New Features in iPhone OS 3.0 will Help Banking Apps

imageApple’s new iPhone operating system was announced last week. There are more than 100 new features that will make the phone even more valuable plus 1,000 new APIs to keep developers innovating like mad. The new OS will be available “this summer.”

Most changes are relatively minor, but two are significant for online banking and personal finance apps:

    image

  • Push notifications: Apple currently offers this feature only on its built-in email and SMS application (see screenshot below). But with OS 3.0, application developers can push notifications to the iPhone without the app being launched. For banks, that means you can show users when a new transaction, message, or alert is available to view.
  • imageIn-app purchases: This is probably less important for financial institutions who generally don’t charge transaction fees for mobile or online services. However, non-bank financial apps can now charge transaction fees for value-added services such as an expedited payment or a credit score. The transactions are processed via Apple so now customers needn’t provide the app developer their credit card number.

imageBottom line: We believe every financial institution large enough to offer online banking should support the iPhone platform. With OS 3.0, it’s even more important to be in the App Store. For more information, see the latest Online Banking Report on Mobile 3.0 — iPhone Edition (see announcement post).

 

 

 

 

iPhone home screen (30 March 2009) >>>
Here’s my main iPhone screen showing push alerts (clockwise) for new text messages (11), new emails (196), voice mails (6), and application updates (2).

PNC Bank Launches iPhone Mobile Banking in Apple App Store

image You’d think that seven months after Apple launched the App Store for the iPhone, it would no longer be news when a U.S. bank adds an application to the store.

It’s not like a cost-prohibitive slotting fee is involved. Developers pay Apple exactly zero dollars to be listed in the store (note 1). Apple’s revenue is from the 30% share of any fees charged for an app. All the bank apps are free, so that’s not an issue.

But it is news since the addition of PNC Bank two weeks age (app here) brings the grand total of bank-specific apps to four, five if you count PayPal. Even if you include the several dozen banks supported by Firethorn’s multi-bank app, there are still no more than 40 banks supported (note 2). And there’s not a single credit union, yet. 

Here are the five App Store participants in order of their appearance:

Wells Fargo has an iPhone app, but it’s not yet shown up in the official App Store.

PNC mobile banking app
PNC’s entry is a full-featured app powered by mFoundry. Along with balance and transaction activity, it includes bill pay, funds transfer, and an ATM finder with location-based capabilities. Users must enable mobile banking from within online banking in order to use the app.

The app has risen from number 17 in the Finance category a week ago to 13 today (note 3). However, the app has not yet made it to the PNC website (note 4).

PNC iPhone App screenshots (11 Feb 2009)

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Notes:
1. The app does need to be approved by Apple, a process that can take weeks or longer.
2. Users can also track thousands of financial institutions through Mint or PageOnce.
3. Bank of America is #1, Chase is #4, PayPal is #5, Mint is #6, Firethorn is #9.
4. A PNC.com site search for “iphone” yielded just one result, an iphone listed in a mobile banking compatibility table. (Off topic: Note to PNC Bank, your site search doesn’t function in Firefox 3.0).
5. For more information on the market, see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking and the latest forecast in last month’s Online Banking Report Online & Mobile Forecast.

Chase Bank, Mint Top the Charts with New iPhone Apps

imageimage No one knows for sure how Apple compiles the list of its top-selling iPhone apps, but it’s related to how many are sold during the past few hours. I’ve seen speculation that the measurement period is 2 hours (see note 1).

But there is no doubt about the benefits of rising to the top. The winner receives prime exposure in the iTunes Store and on the iPhone itself (see screenshots below).

I’ve checked the Finance category rankings dozens of times since the store opened in July, and the top app had always been Bloomberg with Bank of America usually the runnerup.

