Mobile Banking & Payments Terminology

In 2007, we'll be spending more time researching mobile banking, payments, and finance applications. So that we all understand each other, here are some of the key terms that will be used:

General terms/acronyms:

SMS >>> Short message service (also known as text messages, texts, SMSes, txts): A service available on most newer mobile devices that permits the sending and receiving of text-only messages; also can be sent to and from personal computers or even landline phones

MMS >>> Multimedia messaging service: An evolution from SMS, allowing messages to contain multimedia objects such as images, audio, video, and rich text 

CSC >>> Common short codes: Special short telephone numbers of just four to six digits used typically by businesses to make it easier to send text messages their way (the Mobile Marketing Association has a helpful primer here)

WAP >>> Wireless Application Protocol: An open, international standard for applications that use wireless communication; primarily used to enable Web access from mobile devices

Mobile IM >> Mobile instant messaging: Similar to desktop instant messaging, but slimmed down to fit on a much smaller mobile device screen

Banking & finance terms:

SMS or text alerts: Simple one-way messages from the financial institution or payments provider to the mobile user with account-specific information

Mobile payments: Payments initiated through a mobile device, could be via SMS, WAP, or a device-specific application

Mobile banking: Online banking functions performed via a handheld mobile device (PDA, cellphone, etc.); the general term that encompasses WAP Banking, SMS Banking, or True Mobile Banking (see below)

WAP banking: Accessing secure online banking functions through a mobile device's browser

SMS or text banking: Two-way messaging; for example, using text messaging to query the server for account-specific information and have it returned to the mobile device, or responding to a bank-initiated text message to initiate a transaction

True mobile banking: Our term for banking functions delivered through a downloaded application run locally on the mobile device

Sources: Online Banking Report, Mobile Marketing Association, Wikipedia

Wells Fargo Launches Two More Blogs

Evidently, Wells Fargo has found blogging religion. Not only is it the only major U.S. financial institution with a blog, but it now has not one, not two, but FOUR public blogs.

Here's the lineup:

Previously reported:

  • Guided by History: The bank's first blog, a community service resource that began in March.
  • The Student LoanDown: An excellent blog launched in September to support the bank's student loan business. We've reported on it here and here.

Launched in August, but not previously reported:

  • Commercial Electronic Office (CEO) Blog: This B2B blog supports the bank's Commercial Electronic Office business portal. It launched August 10, but is not listed on the bank's blog index page <> or on the bank's main website. Our initial reaction: The CEO Blog is an all-business affair with 39 posts in four months, a good rate for a business blog (see screenshot below). We'll take a closer look in a future post.



  • Stagecoach Island Community: Another good-looking blog (see screenshot below) launched Nov. 27 supporting the bank's Second Life-inspired virtual world Stagecoach Island (see our coverage here).

Wells Fargo Stagecoach Island blog

USAA Offers Nationwide Remote Deposit Capture for Consumers

In a press release yesterday, USAA, which serves many of its 5.6 million members remotely, announced the availability of its Deposit@home remote deposit capture service. It's the first major remote deposit capture service geared towards consumers. There are no fees for the service.

Previous services have been targeted to businesses who could justify the $300 to $700+ cost of a dedicated on-location paper-check scanner (see prior coverage here). USAA's service USAA remote deposit in actionworks with any 200 dpi or better scanner hooked to a Windows 2000/XP computer, so households with a dedicated scanner or multi-function printer will not be required to add hardware.

Deposit@home has been rolling out to selected customers since mid-November. To reduce risk, the service is only available to credit- and insurance-qualified checking account customers.

It's being positioned as a replacement to the UPS/NetBank QuickPost service that was abruptly discontinued by NetBank in a cost-cutting move (previous post here). QuickPost allowed USAA customers to overnight deposits free-of-charge from any UPS Store. There is no word on when or if it will be available to all USAA checking account customers.

Because of its limited availability, it has not been featured on USAA's website. Invitations were sent by email and the option was added to the menu within online banking. However, the feature was used in an online promotion for the Lackland Airfest 2006 a month ago (see mention in upper-left here). 

