AT&T launches mobile banking platform

Source: AT&T Inc.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T ) today announced the launch of a comprehensive, easy-to-use mobile banking platform that will enable consumers to view account balances and history, transfer funds and pay bills from their AT&T mobile handsets.

Through an innovative relationship, AT&T, Wachovia Corp. (NYSE:WB), SunTrust Banks Inc. (NYSE:STI) and mobile banking and payment enabler Firethorn Holdings LLC — and Firethorn's strategic partner, CheckFree Corp. (Nasdaq: CKFR) — are providing a mobile banking solution that is accessible to millions of Wachovia and SunTrust customers.

"The ability to perform banking functions using a wireless handset is attractive for people who need to make financial decisions on the go — business travelers, college students and anyone who desires the flexibility that wireless delivers," said Mark Collins, vice president, Consumer Data, for AT&T's wireless unit. "Value-added services such as mobile banking and payments to the mobile device are part of our ongoing strategy to enrich the customer experience."

The mobile banking application will be pre-loaded on future AT&T handsets beginning later this year. Because the mobile solution is embedded on the handsets, it is easy for users to locate the mobile banking icon in the applications folder on the device and access the service. The mobile banking application is also available for download on more than 30 of AT&T's most popular handsets — representing approximately 30 million devices in the market today.

Enrolling in mobile banking on AT&T is simple, secure and similar to today's online banking experience for most consumers. Customers first sign up at their financial institution's online banking Web site and are issued a one-time initialization code. After accessing mobile banking on the AT&T handset, customers use the code to link their account to the mobile application on their device. Customers then create their own personal identification number (PIN) to provide secure access to the application.

All data is encrypted, and customers can deactivate the service immediately if handsets are misplaced. For additional security, new bill payees can only be added from customers' online banking accounts.

AT&T customers pay no additional fee to access mobile banking and, because the application resides on the handset, the service is optimized to reduce the number of new page views necessary to complete a transaction. Minimal data usage charges apply and vary based on individual use. AT&T recommends a data plan (starting as low as $9.99 a month) for customers who plan to use mobile banking and other data services frequently.

"The innovative and unique partnership between AT&T, Wachovia, SunTrust and Firethorn may be the tipping point to widespread adoption of mobile banking solutions by consumers," said Jeff Kagan, noted telecommunications industry analyst.

According to Celent, a research and consulting firm focused on the application of information technology in the global financial services industry, approximately 46 million households currently bank online. By 2010, 17 million households will use mobile banking for similar functions.

"This is the year that mobile banking is moving into the mainstream," said Red Gillen, senior analyst, Celent. "We expect consumer adoption rates to mirror those of online banking and for mobile banking functionality to expand as consumers become increasingly comfortable with this entirely new banking channel."

Service Differentiator for Banks

Early signs are promising.

BancorpSouth was the first bank in the United States to go live with mobile banking on AT&T handsets earlier this year. Adoption rates have been higher than expected and have resulted in a 15 percent traffic increase to the bank's Web site.

Wachovia expects similar acceptance as it continues to position itself at the forefront of the mobile banking industry.

"From our experience as the first major U.S. bank to offer a mobile banking solution — Wachovia Mobile — the demand for mobile capabilities is clear; people want to bank when and where it is convenient for them," said Ilieva Ageenko, director of Emerging Applications, Wachovia. "AT&T takes mobile financial solutions to the next level by extending the capabilities to a much broader base and provides Wachovia customers with an innovative new method of ubiquitous access to their financial information."

SunTrust Bank believes that mobile banking capabilities will soon be a standard expectation for the increasingly tech-savvy population.

"The first adopters of online banking were innovators, but now it is a part of standard operating procedures for many customers who depend on the flexibility to access banking capabilities after hours," said Gene Kirby, executive vice president and head of Retail and Commercial Lines of Business, SunTrust. "Mobile banking will follow a similar path, and we are pleased to be one of the pioneering top 10 banks to partner with AT&T to deliver this application to customers across the U.S."

FirstBank, based in Lakewood, Colo., is also offering mobile banking on AT&T's network to its customers, and Synovus (NYSE:SNV) has started implementing the service within its 37-bank network in the Southeast. Additional financial institutions that have signed mobile banking agreements with AT&T include Regions Financial Corporation (NYSE:RF - News), America First Credit Union and Arvest Bank Group.

Wachovia, SunTrust and the other banks use CheckFree for online banking, bill payment and presentment, giving consumers the same functionality online on their mobile devices.

Carrier Innovation

When several financial institutions were designing their own mobile banking applications to run on carrier networks, AT&T intentionally chose a different path.

"One of AT&T's core strengths is discovering great applications and driving mass adoption," said Collins. "AT&T works closely with the development community and content providers to wirelessly enable applications that provide convenience, enhanced communication and richer entertainment options for customers. With mobile banking, we quickly realized that we had an opportunity to help develop the market, if executed properly."

AT&T and Firethorn announced a partnership last year to launch the Firethorn application, which provides a secure, easy-to-use interface that performs well on wireless networks and a broad group of mobile handsets. Financial institutions quickly realized the value in the strategy of adopting an application that was carrier-certified yet flexible enough to brand and customize to their requirements. This approach also reduces the internal development and application-management time for the banks.

"Mobile banking is the first step in introducing mobile financial applications to customers," said Tripp Rackley, chairman and chief executive officer, Firethorn. "We have already begun working with carriers and financial institutions to develop future applications that equip customers with a fully functional mobile wallet — everything from gift card and coupon redemption to contactless payment capabilities."

Mobile banking is supported on AT&T's third-generation (3G) network in more than 200 markets for supercharged access to this and other feature-rich data applications. The service also runs effectively on AT&T's nationwide* EDGE network, the largest high speed national wireless data network in the U.S., with availability in more than 13,000 cities and towns and along some 40,000 miles of major highways.

* Not available in all areas

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