But Friday, a new top seller emerged in the Free list in the Finance category (note 2), Chase Mobile  while Bloomberg and BofA were each knocked down a spot to numbers 2 and 3. The Chase app was released just one week ago (12 Dec). But by Saturday morning (20 Dec), Chase had already been replaced at the top by online personal finance startup Mint, which released its iPhone app Monday (15 Dec), but it didn’t show up in the iTunes store until 1 AM Friday.  Mint stayed at the top all weekend and is still number one now (10 AM Pacific, 22 Dec).

imageIn the screenshot below and right, you can see the free publicity derived from holding the top spot. Also, note that you should put your name into the application. Bank of America, ranked number 3, neglected to include its name in the title, so it loses some branding value. Although, they would have to use BofA to fit into the space.  

Chase App (link to iphone App)
The Chase app itself is attractive and is similar to Bank of America’s with a login button to the website and an ATM/branch-finder utility. As of this evening, 64 reviews have been posted with an average 3.5-star rating out of five, slightly better than the 3-star rating of Bank of America’s iPhone app with similar features.

Mint App (link to iPhone app)
As expected from a company that is carefully using design to help distinguish it from the pack, Mint’s new app is great looking. Across all aggregated accounts, the mobile app shows account balances, transactions, and progress towards budget goals. A nifty alerts icon on the bottom provides a convenient way for users to keep tabs on important info on the go.

Another difference from most banking apps: Mint lets users choose whether they want password protection enabled after their initial login. If you choose to log out, then the app erases all data in memory, and you must log back in next time. If you choose not to log out, then your data remains visible until the next visit with no login required (note 4). This is a great convenience, but something that may not be allowed at regulated financial institutions.

Some users have reported trouble with the app on older phones. On my first-generation iPhone running version 2.1 software, the Mint app wouldn’t download. But once I upgraded the iPhone software to version 2.2, it downloaded flawlessly and all functions worked perfectly. In Mint’s forum, some users were reporting problems with the Budget feature, but it seems to work fine for me (forum thread) (note 3).

Top Apps in the finance category of iTunes’ App Store
(7 PM Pacific, 19 Dec 2008) 

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 Top free finance apps list displayed on iPhone:
          at 7 PM Pacific, Fri. Dec. 19                               at  2 PM Pacific, Sat. Dec. 20  image        image

Chase Mobile iPhone app                    Mint iPhone app main screen
main screen
(19 Dec 2009)                          (19 Dec 2009)

image       image

Notes:
1. That 2-hour window could be about right. When I made this screenshot, the new Mint app was at number 10; two hours later (9 PM) it had risen to number 5 (see screenshot above). By 9 AM Saturday morning (20 Dec) it had risen to number 1.

2. The App Store divides the top apps into two categories, free and paid. The top 20 free apps are listed on the right side and the top 20 paid apps are listed on the left. The apps in the middle are listed by newest first.

3. These operating system incompatibilities, a real problem in pre-1995 online banking services, had largely been left behind when banks embraced the Web in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, mobile banking will add to your tech-support costs. 

4. Mint also reminds users that they can choose to lock their entire iPhone for extra security.

5. For more info on the market, see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking

Moneytrackin’ is First Major Online Personal Finance Management App to Make it Into the Apple App Store

image I’m certain most major PFM providers will have an iPhone app within the next six to 12 months. It’s a valuable product extension from a functionality standpoint (see note 1). Even more important are the marketing benefits from blogger/press coverage and the App Store listing itself. 

Mint posted a blog entry last week reviewing ten iPhone finance apps. The post drew two dozen comments, most asking when a Mint app would be released for the iPhone. Mint Product VP Aaron Forth replied, “We are busy working on one now.”

Most of the better-funded PFM companies are likely working on an iPhone app, but the approval process at Apple can easily take a month or more (one developer’s story is chronicled here). So we expect to see them trickle out over the coming months.

Moneytrackin iphone app for personal finance management 30 Sep 2008 The first established online PFM to make it into the iPhone App Store is Moneytrakin’, the Barcelona, Spain-based multi-language, multi-currency PFM (note 2). We covered its launch more than two years ago (here).

The company recently announced it had surpassed 5 million transactions tracked. Assuming 250 per customer, that’s 20,000 active users. According to Compete, U.S. website traffic averages 1,000 to 2,000 per month. But many (most?) of Moneytrackin’s customers are outside the United States.

