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Developers, not phones, driving mobile banking apps

Lucas Mearian, Computerworld | April 14, 2011
Banks must embrace mobile applications if they're to keep up with the hot trend in smartphones right now. And no phone is hotter for those applications than Apple's iPhone, even if it comes in third behind Android and BlackBerry phones.

BOSTON - While the Android OS may be leading the smartphone pack in sales, it's not the phone for which banks are writing applications. That would the No. 3 iPhone instead.

Banks are writing applications for mobile services such as account access and online bill pay for the iPhone because that's the phone for which most other industry developers are creating applications, says TowerGroup.

The market research firm says Android smartphones have 31.2% of the market share; 30.4% is owned by RIM; 24.7% bnelongs to Apple and its iPhone; Microsoft Window 7 phones hold 8%; and Palm devices have 3.2%.

"But support for the Android is surging," said Andy Schmidt, TowerGroup's research director for commercial banking and payments, speaking at TowerGroup's annual financial services conference here.

Schmidt went on to say that "very few banking applications" support the BlackBerry.

Schmidt urged financial service firms to not be "fast followers" when it comes to embracing mobile applications because the institutions that do may find themselves losing customers.

He also cautioned against charging fees for those services, as financial services firms either don't know or will soon choose not to in order to build a "critical mass" of adoption. "You'll lose market share to organizations giving it away for free," he said.

Of about 200 conference attendees who were polled during Schmidt's breakout session about whether they were offering mobile bill pay and mobile gift cards, 56% indicated they had neither. Another 30% said they had mobile bill pay, 7% said they used both, and 7% said they only used mobile gift cards.

"I'd encourage you to at least go the mobile bill pay route so customers can manage their affairs when they want to, but also because you can save on your costs as opposed to having them call you in to solve some of their issues," Schmidt said. "Bill pay is currently in pilot, but it's expected to be commercially available by the end of the year."

About 60% of phone purchases this year will be completed on a smartphone, Schmidt said. Combine that with $91 billion spent on retail store gift cards over 2010, and you've got the potential for another popular mobile app: mobile gift cards.

Mobile gift cards are being offered by retailers in cooperation with credit card companies and financial services firms, who offer points for purchases that can be used toward future physical store or online purchases.

For example, in December JPMorgan Chase began piloting its GiftShel electronic gift card with more than 20 participating merchants, including Home Depot, CVS, The Gap, and Pizzeria Uno.


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