Here's a screenshot posted on the USAA thread at FatWallet:

QuickPost alternatives at USAA CLICK TO ENLARGE

Assuming the service works as promised on in-home scanners, the ability to submit deposits remotely should help financial institutions compete for checking accounts outside their geographic footprint.

Winners: Direct banks, credit unions, and smaller banks with limited branch networks; also, remote deposit technology providers and printer/scanner manufacturers

Losers: Any financial institution that doesn't offer remote deposit options; branches

Vehicle Auctions Hit the Homepage at Houston Federal Credit Union (HFCU)

Many financial institutions sell or auction repossessed vehicles to the public. However, not many use this by-product of installment lending as a prospecting tool on their homepage.

We came across this novel approach at Houston Federal Credit Union <> while putting together a presentation titled "Extreme Website Makeovers" for an upcoming American Bankers Associate conference. The first place we looked for inspiration was the client list of Trabian, a talented new website designer concentrating on the credit union market (grab a feed to their outstanding blog, OpenSourceCU here). 

Trabian's client, HFCU, includes a link to its vehicle auctions on the right-side of its homepage (see screenshot below). Clicking on the box takes users to the main auction page where any registered user may bid on the vehicle (in this case, just a single motorcycle was up for auction).   

Houston Federal Credit Union homepage CLICK TO ENLARGE

Everyone loves a good deal, and unlike retailers who can drop a loss-leader on their homepage to generate excitement, financial institutions have far fewer options. Vehicle auctions provide an interesting way to encourage members to check back periodically to see if they could get a smoking hot deal on a used sedan, truck, or bass boat.

It's also a good prospecting tool. Nonmembers are allowed to register on the site and bid. This provides the credit union an immediate opportunity to make a sales pitch such as the "Wish your auto loan was at HFCU instead?" in the center of the page.

The email address supplied by the bidder also enables the CU to market to the nonmember in future emails. Finally, anyone who buys the auctioned vehicle is a great candidate for an HFCU loan, which are positioned in the upper-right of the auction page (see screenshot below).

Houston Federal Credit Union auction page CLICK TO ENLARGE

Making it even better
We love the idea, and it works well even in its relatively simple form. It would be even better with a few additions:

  1. It would drive even more traffic with an email and RSS feed option for receiving information on new auction items and for monitoring bids.
  2. The credit union would generate more interest by including a variety of vehicles (even if they bought a few at auction to seed the site). Today's sole entry was a 2005 Suzuki motorcycle with a buy-it-now price of $6300.
  3. The auction format and tools are relatively crude by today's standards. For example, it wasn't obvious who the other bidders were, how long it had been up for auction, or what the next bid needed to be. There are numerous auction services that could provide a more eBay-like experience.
  4. It would be helpful to integrate the auction more closely with the loan center so users could easily calculate monthly payments, insurance costs, etc.

Top 25 Web 2.0 Financial Websites

Since its September launch,  Your Credit Advisor <> has posted several trendy lists to attract traffic to its credit card application portal. The latest entry, "Top 25 Web 2.0 Apps for Money, Finance, and Investment."

The article includes helpful summaries of each site's capabilities. It's a good jumping-off point to do a little outside-the-box thinking about Web-based finance (see also, Online Banking Report #135/136, "How to Web-2.0 your Online Banking").

This list includes:

  • Two loan sites: Zopa and Prosper (see previous coverage here)
  • Six personal finances sites: Three we've covered: Dimewise, foonance, ioweyou (see our previous coverage here) and three new entrants: NetworthIQ, MedBillManager and Wesabe, a fascinating social money site we'll cover later this week
  • Five real estate sites: Homethinking, iiProperty, Rentometer (owned by iiProperty), Trulia, and Zillow (see our Zillow coverage here)
  • Two miscellaneous sites: PayScale, cFares
  • Ten investment sites: BullPoo, Motley Fool's CAPS, DigStock, FeelingBullish, GStock, MoneyTwins (foreign currency), SaneBull, StockTickr, WikiFinancial

Yet Another Direct Bank: WT Direct from Wilmington Trust

Link to WT Direct website It may be premature to give the direct banking trend a cynical acronym such as YADB, meaning "yet another direct bank" (see Note 1). However, it's getting more difficult to distinguish one 5% high-yield offer from the 27 others (see Note 2).

