Consumers continue to move to mobile banking although security concerns may keep some bank customers from reaching for their devices.
Twenty-eight percent of all mobile phone owners have used mobile banking in the past 12 months, up from 21% a year earlier, according to a survey released recently by the Federal Reserve Board that updates findings of a similar survey the Fed fielded in 2011.
Among smartphone users, 48% have banked via their device, compared with 42% a year earlier. Though 87% of consumers who bank via their device use mobile banking to check account balances or recent transactions, 21% of mobile bank users have used their phone to deposit a check, double the occurrence as in December 2011.
Still, the percentage of consumers who rate the security of text messaging for mobile banking as "very safe" or "somewhat safe" fell to 34% in the Fed survey, from 38% a year earlier. The share of consumers who say banks' mobile apps are "very safe" or "somewhat safe" fell to 38% from 42%, while the percentage who say they don't know how safe it is to bank via a mobile browser rose to 36% from 30%.
Though consumers are using phones to pay bills, give to charities and move money to one another, the incidence of mobile payments remain limited, the Fed found. In the past year, 15% of mobile phone users said they made a mobile payment, up from 12% in 2011.
"Concerns about the security of mobile banking and mobile payment technologies remain one of the primary impediments to further adoption," wrote Fed staff members Matthew Gross, Alexandra Rock and Maximilian Schmeiser, who prepared the report. "Moreover, consumers reported less confidence in the security of mobile banking and payments technology in the 2012 survey than they did in the 2011 survey."
At the same time, mobile banking users rate the technology as "very safe" (27%) or "somewhat safe" (52%) in maintaining their personal information. Half of non-mobile users say they "don't know" about the security of mobile banking, compared with 9% of mobile banking users.
"There continues to be a dichotomy between users and non-users of mobile banking in their perception of the overall security of mobile banking for protecting personal information," the authors added.
Some consumers resist moving to mobile banking because they perceive little benefit from the service, according to the survey. Fifty four percent of consumers say the feel their banking needs are met without the use of mobile banking, compared with 58% of consumers who felt that way in 2011.
Among consumers who choose not to form a relationship with a bank or credit union, 59% have access to a mobile device, half of which are smartphones, while 90% of consumers who use non-bank check cashing, payday lending and other non-bank financial outlets at least once a year — the so-called underbanked — have access to a mobile device, 56% of which are smartphones.
Roughly half (49%) of underbanked consumers say they have used mobile banking technology in the past 12 months.
"The relatively high prevalence of mobile phone and smartphone use among younger generations, minorities, and those with low levels of income — groups that are prone to be unbanked or underbanked — make mobile phones a potential platform for expanding financial access and inclusion," the authors wrote.
The survey of 2,600 consumers was conducted in November on the Fed's behalf by Growth for Knowledge, an audience measurement firm.