Mobile check deposit is no longer exclusive to native banking apps.

Advances in browser technology have enabled a Wisconsin credit union to build mobile check deposit into its mobile browser. University of Wisconsin Credit Union, with more than $1.6 billion assets, is the first financial firm BTN has heard of to offer the feature through a mobile site.

"The main reason we went this way is we are web developers," says Eric Bangerter, vice president of e-commerce and internet services at the credit union with more than 177,000 members. "And we didn't have to make decisions as to what devices or platforms to support."

About a year ago, when UW Credit Union was in the market to allow members to deposit checks through their smartphones, the credit union expected to make those decisions. App-less at the time, Bangerter assumed the credit union would have to debut a native app in order to give members the widely popular functionality. Then technology changed: iPhones running iOS 6 and the new versions of Safari and Chrome (the browser which most Android devices use) improved in ways that allowed the browsers to access the smartphones' cameras, and ultimately allow for check deposit. The timing was good for the credit union, as it was integrating with its backend provider Ensenta, a vendor that white-labels technology from Mitek and comes with added fraud and risk management features, when UW Credit Union realized it could deliver the functionality on its mobile site.

"There was no practical way of doing it [before]," Bangerter says. "We would have had to build an app…It really wasn't possible six to eight months ago."

Now, members with Apple devices running iOS 6.0 or newer can deposit checks with Safari or Chrome, as can members with Android phones running version 4.0 using the default browser, Chrome or Firefox.

The check deposit experience is akin to the mobile app one: members login via their online banking credentials, and in four steps make deposits. "We are really seeing mobile browser getting all the hooks into the hardware," he says. (Watch a demo of the feature here.)

There is one subtle app design difference between the two approaches. Most native apps outline the square in which a consumer can take a photo of a check, while the mobile browser does not yet come with brackets.

Netbanker blogger Jim Breune, despite being a proponent for native apps, praised the credit union in a recent post for delivering the feature.

He writes:

"I've been a huge believer in native apps. It's how legions of smartphone users have been trained to access services. Many normal people don't even understand the "browser construct" in a mobile phone. That said, I see the logic in UWCU's approach. Like most businesses, they must prioritize their investments. And now that the mobile browser can tap the camera (and GPS), it makes sense to push mobile power users to the mobile web."

Celent Senior Analyst Bob Meara, meanwhile, tells BTN the browser-based mobile capture may have some quirks that the credit union can't control on behalf of the member, which are evident in some comments on a blog post about the feature. (One example? A longer processing time.)

Meara views videoing checks as the next frontier of check deposit that will improve the user experience. "That's the direction the industry is going," Meara says.

USAA is already allowing members to make video deposits.

UW Credit Union may lack a native app for now, but app design principles are woven into the firm's mobile site. Rather than a blank loading page - a look an app never has -- the credit union made sure the mobile site design included spinning wheels to indicate to the user that something is happening. Beyond the spinning wheels, the credit union's check deposit comes with a visual of a progress bar to clue the member to what stage the deposit is in. "We built it to be app-like," Bangerter says. "It's an experience people are used to seeing. You'll never see blank screens."

Furthermore, the credit union is building an app, but mostly just to gain important real estate. "We need an app in the stores," says Bangerter. "It's kind of like not having a Google result." The forthcoming app, he says, will be simple and have straightforward features: contact the bank, find branches and link to the mobile sites.