What's that saying about Lies, damned lies, and statistics? The current state of the U.S. mobile banking market brings Benjamin Disraeli's phrase to mind as we see mobile banking numbers tailored to bolster both the argument that mobile banking has exponential potential and that its current state in the U.S. is best described as immature. Both are true, and present a call to action, for while the opportunity for new revenue and the creation of the next-generation banking experience is exciting, getting there demands concentrated effort by the entire industry, not just the leading players.
First exponential. At SourceMedia's 3rd Annual Mobile Commerce Summit in early June in Las Vegas, USAA's mobile maven Jeff Dennes described the exponential growth of technology to support mobile banking: There are 3.3 billion mobile phones on the planet, compared with 900 million PCs; 2009's 80 million smart phone sales are expected to match feature phone totals; 58 percent of the U.S. population - or 108 million adults - are expected to be mobile bankers by 2012. And Gartner predicts the number of banks offering mobile banking will double from less than 300 to more than 600 between 2008 and 2009.
Despite this momentum, and widespread adoption in other markets, things here are immature. Even 600 banks is still less than 10 percent of U.S. institutions, and the most successful banks report customer adoption rates of less than 10 percent. Functionality is often limited to balance inquiries or funds transfers, there are battling modalities, no generally accepted best practices, and recent surveys indicate consumers are worried about security.
Despite these truths, several recent developments point to a tipping point on the near horizon: SMS-based banking is gaining traction now that major credit card brands communicate with millions of customers this way. Partnerships such as Monitise/Metavante and M-Com/Fiserv are making advanced functionality available to the smallest banks. And, finally, there's demonstrable ROI: Fiserv predicts an institution with 250k retail customers that adopts "triple play" can hit profitability for mobile banking as a product in the first year.
There's a temptation to compare mobile banking to Internet banking - another channel that allows consumers to be self-directed and gives them greater access. That's true, but mobile offers so much more: the potential for the dramatic transformation of retail delivery, and with it new revenue, new products and new customers. Some banks clearly grasp the potential. Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, USAA, and a few others are experimenting with all modalities of mobile banking, and moving beta-style into mobile payments. But the majority of banks are still on the sidelines, which brings me to the other difference between mobile and Internet banking: the velocity with which it will take hold. Says Dennes, "You just don't have 10 years anymore."