Let's have a race. You use your smartphone to make a bill payment the old-fashioned way – by manually entering your information and biller details – while I use my smartphone's mobile-imaging capability to extrapolate that data from a payment slip. Sure, I'll probably win, but not by much.
In the time that it takes for me to line up the shot of the payment slip, your honed speed-texting skills would have carried you through a good portion of the information input process. You'd finish just a couple of minutes, if not seconds, behind me. If one corner of that payment slip was too dark or out of focus and I needed a retake or two, you actually might have won.
Now, let's race again. You'll go deposit a check at the ATM while I use my smartphone's mobile check deposit feature. Even with a few retakes, I would beat you by a long shot.
Mobile check deposit rightfully garnered a high level of customer demand. However, there will be much less clamor revolving around photo-based mobile bill payments, which utilize the same technology that lets customers deposit checks with their smartphones.
The technology fails to deliver a substantial difference in convenience for mobile customers, resembling the struggles faced by the mobile payments industry. Aditya Bhasin, senior vice president of digital banking at Bank of America, told me, "My credit card is, and always has been, very mobile." You can swipe your card and be on your way out the door before I can verify my identity through my mobile payments app.
Mobile photo bill payments are in the same type of situation. Because they lack game-changing qualities, there's less pressure on banks to offer this capability. Banks that have been reluctant to jump on board the mobile-payments bandwagon know what I mean.
Other types of new innovations in mobile banking are treading down the same path as mobile photo-based bill pay. Recently, voice recognition has made its way into mobile banking. Again, there isn't much of a difference between a few taps on the smartphone and saying, "Transfer $100 from account A to account B." (Ask yourself if Siri has been of any use. She/he hasn't been for me.)
Although such innovations are fascinating and destined to be part of the future of mobile banking, they can be set aside for now.
Since there's no rush to deploy mobile photo-based bill pay, why not explore other technology that delivers greater value to customers and your institution? For example, money management tools, by the likes of Intuit (i.e., Mint) and MoneyDesktop, hold great promise and provide plenty of cross-selling opportunities. Or, something as simple as person-to-person payments offers added convenience with the ability to generate revenue.
Simon Zhen is a financial writer and research analyst for MyBankTracker.com, a website that features consumer bank reviews, personal finance articles and bank product comparison tables.