City Bank is upgrading its mobile banking capabilities to compete with larger banks, always a concern for smaller institutions. At the same time, the $1.9 billion-asset bank, which serves a region surrounding Lubbock, Texas, is also experimenting with security applications for mobile devices that can be used to shield non-mobile channels.

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend, the bank introduced a security app that lets users disable debit cards remotely from a mobile device. The app, which was created by Malauzai Software, lets the handset serve as a means of authentication.

"If you wake up in the morning and don't know where your debit card is, or if you've misplaced it, you can log onto the mobile app and turn your debit card off," says Jim Simpson, vice president of IT. "Then if you find the card later in the day, you can log back into the mobile app and turn the card back on. You're able to avoid calling an 800 number and going through all sorts of manual steps to do the same thing," says Simpson.

To use the new feature, users touch a debit card icon on the mobile banking app, which pulls up an image of the card. Users can then activate or deactivate the card on screen. The command is communicated back to a server that's housed at the bank and integrated with the bank's card processing system. Cards that have been deactivated appear to be "grayed out," and will appear brighter when active.

The security piece is the latest update to the bank's mobile capabilities, which the bank began expanding aggressively a few weeks ago upon a switch to native apps for Android and iPhone purchased from Malauzai. Browser-based mobile banking is still available through the bank's online banking platform, which is outsourced to Jack Henry. Since launch of the native apps, the bank has seen about 1,000 customer downloads each week.

Financial institutions are faced with a choice between native apps and browser-based apps — a decision that's becoming increasingly complex, and Simpson says that in the case of City Bank, the move to a native app-heavy strategy, along with software the allows the bank to update the apps quickly, was the best route to improve customer experience.

"With the apps, we feel we can control more of the experience and get a better model in pace to understand users [and deliver tailored products]. We felt that for a bank of our size, the apps were a better play," Simpson says, adding that the choice of Android and Apple for the native apps was based on download stats from the prior browser-based mobile banking services.