Despite the hype, only six banks in the UK currently offer their customers the ability to bank on the move according to a new survey of mobile banking services.
The research, undertaken by Brokat subsidiary MobileAge Technology and wireless laboratory AnywhereYouGo.com, also shows that banks are failing to make best use of the technology available to them.
The MobileAge m-banking survey examined only "fully available" banking applications, thereby excluding pilots and services that provide purely generic information. All aspects of the banking services were examined, from consumer offers and number of banking functions, to ease of use and security. Researchers posed as bank customers in order to analyse the consumer experience and overall usability.
Only six UK banks are currently offering mobile banking applications: The Woolwich (WAP), First-e (WAP), egg (WAP), Co- operative Bank (SMS), First Direct (SMS), and HSBC. Each of the three WAP banks use the Nokia 7110 handset only - the only WAP phone on the market to support secure connections.
Roy Smith, chief executive of MobileAge Technology, comments: "The m-banking survey dispels the myth that the UK is up to speed in the provision of mobile banking services. Nordic banks have had SMS-based services for the past three years, and have offered WAP applications since last October."
SMS banking currently has the edge on WAP, the researchers judged. SMS services, while more limited in what they can accomplish, were universally quicker, easier and cheaper to use than the WAP applications.
First Direct's threshold balance check was voted as the most innovative offering. This service automatically compares the customer's current balance against a pre-set limit, and warns the user that they are nearing the threshold with an SMS alert. "This is the only example in the UK of any form of pro-active use of SMS's 'push' ability," states the report.
The survey notes that UK banks are beginning to suffer from the same tendency to pre-announce services that characterises the IT industry. The research cites one bank's purported use of GSM's "SIM Toolkit" (StK) application, where the SIM card in the handset is enhanced with a customised banking application. However, when the balance enquiry function is selected, the handset merely initiates a call to the bank's call centre.
"The net effect of creating a complicated address book is particularly disheartening since SIM Toolkit, when properly applied, is probably a far more efficient and secure service than WAP," states the report.
On a lighter (or more dire) note, the MobileAge award for the worst hold music was won emphatically by HSBC’s Eros Ramazotti-inspired Latino guitar music - replaced with a soporific piano when the guitar man was unavailable. Best hold music was won by egg, which helped pass the several minutes users generally spent on hold.
James Pearce, director of AnywhereYouGo.com's Wireless Internet Lab in London, says: "The survey shows that we are still in the very early stages of WAP developments, and that further progress is being constrained by the availability of skilled developers. All of the services could be described as 'testing the water' and there is tremendous scope to offer richer functionality. However, each of the services needs to solve some fundamental problems regarding the support of multiple devices before they can move ahead with future enhancements."