The Moneytrackin’ program, released on Sept. 19, is currently the seventh most popular app in the Finance category.

Notes:
1. For more information, see our Online Banking Report on Personal Finance Features.

2. There are at least a dozen check registers and mini PFMs in the App Store, but none are from established online PFM providers. The only exception is iBuxfer, which claims to work with Buxfer using its API, but was not developed by the company. And in fact, according to the comments in the App Store, may be violating Buxfer’s terms of service. All the more reason to get your own app into the store before someone else does.

Will eWallets Make a Comeback on the iPhone?

image Since the July opening of Apple’s App Store, we’ve been tracking the apps in the Finance category (see previous coverage here). But there are also several apps in the Productivity category of interest to financial institutions: the eWallets.

Ilium's eWallet for iPhoneThere are two wallets available in the U.S. iTunes store:

  • eWallet from Ilium Software: #46 in popularity in Productivity with a cost of $9.95 and rated 3.5 stars (out of 5) across 143 reviews (see inset)
  • Memengo Wallet: #48 in Productivity with a $0.99 cost and rated 4 stars across 43 reviews (website)

Web-based eWallets never took off because of security concerns and because they provided only marginal improvements in desktop productivity. However, a mobile version has more utility owing to sticky notes with password reminders and credit card info, helpful to users away from their desks.

How it works
Storage of usernames and passwords for websites is the primary use of eWallet, but it also has a Finance category (see inset above) where users can store credit card numbers and contact info (see screenshots below).

That info is helpful when using a card to make a purchase online or through the mobile phone. It’s also a great place to store the info in case the card itself is lost or stolen.

Financial institution opportunities
While these apps haven’t gained an overwhelming following, a financial institution could offer a free version that highlights its own card offerings while providing storage space for other card numbers. That way, you get your logo on the iPhone instead of Mint, Wesabe, or some other financial institution. 

The bank-branded eWallet could also include a financial calculator and direct connection to online banking.

Ilium iPhone eWallet showing credit card info    eWallet showing credit card detail

 Note:
1. For more info see our Online Banking Repot on Mobile Money & Payments.

First Sales Report on an iPhone Finance App: Tipulator Downloaded 3,200 Times

imageAccording to TechCrunch, the $0.99 tip calculator app from TapTapTap has been downloaded 3,200 times in the month it’s been available. Net income to the developer, after Apple takes its 30% cut, is $2,200.

TapTapTap also markets a much more sophisticated location-based search tool that has generated $50,000 in revenues for the developer.

Tipulator is ranked number 20 in our Aug. 5 rundown of the top-20 banking and finance apps. Today it ranked number 27.

Apple ranks the most popular apps within each category, but does not provide download totals. Tipulator numbers were provided by developer.

What it means
1. iPhone users, so far, are willing to pay for apps. Who would have thought that more than 3,000 people would go to the trouble to download an app to help them multiply their bill times 15% to 20%? And there are two tip calculators that ranked higher in the App Store.

2. There is real demand for mobile financial tools, even very simple ones. Financial institutions should consider launching a branded calculator app in the Apple App Store.

Top 20 Finance & Banking Apps in Apple’s App Store

image It’s been almost a month since Apple launched its App Store for native iPhone apps. According to the company, 25 million have been downloaded, an impressive one-million-per-day pace (11 Aug update: The company reported 60 million downloads, with $30 million in sales, during the first 30 days.)