The latest top bidder on Google (see End Notes) is WT Direct <>, a new direct banking brand from Wilmington Trust. Its sole product is a 5.26% APY savings account. To encourage trial, the bank pays the advertised rate on any balance for the first 60 days. On day 61, the rate drops 466 basis points to 0.60% unless you've stored $10,000 or more in the account. The bank clearly discloses both rates.

The homepage is direct and to-the-point (see Note 3). While not as flashy as ING Direct or iGObanking, it communicates the benefits in an efficient manner. The landing page from its top-ranked Google ad (see Note 4) is better, with a chart showing how it beats ING Direct.

The application is well conceived (see below), with few of the problems identified in our earlier critique of iGObanking's online app (see previous post here). The one improvement we'd recommend: Divide the personal info section into two steps, first getting the "public" info (name, address, email address), then asking for the private stuff (SSN, driver's license, etc.).

WT Direct savings application CLICK TO ENLARGE

End Notes

1. Modeled after YASN, a term used in tech circles for "yet another social networking site."

2. In BankDeals' weekly high-rate summary, 27 banks were identified as offering 5% or more APY on online savings accounts (see post here).

3. WT Direct homepage screenshot (click to enlarge)

WT Direct homepage CLICK TO ENLARGE

4. WT Direct search ad on Google (4 Dec. 2006 search on "savings account gifts" from Seattle P.I. at 3 PM PST)

Google results for "savings account gifts" CLICK TO ENLARGE

Holiday Gift Ideas From My Bank?

Link to ING Direct store Who'd have guessed banks would become a popular source of holiday gifts, other than good old-fashioned greenbacks of course?

Now that niche audiences can be targeted with online promotions during the holidays, many financial institutions are marketing financial products packaged as gifts. Prepaid Visa/MasterCards are the hottest item, but there's also potential in other areas. 

Gift cards
The second most popular gift item this year, after apparel, is expected to be prepaid cash cards. While the majority of the $20+ billion purchased will be direct from retailers, hundreds of banks and credit unions, such as Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) have joined the fray (see email below). If marketed right, financial institutions could gain a significant share of total sales. See our previous post here about integrating gift cards into online banking for more information.

Boeing Employees Credit Union gift card email BECU CLICK TO ENLARGE

Credit reports
is taking advantage of the giving season to market credit reports and/or FICO score gift certificates. The cost is $20 for a three-bureau credit report, $15 for the FICO score and explanation, or $30 for both (see email below). An even better gift would be a year of credit monitoring.

Equifax email for credit report gifts CLICK TO ENLARGE

Investment accounts
For years, ShareBuilder has marketed "the gift of stock" during the holidays. This year, many of its partners, such as National City Bank, are offering a $50 gift card as a bonus for new accounts (see screenshot below). That way grandma and grandpa can give junior something that's good for him, an investment account for the future AND something he'll actually like, $50 to spend at the mall.

National City Sharebuilder landing page CLICK TO ENLARGE

Piggy bank 2.0
The Savings Machine from ING Direct For the younger set, ING Direct has for a year been selling The Savings Machine, a toy bank/calculator/ATM machine. And judging from the note on its website,* it's proving to be a popular Deal of the Month with a lower $17.95 price tag which includes free shipping (see inset). Several years ago, ING Direct reported nearly a million dollars in sales from its online merchandise store <>, an inexpensive way to get its name on the street.

*Note by the "Savings Machine" product page today: All orders placed from 4 Dec to 11 Dec will be shipped out the week of 11 Dec due to the large amount of backorders.

