I have spent a fair amount of the past three years or so researching, writing about, consulting and presenting on mobile banking. I think about the channel a lot and instinctively look out for new developments in the space on news sites or when I attend conferences.  As an advocate of mobile banking, I feel that I should be entirely sold on making it my channel of choice with my bank. But I'm not.  At least, not yet. 

Don't get me wrong.  Mobile banking is great if I am sitting at an airport and feel the urge to make a payment or check up on something.  It has been equally terrific when I have needed to get to my bank accounts and do not have access to my computer to do an online banking session.  But mobile banking, at least with my primary bank, has proven itself unreliable, and too limited on too many occasions that my first preference for now remains online banking. 

Despite the fact that I bank primarily with a large bank, the mobile banking services I have access to considerably lag behind those of online banking. If I go to look at my credit card account with my bank using my phone, for instance, I cannot see any transaction information since my last statement.  Nor can I see how much credit is available or get an accurate, up-to-date balance on the account. 

I have contacted the bank about all this and the answer I get is "you're not the only one with that experience", with no explanation, no apology and no commitment to fix the problem.  Basically, the only thing I can do with my credit card through mobile banking is make a payment to the account. 

Likewise, my bank's mobile channel does not let me view any information on many other accounts I have, such as my mortgage or line of credit.  They show up on the list of accounts, but, unlike online, they cannot be accessed, even to check balances.  Their purpose in being visible via mobile appears to be to allow me to make a payment to them, nothing more. 

Transferring funds to someone outside the bank is also a challenge.  There are more limitations as to who I can send money to and the amounts I can send than with online banking.  And there is no getting around these limitations by starting the process online: anyone I set up via computer as a payee is not available to me via my phone at a later time. 

I wish that I could say that my experience with the mobile channel is unique, but the customer experience studies I have been involved with suggest otherwise.  New features and functionalities are being rolled out across the industry, but error rates on cutting-edge capabilities, in particular, can be high, as teething problems are being resolved. 

In the most recent mobile banking study at ath Power, 43% of small business customers experienced some technical problem(s) within the past year with their bank's mobile channel.  It is one thing for the bank's marketing department to put out promotional materials on the bank's "latest-and-greatest" addition to the mobile channel, but quite another for the IT department to deliver.

A possible reason for at least some of these issues is that relevant systems are not talking to each other.  The situation is exacerbated by all the industry consolidation that has taken place.  Legacy systems at various acquired banks do not necessarily communicate well with other systems within the bank holding company.  In addition, banks have typically deployed mobile banking as an addendum to online banking, from both a technology and staffing perspective, with consequences to the customer experience. 

To an average customer, however, this is all academic.  Customer experience suffers, and, in this case, mobile banking usage is discouraged, in favor of the more robust online offering.  These matters will, no doubt, be resolved over time and I continue to be optimistic about where the mobile journey will take us, even with my current bank.  Meanwhile, however, I think I'll stick with online banking for anything serious and drop in on mobile on an as-needed basis.

Michael J. McEvoy is managing director at ath Power Consulting. He can be reached on LinkedIn  or by email at mmcevoy@athpower.com.