BECU's Wu Creates "Actionable" Mobile Alerts

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A slew of tech and banking analysts have identified mobile banking as one of the hottest spots for new and expanded IT investment, with Ovum and Celent, for example, both placing mobile high on their list of bank IT priorities for the next year. As the channel matures, the new development will expand the apps beyond their early role as an information disseminator.

"We're moving toward a ubiquitous experience across a variety of channels and devices," says Wayne Busch, a senior executive leading Accenture's North American Banking Practice, who says that for mobile, that means expanding the device's use to meld with other touchpoints.

That expansion in mobile function can be seen at institutions such as BECU, the former Boeing Employees Credit Union. Howie Wu, vice president of virtual banking for BECU, says the next step for the credit union as it expands its digital banking reach is to move more functions such as person-to-person payments and "actionable alerts" to the mobile channel. The credit union, which just finished an upgrade of its iPhone app, is scheduled to finish a similar upgrade to its native Android app by March. Both upgrades followed the credit union's move to Clairmail from Firethorn after Firethorn discontinued its mobile banking service. "This year, we spent some time redoing what we had already done," Wu says.

As it looks forward, BECU hopes to take advantage of alerts, an important tool for financial institutions, but one that is often misused. By linking alerts to transaction options, BECU hopes to use alerts as a relationship builder, an effort also underway by banks such as Bank of Montreal.

"You don't want to just send consumers a message about their account and not do anything else. It doesn't do the user any good," Wu says.

Wu says the credit union is working with Clairmail to develop a series of options, such as account transfers to cover overdrafts or mobile remote deposit capture, that can be directly linked from account alerts. "We want to say to customers that we have these features that help you respond to your immediate situation, and give consumers the choice of whether to use the services to respond while on their mobile device. That's more sticky," Wu says.

BECU also considers person-to-person payments to be a consumer adhesive, and in the next year will extend CashEdge's PopMoney to mobile handsets (CashEdge is now owned by Fiserv). Wu says web person-to-person payments have gained traction among the credit union's user base, which includes demographic groups that he says are predisposed to person-to-person's most common use cases.

"We have a lot of nannies, day care workers and landlords in the Seattle area who seem to want to get paid their rent through person-to-person payments," he says. "And from the perspective of putting that on mobile, we want P2P to be as accessible as possible." The credit union is not currently pursuing contactless mobile payments in a substantial way, choosing to wait until a winning tech model emerges. "People are even uncertain about whether NFC (near field communication) is going to be the solution that drives contactless payments. And there's also a big issue with merchant adoption."

BECU, which has about 750,000 members but only 40 branches, aggressively plies digital channels for onboarding and recruitment and is considering how to extend new account onboarding to smartphones or tablets. "The challenge is the small form factor. The mobile device is a good way to get new members started. But the actual [savings account] enrollment for a new account is going to be a tough nut to crack," Wu says, adding the procedure is new members send basic information to the credit union, which then redirects the prospect to another channel for the actual onboarding. "It's a very data heavy process with a lot of input," he says.

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