Intuit’s Billion-Dollar Online Banking Play

Intuit merger graphic on its website Intuit's bold move to purchase online banking pioneer Digital Insight came as a surprise, both to analysts and shareholders. Reactions were mixed, with shares drifting downward after the 8 AM EST announcement Thursday, ending the week off 3% (see chart here; Intuit presentation on the acquisition here).

Although the software developer has made a few forays into selling bank technology, including owning a bill payment processor in the mid-90s, it has generally stayed focused on packaged software for consumers and small businesses.

Just two weeks ago, I met with Intuit execs at the coming out party for its financial institution services unit at the China Grill down the hall from BAI's Retail Delivery Conference in Las Vegas. They were excited about several new services built on the Teknowledge unit purchased last year (see previous post here).

Only time will tell whether the acquisition makes sense for Intuit. It's a savvy company that understands the personal finance space as well as anyone, so I tend to believe they know what they are doing.

Regardless of what it does for Intuit's share price, the merger is bound to shake up the online banking product offerings at banks and credit unions, especially for smaller businesses, the Quicken and QuickBooks crowd.

In September, we published a report predicting significant growth in personal finance functionality in online banking services (see Note 1). This merger should further accelerate that growth. As Intuit integrates Quicken, TurboTax, and QuickBooks features into the Digital Insight line, other platform providers will feel pressured to keep up.

This is good news for U.S. consumers who've generally NOT been able to enjoy the benefits of tightly integrated personal finance and online banking.

End Notes:

(1) See Online Banking Report #130/131, Personal Finance Features for Online Banking: Why MySpendingReport Trumps Free Bill Pay

The iGoBanking/CashEdge New Account Application Needs Improvement

Link to iGoBanking home page As mentioned earlier this week (previous post here), Flushing Financial's new Internet offering iGoBanking features a great price, modern homepage design, visible rates, and an overall good user experience.

iGoBanking application hosted by CashEdge CLICK TO ENLARGEAt least until prospective customers decide to buy. Once the user clicks the grammatically challenged link, "iGo Open a New Account," things go downhill quickly. The application (see screenshots right and below), hosted by CashEdge (see related post here), fails to maintain the user experience from the bank's homepage.

In fact, the application is a circa 1999 all-text affair that leaves you wondering if the graphic designers at CashEdge are on strike. Here are a few of the problems:   

  • No Customer Service or Help on the application
  • No telephone number
  • No way back to the homepage, the bank's logo is NOT clickable
  • Overall lack of design and graphics, even the logo in the top looks like a low-resolution version
  • The application steps are hardly visible because the white font is too thin to be easily read through the blue background
  • Social security number required on first page
  • Application is massive in length for a simple savings account (see screenshots below); we realize the need for regulatory compliance and security, but it should be either shortened or broken into smaller steps to maintain

For more on best practices in application design, refer to Online Banking Report (#104).

Screenshot: iGoBanking application page 2 (click to enlarge)

iGoBanking/CashEdge application page 2

E*Trade Bank and Flushing’s iGoBanking Join the 5% Online Savings Account Club

<Updated 12/1/06 with more details>

Two new entrants in the so-called high-yield savings market launched this week:

  • E*Trade Bank <>: Its new 5.05% Complete Savings Account was advertised in the Wall Street Journal today and took next-to-top honors in Google search results for "best savings accounts" (see end note 1, screenshot below).
  • iGoBanking <>: The new online brand from Flushing Financial launched Monday with a 5.3% rate on an online savings account (see end note 2, screenshot below).

iGoBanking (click to enlarge)

Flushing Financial's iGoBanking CLICK TO ENLARGE

As previously reported, Flushing Financial launched its entry into the online savings market. The 5.3% APY no-minimum account ranks as the fourth highest in the nation according to the Bank Deals blog (see list here). The rate leader continues to be E-Loan's at 5.5% (see our coverage here).

However, iGo can claim the highest no-minimum rate in the nation since E-Loan and the others require at least $5,000 to qualify for the higher rate.   

