One might presume the events of the past few months would've taken the wind out of Michael Lindsey's sails.
Lindsey, the industry's unlikely mobile evangelist as the head of retail banking at BancorpSouth, has championed mobility as the channel of the future. But as the economic crisis rattled the banking industry this fall, mobile banking and payments went off the table as a cornerstone investment subject and became more a Christmas wish-list item. It's hard to believe, for example, that Washington Mutual five months ago was preoccupied with choosing a vendor for balance text-alerts.
But Lindsey disagrees that recent woes have put a damper on mobility's future - or even its present. "It hasn't changed a lot of our plans," says Lindsey, an SVP at the $13 billion-asset bank in Tupelo, MS. In fact, customers "are having to make their hard decisions, looking at any expense, so they can make a controlled decision. Their phone gives them another tool to keep from overrunning their checking account."
BancorpSouth's mobile banking foray has been successful in that it's displaced the call center as the institution's No.2 means of customer interaction (it won't release figures, but its No.1 channel-online banking-has more than 200,000 users). It introduced the downloadable mobile application last year from Qualcomm's Firethorn Technologies, and already one-in-four customers find it more convenient than Web banking.
Lindsey, 38, cut his teeth in the back-office operations at BancorpSouth. He joined the bank during its days as the Bank of Mississippi, when he was a banking and managerial finance major at Ole Miss and would drive between Tupelo and Oxford to work the nightly batch. This past June the bank elevated him to lead the retail banking division, an obvious reward for the cause he championed as far back as 2001 - and worked to achieve in regular consults with his old nFront online banking pals who formed Firethorn as a startup.
A lot's changed in mobile banking since then, and even since BancorpSouth went live. In the intervening months, a trend has emerged to not only carry multiple delivery options - SMS, browser and downloadable application-but for banks to take up platforms without carrier interfaces that promise them a greater share of revenue in a future payments environment.
Lindsey isn't one to have buyer's remorse. Going with Firethorn's solution-which comes tethered to relationships with AT&T, Verizon, Cellular South and Alltel - has saved him the hassle of tech support and service outages. "I know my application's certified, and I know their handsets are always constantly evolving," Lindsey says. "I don't have to keep those specialized resources under contract; I don't have a need for that level of resource."
Phone companies are also likely to flex their muscles when payments evolve, and it will be difficult for banks to completely dislodge customers from their carriers' ecosystem. "We know that carriers have invested millions in new networks," Lindsey says. "The cellular carriers are going to be to a point where they're going to play a more active role."