Luckily for banking geeks, Apple added a Finance category (see screenshot below), so it’s easier to track what’s popular in our sector. As of early today, a total of 42 finance apps were listed. The 20 most popular were (note 1): 

Rank Name Type Price Release* Rating** Num***
1 Bloomberg News Free 16 July 4 337
2 CheckPlease Tool to split dinner bills Free 31 July 3 77
3 Mobile Banking (BofA) Banking Free 4 July 2.5 323
4 PayPal Payments Free 1 July 2 85
5 Balance Expense register Free 30 July 4.5 41
6 Puluwai Real Estate Search Real estate Free 20 Jun 3.5 38
7 3in1 Mortgage Calc Calculator Free 30 Jul 3.5 7
8 TipCalc Tip calculator Free 19 Jul 3.5 6
9 TipTap Tip calculator $0.99 1 Aug 4 30
10 Budget Personal finance mgr $1.99 24 Jul 3.5 37
11 MyAccounts to Go View accounting info Free 15 Jul 2.5 16
12 Swissquote Stock quotes Free 17 Jul 3 2
13 LoanCalc Calculator $0.99 26 Jul 3 18
14 Mortgage Payment Calc Calculator $0.99 2 Aug 3 9
15 Day Bank Expense register $3.99 14 Jul 3.5 64
16 SplashMoney Banking & PFM (note 2) $9.99 24 Jul 3 84
17 iXpenselt Expense register $4.99 9 Jul 3.5 52
18 PocketMoney Personal finance mgr $9.99 1 Aug 3 55
19 LoanShark Calculator $4.99 30 Jul 4.5 5
20 Tipulator Tip calc $0.99 30 Jul 4 33

Source: Netbanker/Online Banking Report analysis of Apple App Store data, 5 Aug 2008
PFM = Personal financial management
Bank of America iphone app (5 Aug 2008)*Release date of latest version; there may have been previous versions released earlier; currently reviews carry over from previous versions
**Average user rating on 1-to-5 point scale
***Number of user reviews posted

 What’s notable:

  • Nine apps have a download fee ranging from $0.99 to $9.99
  • Only four have a user-rating of 4.0 or better (on a five-point scale): Balance (4.5), Bloomberg (4.0), LoanShark (4.5) and TipTap (4.0)
  • Three apps, including two of the most popular, are rated below 3.0: BofA (2.5), PayPal (2.0) and MyAccounts to Go (2.5)
  • The most-reviewed apps are Bloomberg (337 user reviews) and BofA’s mobile banking (323) (see previous coverage)

What’s innovative:
I haven’t used any of the apps yet, but from reading the descriptions, there’s not much new here (notes 3, 4). The apps fall into four main categories:

  • Tip calculators
  • Other financial calculators such as loan payments
  • Expense/check registers
  • Personal finance tracking apps

Even though these functions aren’t very advanced, the ability to access them easily from your mobile phone makes them more interesting. And banks looking to create a useful iPhone app should take note. BofA was criticized in early user reviews for posting little more than a landing page for its normal mobile banking screen (see screenshot above).

Financial institutions would likely find a more receptive audience if a couple useful functions were added to the application besides an online banking login screen. It would be relatively trivial to add an expense register, tip calculator and other calculator functions to the banking app. 

Apple App Store Finance category (5 Aug 2008)

Notes:
1. Apple does not provide any metrics on how many times the apps have been downloaded. It just lists them in rank order.

2. Download transactions from more than 200 financial institutions supporting Intuit’s DirectConnect

3. The most interesting app is SplashMoney’s account aggregation app that allows you to download transactions from more than 200 financial institutions that support Intuit’s Direct Connect.

4. See our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking for more info.

Kiwibank Uses iPhone Launch to Spark Interest in Mobile Banking

image Kiwibank has one of the most eye-catching homepage designs in the world.  Who can resist a lime green Smart Car with four monstrous speakers strapped to the roof?

As I was obsessing about iPhone apps this week (see note 1), I ran across Kiwibank’s landing page for iPhone banking (see second screenshot below). Now that the iPhone has gone global, we’ll see if more banks leverage the iPhone hype, something that didn’t really happen in the United States so much. According to CNet Australia, ANZ is building an iPhone-specific interface, but a search of the ANZ website found nothing.

Kiwibank’s homepage iPhone promo, one of three rotating in the lower right, leads to the not-so-exciting landing page. Still, when you are riding the hype, you don’t necessarily have to put that much effort into your own work (see note 2), just grab ahold of Apple’s coattails and hang on tight.

