After a slow start, San Antonio Federal Credit Union is getting mobile fast. The credit union is moving from very little mobile banking to a broad suite of applications that operate on practically every device, including most features that other financial institutions are offering on mobile devices.

The pace demonstrates the impact early adopters can have in pushing other institutions to move quickly to catch up or lose sales. The San Antonio-based credit union is located near USAA, a famously tech-friendly financial services provider. Like USAA, SACU serves a large military customer base, though it also serves a substantial non-military segment.

For both military and civilian consumers, the credit union's customer acquisition strategy was challenged by the lack of mobile banking.

"We couldn't compete really well for those people who already have mobile banking. Once they have it, they want to keep it and they aren't going to want to give it up," says Zandy Reinshagen, eServices Director for SACU.

SACU, which has 255,000 members and serves San Antonio, Houston and other areas of Texas, just outsourced a range of mobile banking services to Wescom Resources Group, which already powers the credit union's core banking system.

"We were nowhere before in terms of mobile, we're late for our marketplace to get into the mobile space," says Reinshagen, adding the strategy is to offer a wide range of services that's accessible in a number of ways, with a single sign on for deposits and mobile banking.

SACU's mobile banking product, which is called Go, allows members to access their accounts, pay bills, transfer money and deposit checks using the camera on the phone. The mobile remote deposit capture solution is powered by Vertifi's DeposZip Mobile service, which specializes in household and business RDC for credit unions.

The initial phase of SACU's deployment includes native apps for iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets; SMS text banking; and a browser-based application, with person to person mobile payments expected to follow. Online banking, mobile and RDC will be integrated with the core banking system by Wescom, which will permit single sign on for all digital banking channels. "It's the same authentication as home banking …and we will have the same eligibility requirements, so most of our members are eligible," Reinshagen says.

The credit union culture lends itself to single sign on for varied mobile services — it's a non-profit industry marked by cooperative tech efforts and shared branches. "The credit union market expects integration. We're not fond of disparate systems and sign-ons," Reinshagen says.

The credit union didn't give performance relative to competitors as a reason for its mobile deployment, but it does compete for many of the same consumers as USAA. SACU has branches located in and around military bases in the area. Reinshagen says that in addition to USAA, there are other large credit unions in the area as well as large banks such as Bank of America, which also has an aggressive mobile banking strategy.

USAA has long used mobile and web technology to reach its customers, who are often deployed in remote locations globally, or have primary residences that change frequently. That's placed USAA in the spotlight in bank tech circles, since it often tests new tech before the rest of the market. 

Having a large base of military customers is also a tech catalyst elsewhere. Navy Federal Credit Union entered into the mobile banking arena in 2010 with services like text alerts, text commands and a mobile web site. Soon after, they launched both an iPhone and Android app with the help of EffectiveUI, a user experience design and development agency. Recently they have brought their user experience and design capabilities in house, and have since upgraded both platforms to include an enhanced experience and smarter technology, making them available for use internationally. In addition to mobile banking staples such as finding branches and ATMs, and account balance queries and transfers, their members can also make loan payments, check current rates and use calculators, including a currency converter -- which the credit union considers a vital service for its globe-trotting base.