This Technology Will Save Banks a Bundle


According to a recent survey from the Federal Reserve, more mobile phone users are using smartphones these days, and these devices are more often being deployed by consumers to manage their finances. This is great news for banks, representing a cost savings even as these institutions reach out to new customers.

Mobile banking increases along with smartphone use
In its 2013 Consumers and Mobile Financial Services report, the Federal Reserve found that of the 87% of U.S. consumers who use mobile phone, 52% have smartphones. Increasingly, these people are using their phones to access financial services, particularly mobile banking opportunities.

From 2011 to 2012, the report found that mobile phone users accessing mobile banking services during the prior 12 months increased from 21% to 28%, and the percentage of smartphone users exhibiting the same behavior increased from 42% to 48%.

Great news for banks
This trend represents a financial boon for banks, as well as new opportunities. The biggest banks, such as Bank of America , JPMorgan Chase , WellsFargo , Citigroup , and PNC Financial all have active mobile banking platforms, and many are aware that smartphones are changing the face of mobile banking. Citi, for example has recently noted that, though customer expectations present a challenge, the bank is committed to its mobile strategy.

Mobile behooves banks in two ways: The strategy helps institutions reach the unbanked, and mobile represents a true cost-savings, especially to banks cutting down on expenses - such as branch locations.

Reaching out...
The report notes that the percentage of unbanked consumers, or those without any type of bank account at all, declined from 10.8% in 2011 to 9.5% in 2012. Both unbanked and underbanked -- those with a bank account who also use alternatives such as check cashing services or payday lenders -- are heavy users of mobile phones and smartphones and utilize them often to do their mobile banking.

Although the percentage of underbanked consumers barely decreased in the timeframe cited, it is possible that the change in the unbanked population may be due to banks being able to capture some of these consumers, turning them into traditional bank customers.

And saving money
When it comes to cutting expenses, banks are upfront about how much mobile banking behavior cuts costs. As banks like PNC and Bank of America close branch locations, mobile banking may help them hang on to customers. As for cost savings, it's a no-brainer. PNC says that check deposits via mobile compared to using a live teller represent a savings of $3.88 per transaction for the bank.

Last December, B of A noted that mobile usage was up 30% in 2012 compared to 2011, increasing customer convenience and decreasing visits to bank branches. JPMorgan recently showed that a digital account lowers costs by approximately 70% over traditional banking, and those customers are less apt to move their business elsewhere, as well. Wells has also been working on its mobile strategy and increased its mobile customer base from 8.9 million at the end of September 2012 to 9.4 million by December 31 of last year.

Will mobile banking usage continue to trend upward? It certainly seems likely, considering the convenience to the consumer and the savings for the banks. Mobile represents one of the few areas where banks can both please the customer and pad its own bottom line. If that's not win-win, I don't know what is.

The big banks may be rushing to renew their focus on traditional banking, but well-run regional banks like PNC Financial are already there. PNC saw its share of hardships during the financial meltdown, but its management team thinks the bank is now back on track and ready to deliver for investors. Does this mean it's time to buy PNC? To help you figure that out, one of The Motley Fool's top banking analysts has authored a brand-new premium research report, delving into everything investors need to know about PNC today. To claim your copy, simply click here now for instant access.

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Fool contributor Amanda Alix has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, PNC Financial Services, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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