Kiwibank homepage featuring iPhone promo (11 July 2008)

Kiwi Bank hompage with iPhone banking ad (11 July 2008)

Kiwi Bank iPhone banking landing page (11 July 2008)

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Notes:
1. Yesterday, I promised it was my last iPhone post for a while, but I couldn’t resist one more. Consider it a Saturday bonus post.

2. Case-in-point, the BofA non-app app being dissed by the vast majority of early-early-adopter reviewers at the Apple App Store (see yesterday’s post).

Bank of America iPhone Mobile Banking App Criticized in Early-User Reviews

image The good news: Of the 135 free applications in the new iTunes App Store, Bank of America’s is a solid number 20, three spots ahead of PayPal, according to rankings within iTunes this morning.

The bad news: The first batch of reviewers hated the app. Their main complaint: It’s not really a native app, just a front door to the bank’s existing mobile site.

The reviews: On a 5-star scale with one star the lowest choice, the app has only a 1.5-star rating (see note 1). Of the 81 reviews, only 19 rated it above one star. Throwing out the five 5-star ratings which are probably from people associated with the product, that leaves only 14 above the bottom rating, an abysmal score by any standard. Following is the breakdown:

Stars Number of Votes                            My Comments
*****             5 I’m skeptical of the objectivity of these reviews
  ****              0 Other than the suspect 5-star fans above, no one was willing to go 4 stars
   ***               6 Only six legit users were even OK with the app
    **             8 Most of these were critical in their comments
     *                62 one star is the lowest choice on the review form

Source: Online Banking Report review of iTunes data, 11AM PST, 11 July 2008

What’s innovative?
1. I was astounded to see 81 reviews in the App Store already. It just opened this morning! It should be noted that you don’t have to actually download the app to post a review. So if and when you post an app here, be prepared for criticism. Even more important, this demonstrates the impact the user voice will have going forward (see note 2).

2. Early adopters, especially techies, can be brutally honest, especially with large corporate efforts deemed lame. But even though the overall grade was very poor, a number of reviewers pointed out that the automatic ATM locator was a significant improvement.

3. BofA needs to upgrade this app ASAP. Some of the criticisms about font size and design can be fixed relatively easily.

Summary
Despite the harsh criticism from the first batch of reviewers, I think BofA did the right thing strategically. It’s too bad they didn’t have something a little flashier, but the bank will get far more mileage by being the first bank in the App Store that it will lose by disappointing the mobile early adopters. It’s unlikely they will lose any business from the negative reviews. They are mostly in the “you should have done better” category, not the “BofA sucks” variety.

You have only one chance to be first, and BofA took it. No one else will ever be able to say they were the first bank in the iPhone (who’s going to be the first credit union?). But the bank better get cracking on version 2.0! (see note 3)

Notes:
1. The only other app from a financial services company was Paypal, which mustered a meager 2-star rating. But it elicited only one-sixth the number of reviewers, just 13. Because you don’t have to actually download the app to post a review, BofA may be getting slammed by people just reading the reviews and jumping on the bandwagon with me-too critiques.

2. See our latest Online Banking Report for more on the growing importance of user reviews. We’ve also published reports on Mobile Banking and Mobile Payments.

3. This post marks the end of iPhone week at Netbanker. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.

Bank of America and PayPal are Only Financial Brands in Apple’s App Store at Launch

Bank of America once again proved its mobile mettle as the only financial institution to have a native app available at the launch of Apple’s new App Store (note 1). PayPal also launched an app on Day 1 (see screenshot below). Both are free.

Bank of America iPhone 2.0 App in Apple App Store in iTunes (10 July 2008)

Bank of America iPhone native app in iTunes App Store (10 July 2008)

Apple launched the store today within iTunes (see note 1). There are 552 apps at launch according to Pinch Media, Here’s the price breakdown:

  • Free – 135
  • $0.99 – 85
  • $1.99 to $3.99 – 110*
  • $4.99 – 62
  • $5.99 to $8.99 – 35*
  • $9.99 – 82
  • more than $10 – 40*

The new Finance category in the App Store has 23 entries at launch. Most are small utilities for calculating tips or splitting the dinner check. Only two recognizable brands are available, PayPal (lower left) and Bank of America, which by design or omission, is listed not with its name but as simply “mobile banking.”

