Banks See Dollar Signs in Getting Websites Up to Date

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Banks are starting to notice that their online banking and mobile sites are not as good as customers expect.

"On balance, the customer experience presented in financial services tends to be less advanced than that of Amazon, Apple, Google and others," Jeffery Yabuki, Fiserv Inc.'s chief executive, said in an interview Thursday at Sibos in Toronto. "That's why consumers tend to view banks' websites as not good enough."

This is beginning to change, he says, as many banks, especially the largest ones, are making major investments in their mobile and online banking platforms. At eight large U.S. banks, there are online banking revitalization projects going on that will end up costing upwards of $100 million apiece.

A similar shift is happening in mobile banking. Fiserv recently asked 1,000 clients whether or not they planned to make an incremental investment in mobile banking. Eighty percent said yes.

"They're all trying to figure out how to optimize the mobile experience," Yabuki says. Eventually, mobile banking will look like an advanced version of online banking, combined with alerting capabilities and real-time overdraft protection, he suggests. "But that's a long way off," he says.

In mobile payments, alternative providers coming into the market, such as Google and Square, are creating a sense of urgency for banks, Yabuki says.

"Person-to-person payments are a launching point for more electronification of the customer relationship," he says. They could also help banks raise revenue, he says.

"In person-to-person payments, we think there could be a FedEx type of pricing model, not unlike ATM convenience fees," he says. "When ATM fees first came out, people complained. Now we're all used to them."

Consumers might be willing to pay $1 for a real-time mobile funds transfer or 25 cents for the transaction to go through the next day. In such a model, the transaction might be free if it's processed the third day. It's not unusual for consumers to pay for fast fund transfers. "Western Union charges $20 to send $50," he points out.

Fiserv is signing on 100 institutions per quarter to ZashPay, its person-to-person payments system. Eventually, Yabuki expects that mobile bill payment and p-to-p payment technology will converge, giving consumers one platform from which they can make any type of payment from their phone.

Another up-and-coming source of new revenue for banks, Yabuki says, is small, on-demand loans that help consumers avoid insufficient funds charges. Fiserv has a product called Relationship Advance that provides for such small-dollar loans. It's similar to overdraft protection, but with a loan structure. "It's an alternative to payday loans," he explains, "but the median income among the users is higher than you would think."

Fiserv is also working with Microsoft Corp. to develop new products that enable customers to serve themselves better within bank branches, such as by scanning their own checks or calling up their own investment data. This would not only make branches more efficient, but enable branch staff to have better discussions with customers, Yabuki says.

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