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Holidays Drove High Use of Mobile Banking Apps

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December was a busy month for mobile banking, as on-the-go holiday shoppers actively logged into their accounts to check balances or see if purchases went through.

In American Banker's monthly survey of mobile banking activity, more than 65% of respondents said that volume was up in December from a month earlier, while just 2% said activity declined. The rest reported that activity was roughly the same month to month.

Several respondents attributed higher activity to the fact that their mobile banking app is relatively new. "We implemented mobile bill pay in summer 2013, since then the numbers are gradually increasing in all areas and have not yet leveled off," one respondent wrote. "Volumes trending higher for activity as more customers become acquainted with mobile banking," another wrote. "Continue to add new customers and launched remote deposit capture in November," said a third.

Others made a more specific link to the holidays. "Activity was generally up due to holiday shopping," a banker wrote.

The overall reading American Banker's Mobile Banking Intensity Index (MBII) was 71.9 in December.

The MBII is a diffusion index. For context, readings above 50 in a diffusion index indicate expansion and readings below 50 point to contraction. The further from 50 a reading is, the stronger the indicated change. A reading of 50 suggests that activity was unchanged month to month. The data in the December index was compiled from a survey of 274 bank executives, all from institutions that offer mobile banking. The index values are calculated based on respondents' answers to questions about customer activity in certain aspects of mobile banking, such as checking account balances, transferring money between accounts and paying bills.

In December, there was a big spike in the rate of bank customers using their mobile device to check balances or to see if a transaction went through, to an index value of 81.5.

Perhaps consumers were deciding how much they spend on their loved ones. Others may have been concerned about the Target and Neiman Marcus data breaches and wanting to make sure their accounts hadn't been affected.

"The Target breach communication efforts on our part have added volume to the product," one banker wrote.

The smallest increase in activity the index measured for the month was in using an app to locate the nearest ATM. That index value was 39. This means people used their apps to find ATMs more in December than in November, but there was a flattening - 72% of bankers said the volume of ATM searches was unchanged from the previous month.

The features offered by nearly all banks are the ability to check account balances or transactions on a mobile device (provided by 99.4% of the banks) and money transfers between two accounts within your bank on a mobile device (offered by 94.9%). The features offered by most are mobile bill payment (78.2%) and text message alerts (78.3%). A little more than half (66.5%) let customers search for ATMs on their mobile devices and slightly more than one-third (35.4%) offer mobile check deposit. However, only 7% offer customers the ability to manage investments on a mobile device.

These overall strong December numbers culminate an entire year of high mobile banking activity, as bankers reported consistent increases in adoption and usage month over month.

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