After unsuccessfully dabbling with the mobile channel at the turn of the decade, US banks now appear ready to make a serious play for real-estate space on the consumer cell phone.
Bank of America,
which announced its return to the mobile arena earlier this year, will soon be followed by BancorpSouth, SunTrust, Regions and Wachovia, who have signed up with mobile services start-up Firethorn. Citibank is working with m-foundry to develop a service
and Wells Fargo is said to be road-testing three different approaches. The renewed interest in mobile banking has also attracted Metavante, which has announced a partnership with UK-based m-banking joint venture Monitise.
Metavante is becoming something of a specialist in importing European technology to the US banking markets. See the
recent announcement of a distribution deal with Swiss core banking outfit Temenos.
Monitise is a joint venture between UK IT services firm Morse and the national Link ATM network. The partnership has already scooped deals with HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and
Alliance & Leicester in the UK.
The re-awakening of interest in the mobile banking market follows years of inactivity. The first generation of mobile banking applications appeared at the height of the dotcom boom. They were generally considered clunky to use and didn’t translate well to
the small screen. Almost all the services developed at this time were eventually
shuttered as consumers shunned the approach.
Five years on and the banks are entering a different market, with a mature user base. All the same, consumer demand for mobile banking services remains uncertain. This is reflected in the different approaches being tried – from Bank of America’s reliance
on the cell phone’s built-in Internet browser, to the downloadable apps required for Monitise and Firethorn.
While we may not see a re-run of the post-dotcom m-banking crash, there will be winners and losers in the current gold rush. Replication of the online banking experience on the mobile handset is likely to stir no more than a passing interest. The consumer
is far more engaged with their mobile than their PC, and applications developed for the platform must play to this. Personalisation – and ultimately mobile cash transfer - will be the key to mass-market appeal.