Mobile banking expected to soar in next few years

Rise of smartphones, user needs expected to fuel growth

The number of people actively using mobile banking in the U.S. will grow by more than five times by the end of 2013, Tower Group Inc. predicted in a report released yesterday.

In fact, that number is expected to double this year alone to 10 million users, up from 4.9 million users in 2008. In 2013, 53.1 million users will be banking with their smartphones and other devices, more than five times the number likely to do so this year, the analyst group said.

Several banks have up to 10% of their online banking customers using the mobile banking capability, while one unnamed bank told Tower that 25% of its online users are also doing mobile banking. Earlier this year, Tower said, Bank of America said it had nearly two million mobile banking customers, twice the number it had nine months earlier.

Tower analyst Charul Vyas said that the popularity of smartphones, particularly the Apple Inc. iPhone, has helped the growth in mobile banking. Bank of America mobile banking was one of the very first applications available on the first generation iPhone.

According to Vyas, the number of banks rolling out mobile banking efforts increases by hundreds of banks each month, and now includes small and medium-sized banks who learned from pilot programs of larger banks.

The recession has prompted consumers to more carefully manage their finances, and Vyas said that instant access to financial information -- coupled with the ability to quickly move funds over a mobile device -- can help. "Mobile is the only channel that provides this level of immediacy," Vyas said.

Another finding of the report is that mobile phone use is high across all demographic and socioeconomic groups, unlike desktop Internet use. That means that mobile banking technology can draw in new "unbanked" customers.

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