The bank will focus on deposits, CDs, and savings in 2007 and may expand to home equity and mortgage lending in the future.

The website is attractive and relatively well designed. The online application is hosted by CashEdge (see related post here). Unfortunately, the outsourced application fails to maintain the look and feel of the main website and may cause a few applicants to second guess their decision to sign up (click here for a more thorough analysis of its application design). 

E*Trade Bank (click to enlarge)

E*Trade Bank Complete Savings page CLICK TO ENLARGE

E*Trade's Complete Savings account builds on the direct bank's lineup of award-winning products (see previous coverage here). The bank flat-out understands the market and the medium.

The landing page for the new savings offering is brilliantly laid out with Google-like simplicity using just 25 words of copy (other than the table and the below-the-fold fine print). Notice how they show specific competitive prices, including high-yield market leader ING Direct. But what most consumers will remember from the chart is the "6X national average" rate.

Finally, the "Open an Account in Minutes" and "Free, one-click transfers to and from any institution" address user concerns on both those issues. And the small padlock with E*Trade's protection guarantee helps users understand security issues.

End notes:

  1. Search conducted at noon PST, Nov. 29 from Seattle IP address (see screenshot below).
  2. Source: American Banker, 29 Nov. 2006 (article here)

Google search results for "best savings account"

Google search results for "best savings rate" CLICK TO ENLARGE

CashEdge Claims 25% Share of 2006 Online Account Openings

I had a good chat with CashEdge <> VP Neil Platt at BAI's Retail Delivery last week. The company is busy working on a much-needed channel integration initiative so that account applications begun online can be completed with a phone call or even a branch visit, with no need to start all over from scratch.

Source: Cashedge CLICK TO ENLARGEThe company hopes it can capture half of what it estimates is 70% of completed online applications that go unfunded
(see chart inset).
If that's true, the payback for the solution, at least at larger financial institutions, will likely be measured in months, if not weeks.

Other projects in the works:

  • Cross-selling other bank products during the new account-opening process
  • Facilitating other types of applications, such as loans
  • Improving risk management by tapping additional data sources outside the credit bureau

CashEdge is a great example of a specialist that carves out a profitable niche in a relatively narrow, but risky area of online operations, new account funding. Thanks to big clients such as Citibank, the company is on track to facilitate one million online account openings this year, about a quarter of the estimated 3.5 to 4 million new checking and savings accounts opened this year online (Note: CashEdge estimates). 

The company ranked number 101 in INC Magazine's list of the 500 fastest growing private companies. According to the published figures, the 177-person company grew from just over $1 million in revenues in 2002, to approximately $10 million in 2005.

Boeing Employees Credit Union Email: "BECU Gift Cards Make the Perfect Holiday Gift"

Boeing Employees Credit Union <> starts the holiday shopping season off with an email pitch for its prepaid MasterCard gift card. At $2.50 each, they are a bit less expensive than one hanging in Safeway for $4.95. However, the CU neglected to disclose dormant account fees, a significant issue with consumer advocates.

It's too bad you can't order the cards online. Ideally, members should be able to order with a single click (or two) right from within the online banking function. Maybe next year.

Screenshot (click to enlarge)

Boeing Employees Credit Union (BECU) email CLICK TO ENLARGE


Type: Marketing email for prepaid debit
Product: Prepaid debit cash card (MasterCard)
Offer: None (cost is $2.50 plus the cash value)
Customer Type: Sent to nonmembers
Personalization: None
Links: None
Call to action: Toll-free phone, branch


Date received: Tues 11/28/2006 6:08 AM
From: BECU []
To: Jim Bruene
Subject: BECU Gift Cards Make the Perfect Holiday Gift


  • Even if gift cards cannot be ordered online, the credit union should include a link or URL for more information. Since many email recipients will automatically go to BECU's website to purchase, it would be helpful to specifically mention the cards cannot be ordered online, and why.
  • The opt-out and CAN-SPAM disclosures could be better designed.
  • Add disclosures for any monthly fees that kick in if the value is not used by a certain date.