Consumers are ready for mobile banking, and are starting to get impatient if their banks do not offer it, according to a pair of reports released this week.
"Adoption and usage are growing faster than anybody had anticipated," said Robert B. Hedges Jr., the managing partner of Mercatus LLC, a consulting firm in Boston, which on Thursday released a report commissioned by Visa Inc. "Consumers are way ahead of the banks in wanting to do this."
The survey found that nearly one-third of consumers are either using mobile financial services now, or considering doing so in the next year. By 2014, more people will access their accounts through mobile devices than through the Internet, Hedges predicted in an interview.
And though survey sponsor Visa is promoting mobile banking and payments — in this country, the company has a mobile application for the Google Inc. Android mobile operating system that provides alerts and offers, and Visa plans to offer similar apps next year for Apple Inc. and Research in Motion Inc. handsets — this study was more about the business opportunity for banks.
In fact, bankers misunderstand consumers' interest in mobile, Hedges said, thinking of the handset as a new payment option that can replace cards, or a way to reach underserved segments.
Consumers, however, see immediate access to financial data as the main benefit, and he said mobile banking has become at least as important to consumers today as online banking, convenient automated teller machines or local branches, "Mobile has become the key differentiating feature in consumers' minds regarding where they bank."
As a result, mobile technology could be an "offensive weapon" for the banks that offer it, Hedges said.
"There's going to be a tremendous first-mover advantage," Hedges said. "Banks that wait and go slow are going to be at competitive peril."
Though adoption is going to be led by younger consumers, aged 18 to 25, nearly 40% of those aged 45 to 54 will be using mobile banking by 2014, Hedges said. "This is all going to happen real fast. It isn't going to take a decade to play out. It's going to happen in four or five years."
Online banking was the first business application that many consumers tried online, but mobile is different, Hedges said. "Banking isn't the use case that is going to break the trail. There are other use cases that already have done that."
More than 1,400 U.S. consumers over the age of 18 with mobile devices and bank accounts participated in the Mercatus study, which was completed in June.
In the other survey, published Monday by Firethorn Holdings LLC, a unit of the San Diego mobile phone hardware and software provider Qualcomm Inc., 59% of respondents said they are interested in using their handsets to make purchases at the point of sale just as they would use a debit or credit card.
These consumers also said they are interested in using their handsets to make price comparisons at stores (64%), to access credit card information (61%) and organize and track their reward accounts (59%).
"Financial institutions and merchants have a once in a lifetime chance to set the mobile trend now," said the Firethorn report, which cited data from the research firm TowerGroup that has found there are 10 million mobile banking users now, and there could be as many as 53 million by 2013.
Firethorn commissioned the Washington research consulting firm StrategyOne to survey 1,350 adults online between the ages 18 and 64 who own a mobile phone and have a "financial instrument."
Marc De Grandpre, Firethorn's vice president of consumer marketing, said consumers want to use their handsets to help manage all aspects of their lives, including finances.
"People are looking for ways to simplify their lives while they're on the go. This is part of that," he said.
While Firethorn's mobile banking application is designed largely for information reporting, such as account balances, De Grandpre said transaction services are already on consumers' minds, both at the point of sale and peer-to-peer.
"The consumer clearly wants the ability to transact — to move money, to make payments, to make purchases at some point," De Grandpre said. "P-to-P money exchange is going to be important to us moving forward, and I think to everyone."