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The Five Best Mobile Banking Apps Now

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Lots of U.S. banks are getting on board with basic mobile banking this year, but there's not been too much innovation when it comes to functionality. A handful of banks are leading the way with widely available capabilities that set them apart from the pack.

 

Citigroup's "Tap & Go" Stickers

Citigroup's MasterCard credit card "Tap & Go" payment stickers attach to the back of customers' cell phones and enable Citigroup's online and mobile MasterCard users to make payments of up to $50, simply by touching the sticker-end of their mobile devices to MasterCard's "PayPass" readers at checkout - no signature needed, no swiping required.

Reason it's cool: Based on near field communications (NFC) technology, it allows secure, two-way payment communications between mobile phones and similarly equipped point-of-sale (POS) devices; Citi's effort marks a first "out of trial" step taken by a major bank toward reaching what Mark Beccue, senior analyst at ABI Research, calls the "holy grail" of mobile banking: the cell phone wallet. Participating stores with compatible PayPass devices that can read the Tap & Go stickers include 7 Eleven, Best Buy, CVS Pharmacy, Duane Reade, Home Depot, McDonald's, Petco, Sports Authority and Tim Horton's.

Vendors: Oberthur Technologies manufactures the "FlyBuy" stickers Citi uses. The "Tap & Go" trademark is MasterCard's used to more specifically describe the credit card company's one-touch "PayPass" card payments methodology.

 

J.P. Morgan Chase's "QuickDeposit" and "QuickPay"

J. P. Morgan Chase added mobile remote deposit capture for iPhone in July, making life markedly easier for any customers still faced with the time-consuming annoyance of depositing low-value paper checks.

Reason it's cool: The technology enables Chase's online banking customers who have downloaded the Chase Mobile banking app to deposit physical checks into their bank accounts by simply taking pictures of the front and back of checks with their iPhones. Yes, USAA was first, but Chase is the first of the big banks to offer this feature, and is expected to add mobile "QuickDeposit" for Android and Blackberry phones soon. Added in the same July upgrade was Chase's "QuickPay," a peer-to-peer payments capability with which users can send or receive money to or from anyone using only a valid e-mail address. Peer-to-peer payment "shows promise and makes sense with mobile," says Stessa Cohen, a banking analyst Gartner. Banks view it as a potential source of transaction revenue that need not be shared with or include the credit card companies.

Vendors: ProfitStars supply the back end for QuickDeposit. QuickPay was developed in house.

 

State Farm Bank's "Pocket Agent"

State Farm Bank's mobile "Pocket Agent" is a savvy part of State Farm's cross-selling campaign to get insurance customers to use State Farm Bank. Bank services come as part of the insurance firm's Pocket Agent app, which is available for iPhone and Android devices.

Reason it's cool: On the insurance side, it allows users to use their mobile phones to send photos of accidents to help validate and process damage claims. A "Draw the Scene" feature within the iPhone version of Pocket Agent provides similar capabilities for customers to document an accident scene. A "Steer Clear Mobile" app provides auto insurance discounts if a virtual driving test is completed by eligible drivers under 25 years old on iPhone or iPod Touch devices. In July, State Farm Bank added a mobile RDC feature for iPhone users; Android devices will get their MRDC by year end.

Vendors: Pocket Agent mobile app was built in-house. RDC capability, which is integrated into Pocket Agent app, is supplied by FIS.

 

MasterCard's "Priceless Picks" and "Overwhelming Offers"

These apps for iPhone and iPod Touch make the list not just for what they can do now, but for the potential of what they could do someday. "Priceless Picks" mixes "location aware" technology with social networking: It uses iPhone's GPS functionality to provide users a map of their current locations with various spots marked with "bubble clouds" containing recommendations from other users, like 'great nearby deal on shoes here.' One can share his or her own picks, like 'awesome donuts,' or similar. Square bubbles equal sponsored content; round bubbles are user-generated picks.

MasterCard's "Overwhelming Offers" sends out 50-percent discounts each weekday at noon Eastern to eligible cardholders from national retail partners culled from a database from Next Jump, an e-commerce marketer. The Overwhelming Offers, limited in quantity and often sold out in seconds, are first-come, first-serve, requiring users to act fast by clicking links in the app to nab a "reservation."

Apps are offered separately, says Cheryl Guerin, group head of U.S. marketing and global digital marketing at MasterCard, because of a preference for specificity.

Reason it's cool: Customized discounts sent out based on past customer purchases could also be added: "What's really powerful is being able to offer-via the mobile device-coupons and offers when and where it's relevant to individual customers," said Teresa Epperson, a partner in the Boston bank consulting firm Mercatus.

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