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Credit unions getting on board with mobile banking

Younger credit union members are driving the push toward more mobile banking services.

Technology is weaving through most financial processes, and institutions are adapting their services to meet the growing popularity of mobile banking.

Smartphones, tablets and laptops in particular have presented an easier means for customers to access their financial information, a fact that major banks have not missed. Most larger institutions offer both online and mobile banking options, and the latter is on pace to be the No. 1 resource for younger credit union members, according to the Credit Union Times.

While online banking still presents increased ease for managing accounts compared to in-person branch and automated teller machine visits, more members are banking solely through their mobile devices.

"Just over 50 percent of our online banking users now are mainly on mobile," said James Breen, senior vice president for the Bethpage Federal Credit Union in Bethpage, N.Y. "It's more convenient and they get alerts. They are using online less and less."

Breen predicted that within five years, mobile banking will completely overtake online account management, and other industry experts believe the transition has already occurred. A spokeswoman for the Navy Federal Credit Union in Vienna, Va., said the regime change could happen in as little as a year.

Mobile banking to escalate as a result of smartphone advances
Personal computers are simply not developing at the same pace as smartphones. While smaller, these mobile devices are constantly evolving to include new user-friendly features and applications that consumers want. Many people are even replacing their old computers with a tablet - a marrying of a computer's task management abilities and a smartphone's mobility -  rather than purchasing a new one.

Breen said that as smartphone prices continue to decline, mobile banking will become more popular at credit unions, especially as members younger than 40 increase usage rates while online banking activity remains stagnant.

Consumers and credit unions jump on the trend
Citing a survey from global business advisory firm AlixPartners, the Credit Union Times reported that 28 percent of U.S. consumers utilize mobile banking. In the fourth quarter of 2012, only 19 percent reported the same usage.

A separate February survey by personal finance site found that 17 percent of 1,500 total respondents said that mobile banking options are a sizeable consideration when choosing a financial institution. The ability to make balance inquiries (36 percent) was the top concern among respondents, followed by an ATM and branch locator (19 percent), account transfer capabilities (14 percent), and remote check deposit and account alerts (both 10 percent).

Some credit unions were ahead of the trend, beginning their mobile banking campaigns as early as 2010. Many more are riding the wave and seeing success overall.

Little effort required to benefit from mobile banking options
Robb Gaynor, developer and co-founder of Austin, Texas-based mobile banking apps developer Malauzai, told the Credit Union Times that most financial institutions that have had mobile banking services for at least a year see average usage growth of 5 percent per month. Conversely, online banking usage rates are typically unchanged.

Gaynor noted that often, there are not significant marketing demands associated with achieving this growth rate. While mobile banking falls short in some processes such as completing a mortgage application via the Internet, it offers unique advantages that consumers like to use, and financial institutions are rolling out new features to make banking from a smartphone an even more viable option.

"The user can do things in mobile that cannot be done online, like mobile remote deposit capture and picture pay," Gaynor said.

For those and other advantages, consumers are willing to make the change.