Mobile Business Banking Draws More Attention

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With mobile access now widely accepted as a consumer channel, more banks are turning their attention to businesses.

Citizens Financial Group Inc., the Providence, R.I., parent of RBS Citizens and Citizens Bank of Pennsylvania, on Monday announced the availability of a new application for Apple Inc.'s iPhone for its treasury management customers called accessMOBILE.

"It greatly enhances the value which customers get from us and thereby … would strongly help retention," Prabhat Vira, the head of global transaction services for the Americas at Citizens, a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland Group PLC, said in an interview Monday.

Vira said Citizens also hopes the new app would help attract new business customers.

Citizens' service, which is built on technology from the Dublin, Calif., vendor Sybase Inc., lets users approve or release scheduled payments such as wire transfers, transfer funds to different accounts, receive alerts about pending transactions as well as view account balances and recent transactions.

Some banks, including Wells Fargo & Co. and Bank of America Corp., have added mobile features for treasury clients, but overall "there is a dearth of corporate banking" features that allow businesses to review and approve payments remotely, said James Van Dyke, the president and founder of Javelin Strategy and Research in Pleasanton, Calif. "Mobile could really help with that by allowing the purse string holders in a corporate environment to have real-time information," Van Dyke said.

Recent research suggests that there is high demand for mobile banking services among corporate clients, though security concerns may cause adoption to be slow. Additionally, the ability to potentially charge fees for such services, something banks have shied away from on the consumer side, is attractive, according to analysts.

A survey of 319 treasury executives published last month by Aite Group LLC found that about two-thirds of businesses would be at least "somewhat likely" to use corporate mobile banking services in the next 12 months if their bank offered it. About half of the respondents said they would be willing to pay for such services.

"There are not many vendors doing this," Andrew Mikesell, the mCommerce product director at Sybase, said. "The demand is quite high from banks. The banks also see it as not only a way of servicing their customers better but also a way of generating revenue."

Citizens is not charging for its service but expects it will pay off with tighter customer relationships. "It's a conscious decision on our part to say this enhancement should be for free," Vira said. "We want you to bank with us. We don't want you to be charged application by application."

Vira estimated that 15 to 20 businesses are using Citizen's app. The company plans to add commercial card and foreign exchange features to the app as well as versions for other mobile devices, including Research in Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry devices and those running on Google Inc.'s Android operating system, he said.

Royal Bank of Scotland also is working on a separate corporate mobile application with the Jersey City, N.J., vendor Fundtech Ltd., which last month announced a suite of corporate mobile products for banks.

With mobile access now widely accepted as a consumer channel, more banks are turning their attention to businesses.

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