, she says, is the alert services, which allow consumers to have messages sent to them when they hit a certain balance level or when a payment is due.

“It’s really designed to pay bills and help them avoid negative balances,” she says.

In late July, First National Bank-Fox Valley also launched a new mobile service that allows on-the-go customers to keep track of their money and account.

Called ZashPay, the new service was added to FNB’s online banking offerings and allows customers to make a person-to-person payment anywhere in the United States without charge. The payment can be sent through the online banking service using the person’s name, e-mail address or mobile phone.

“We are always looking for new ways to provide our customers with options to make their banking easier,” says Kathy Blumriech, FNB’s senior vice president of retail and private banking.

ZashPay is provided through a third-party vendor, Brookfield-based Fiserv, which provides the service to banks around the nation.

Area credit unions are also taking active steps to make sure their customers’ money keeps up with their active lifestyles.

While perhaps not as aggressive as the major banks in the area, Prospera Credit Union has rolled out an upgrade to its online services to make sure consumers can access their account information using new technologies.

“Right now, we have our mobile web service, which is a version of our online banking service specifically designed to work with mobile phone and devices,” says Kristi Flores, director of marketing for Prospera Credit Union. “Anything you can do online, you can now do with a mobile device.”

Prospera’s mobile services range from checking account balances and making account transfers to online bill payments. Since its debut in mid-March, there have been more than 14,000 logins or transactions using the new mobile web service – with an average of about 100 transactions a day, Flores says.

Almost as consistent as the demand for the service is the demand that it keep evolving.

Flores says the credit union is currently running some experiments with using text banking, which would allow the service to be used by any mobile phone, not just smart phones.

Associated is also planning on some additional services soon. While the bank does not currently offer person-to-person services, it is working to expand the banking capabilities to other mobile devices so that tab users and others can also access their accounts. Additional personal financial management tools for budgeting and expenses are also planned, Kahl says.

One of the region’s largest financial institutions — Community First Credit Union — has yet to jump into the realm of mobile banking.

Community First CEO Cathie Tierney says the credit union is taking its time to make sure that what it unveils is the best possible service for members. “Our members have asked for it, but we want to make sure we have the right technology before moving forward,” she says.

As customers become more comfortable using mobile services to do their banking, area bankers and credit union officials concede there will be increased cases of attempted fraud. They say the services are secure as long as customers keep good security habits in mind.

“Make sure you log out of each session, have good passwords and don’t take shortcuts,” Flores says of tips she would offer mobile banking users.

Kahl would add another: “Use the alerts; they will let you know when things change. If you are checking your accounts regularly, let us know if you see something that does not make sense.”