Finance listings in Apple App Store in iTune 7.7 (10 July 2008)

23 Finance apps in Apple's App Store (10 July 2008)

 

PayPal App (10 July 2008)

PayPal app in iTunes Apple App Store (10 July 2008)

Notes:

*Interpolated from graph, plus or minus 3%

1. To view the App Store, download iTunes v. 7.7. Some users including myself (Windows bug?) have reported not being able to see it even after updating iTunes. I was able to access through this link published by TechCrunch.

USAA and Provident Bank Post iPhone Web Apps in Apple’s Directory

USAA iPhone mobile banking app (July 2008) It took almost six months, but Bank of America finally has company in Apple’s iPhone Web App Directory (see note 1).

USAA posted its iPhone-optimized Web app on July 2 (here). USAA’s browser-based app can be used by anyone with online access to their USAA accounts
(see note 2).

The resolution in the screenshot (right) is not great, but you can see the bank is using large iPhone-like icons to navigate to the main functions:

  • Balance/transaction inquiry
  • Funds transfer
  • Bill payment
  • Stock trading
  • Order auto insurance cards

Provident Bank added its mShift-powered solution to the Apple directory June 11. Users are able to perform all typical online banking functions: balance/transaction inquiry,image transfer funds, and pay bills. Its pedestrian format (see below) is clearly built to work across many different mobile devices. The small links would be harder to navigate on an iPhone compared to USAA’s icons.

See previous iPhone banking coverage here.

Notes:
1. BofA was first in the United States. Germany’s Postbank was the first bank in the world in the app directory, beating BofA by a few weeks last fall.

2. These are mobile browser-based solutions optimized for the iPhone. They are NOT native apps running on the iPhone OS, soon to be featured in Apple’s App Store (see previous post).

Put Your Bank in Apple’s iPhone 3G App Store

I’ve written about how the iPhone could change the way consumers use mobile phones to access data (see note 1). But this slide from the Steve Jobs keynote yesterday at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), says it much better:

Steve Jobs keynote slide showing iPhone advanced feature usage

In case you can’t read the slide, it says that 98% of iPhone users use the built-in Safari browser, 94% use email and 90% use text messaging. That’s an amazing level of usage for what used to be considered “advanced” smartphone features. So far, the impact on ecommerce companies has been relatively small, with just 6 million users worldwide. But with Apple dropping the price by 50% to $199, there will soon be 10, 20, or 30 million Americans connecting to the Web via iPhone. If 90%+ use the browser and messaging, it will have a major impact in online/mobile banking usage.

New App Store
imageAnd to help those millions of new users find useful things to do on their phone, Apple is building a new App Store, accessible directly from the main deck of the iPhone once users download the 2.0 software in July. The App Store will include thousands of applications optimized for the iPhone that can be downloaded over the air.

Quickbooks on iphoneSome will have a cost, with the developer keeping 70% of the revenue, but most are expected to be free. Since there is NO COST to list your app in Apple’s App Store (see update below), financial services companies should rush to get their app loaded as close to the July 11 launch date as possible.

So far, only two banks, Bank of America and Germany’s Postbank, have included their apps in the current online applications directory (here). A number of other financial apps are listed including Wesabe, Buxfer, and the latest, QuickBooks from Intuit (see inset right and screenshots below). Expect many more in the months and years to come.

Update 11 June: Important clarification from commenter “gerontius” (number 3 below). The current app directory includes webpages optimized for the iPhone. The new App Directory will include “native” apps that run directly on the iPhone operating system. That makes the bar quite a bit higher, depending on what you want to do. 

 

Bank of America Bank of America on iphone   Buxfer Buxfer on iphone 

myBudget myBudget on iphone       Postbank Postbank ibanking on iphone

 

Wesabe Wesabe on iphone          Yodlee  Yodlee on iphone

Note:

1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking