Mobile Banking Gains Momentum

A third of top global banks expected to offer or pilot apps that treasurers can use on mobile devices.

Fundtech will begin testing a mobile banking platform this summer with a few of its U.S. bank clients that is designed to provide a variety of services while seeking to assuage treasury executives’ primary concern: security.  

The banking software provider’s initiative follows a study it sponsored showing that most businesses are interested in mobile banking, even though it’s estimated that just 4% now use these services worldwide. 

The survey, conducted last fall by independent research firm Aite Group, found that 56% of treasury executives worldwide are interested in conducting advanced functions such as approving transactions and initiating payments, and 49% are willing to pay extra for mobile cash management services.

Christine Barry, research director at Aite Group, says the consultancy expects that a third of the top 100 global banks will be offering or piloting mobile banking services to their corporate customers by year-end. 

“Just about every bank is asking questions about it and trying to find the best way to roll those services out,” Barry says, adding that many banks are waiting for their cash-management service providers to roll out mobile services.

Other vendors providing banks with cash management and other services to support their corporate customers include ACI Worldwide, Bottomline Technologies and S1 Corp. Barry says all those providers are working on or have recently rolled out mobile banking offerings. The challenge, she says, will be educating customers about the services, especially the ability to conduct higher-risk transactions, such as wire transfer or ACH approvals.

The Aite Group survey found 58% of respondents said concerns about security could keep them from using mobile devices. “It doesn’t mean the security isn’t there, but banks need to focus on educating customers about it,” Barry says. “We’re starting to see banks offer Webinars on mobile services.”

One hurdle has been that mobile browsers tend to be less secure than browsers used by desktop computers. Ed Gainer, executive vice president of Fundtech’s North American cash management division, notes that mobile devices are really small computers. So corporate clients of Fundtech’s bank customers will be able to register their mobile devices, then download either a mobile banking application from the Apple Store to install (and update) on an iPhone, or from the online equivalent for competing device operating systems such as Android and BlackBerry. 

The app, which will be activated with a password sent through a separate communication channel from the bank, will encrypt messages before they’re sent and decrypt them when they are received, much as SWIFT does when it transmits financial messages between its members, which include financial institutions and corporates.

Corporate customers initially will be able to download applications that let them perform cash management functions and electronic invoice presentment, and approve fund transfers, Gainer says. Fundtech has apps in the works that will let the mobile device scan checks for electronic deposit and support the positive pay function offered by many banks in which companies inform their bank about checks they have issued so any outliers are flagged. “This function is perfect for mobile devices, since the user can see that actual check image and signature,” Gainer says.

Barry says electronic invoice presentment, which allows an executive to create an invoice while meeting with a customer and send it electronically to the customer’s and his own firm’s accounting departments, may so far be unique to Fundtech.

Craig Jeffery, managing partner of Atlanta-based consultancy Strategic Treasurer, says mobile transactions involve three levels of security. The first presents low-risk exposure and includes information and alerts such as balance reporting and positive-pay exception reports.

Next come actions that carry little exposure to risk, such as positive-payment approvals for checks that don’t pose issues and corporate-card exception approvals. These services are new to mobile devices or still emerging, Jeffery says, as are some moderate-exposure transactions such as scanning checks for deposit, creating and sending invoices, and approving or initiating regular wire or ACH transfers. Far in the future, as a result of security concerns, he adds, are initiating or approving non-repetitive wires and foreign exchange trades.

These functions can all be performed from a treasury executive’s office computer, but often processes are held up because the executive is out of the office. “To the extent Fundtech can build an offering to scan checks or facilitate invoicing from mobile devices, or scanning checks, and make those types of services more robust, that’s good news for their bank customers and their clients,” Jeffery says.

 

For a look at Gen Y treasury staffers and mobile technology, see Plugged-In Treasury.

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