The Debit Card On/Off Switch from City Bank of Texas

imageCity Bank of Texas has been a mobile innovator for more than four years, launching a ClairMail-powered mobile site in Oct 2008. I first heard its story at the Mobile Summit in June 2009. At that time, the bank already had 10% of its online banking base using mobile.

City Bank now offers a full range of apps including Android, iPhone and iPad, which make for a pretty impressive graphic. The new apps are powered by Malauzai Software.

And, in a world where most apps look pretty much the same, it has managed to pioneer several unique features:

  • Debit card on/off switch: If customers ever want to switch off their debit card, because it was misplaced, or if funds are running low, they simply move the toggle on the My Cards page of the mobile app (see inset).  
  • Reward-checking status: City Bank is a long-time rewards-checking client of BancVue. Its mobile app includes a rewards-tracking feature so users can see where they stand in the three-level program (see the Android screen in the lower right below).

imageBoth features are must-haves. But the on/off switch is brilliant both for its simplicity and value. And this tangible mobile feature/benefit likely to get talked about in the press and at the weekend barbeque. We are giving it an OBR Best of the Web award, the first of the year and 84th of all time (see note). 

 
The City Bank of Texas mobile lineup (link, 23 Jan 2011)

 City Bank of Texas mobile banking lineup

Note:
1. Since 1997, our Online Banking Report has periodically given OBR Best of the Web awards to companies that pioneer new online or mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. If anyone knows of other financial institutions offering a similar feature, let us know and we’ll update the post. City Bank of Texas is the 84th company to win the award since 1997 and the first in 2012. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.

PSECU’s Remote Deposit Honor System Has Processed $1.4 Billion with Only $74,000 in Losses

image Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest ones. Ten years ago PSECU launched the Upost@home deposit service. It allows members to manually enter their deposits in the CU’s online banking system for immediate credit, then mail them to the CU in a postage-paid envelope.

obr_bestofweb The service, launched in late 2001, was little publicized outside of PSECU’s member base during the first two years. We first heard about it in late 2003 when a second credit union licensed the service. We gave it our highest honor, an OBR Best of the Web award (note 1), one of only five given during the post-bubble dark days of bank-tech innovation (2001 through 2004).

At the time, it seemed an almost crazy idea. An online/offline honor system for deposits. But the CU knew what it was doing. It limited the amount that could be deposited and which members were allowed to use the service.

Now the results speak for themselves (see annual totals in table below):

4.5 million items deposited worth $1.4 billion (avg. of $310 per check)
$74,000 in losses
= 0.0053% loss rate (0.5 basis points)
or 1.6 cents per item

Upost has turned into the least loss-prone method of accepting deposit, including the branch!

Another interesting data point: The CU is processing almost 50,000 Upost@home deposit items per month, about one per month per member enrolled in the service, a pace that’s stayed remarkably consistent over time.

Bottom line: We’ve listed PSECU’s Upost@home on our annual list of top online/mobile innovations of all time (it was ranked #24 of those invented in the past 10 years and #42 of all time). But in terms of “bang for your buck,” it’s probably in the top-5.

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Source: PSECU, 5 July 2011

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Notes:
1. The original article published in Online Banking Report (OBR #103) is reprinted in the Netbanker archives here.
2. The list of top innovators was published in OBR #188.

Ally Bank Posts Real-time Call-center Wait Times on Homepage

imageAlly Bank made news this week as one of the few major banks offering consumer PC/scanner-based remote deposit (USAA and US Bank also offer it, note 1). But that new feature has not yet filtered out  to its website. While disappointed in not finding what I was searching for, I did notice something even better:   

imageThe wait time for its call center, updated in real-time, right at the top of every page (see screenshot, below). 

The first few times I checked the site, it always said zero and I wondered if the bank left it permanently there to demonstrate its call-center prowess. But now the wait-time has moved out to six minutes (11 AM Pacific time on a Thursday…a couple days in front of the U.S. tax deadline).

But that’s even more important for public acknowledgement. When wait times stretch to several minutes, customers can decide to call back later or spend a few minutes checking Facebook before a banker comes on the line. It also gives Ally’s customer service department a big incentive to keep the queue at a reasonable level. It’s a complete win-win.

The bank should also add a click-to-call feature so customers can skip the queue and simply request a call-back, a technique that can potentially cut support costs by shortening average call time (see note 3). Ally does offer live chat on its Contact Us page. However, it must be a lower staffing priority as I found intermittent availability on a Friday morning (8:30 AM Pacific) even though wait times for the call center were zero.

imageBottom line: Ally’s real-time availability is so much better than simply plopping a smiling face in the corner of your website and inviting calls. The estimated hold time demonstrates the bank’s respect for its customers’ time, something rare at large consumer brands in any industry. It’s a great tangible benefit to the “ally” positioning.

Because it raises the “state of the art” in online support, we are awarding it our first OBR Best of the Web for 2011 (see note 2).  

Ally Bank homepage with real-time call center wait time monitor (14 April 2011)

  Ally Bank homepage with real-time call center wait time monitor

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Notes:
1. Post updated at 10 AM: Originally I said the new Ally service was
“mobile” remote deposit, Ally let me know that it was PC-based online
remote deposit (previous post on US Bank’s service)
2. Since 1997, Online Banking Report has periodically given OBR Best of the Web awards to companies that pioneer new online or mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. If anyone knows of other financial institutions offering a similar feature, let us know and we’ll update the post. Ally is the 81st company to win the award since 1997 and the first in 2011. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.
3. For more information on delivering “live help,” see the most recent issue of Online Banking Report.

New Online Banking Report Available: Online & Mobile Banking Forecast through 2020

image The latest Online Banking Report: 2011 to 2020 Online & Mobile Banking Forecast is now available. It was mailed over the weekend to all OBR subscribers. It’s also available online here. There’s no charge for current subscribers; others may download it immediately for US$495.

The report includes our latest 10-year online & mobile banking and bill-pay forecast. While our reading of the tea leaves is unlikely to be perfect, it seems clear that the demand for online banking in the United States has reached a plateau (note 1); in fact, we are likely within a year or two of online banking penetration peaking and slowly heading down.  

How could that be? Mobile of course. In fact, through the end of 2020, we project an increase of 40 to 45 million U.S. households using mobile banking, to a total of nearly 60 million. During the same period, online banking penetration is actually expected to drop by a few million households.

If we are right, sometime near the end of the decade mobile banking will surpass online (note 2), although by then, the two will look pretty similar. 

The report also includes a revised 10-year forecast for U.S. peer-to-peer lending. After more than doubling in 2010, we expect continued strong growth of around 40% compounded annually through 2020.

__________________________________________________________________

Top innovations & trends of 2010
__________________________________________________________

The report includes a summary of the top ten innovations or trends during the past year (in alphabetic order):

  • In-statement merchant rewards goes from zero to 100 financial institutions
  • Loan preapproval wizards reduce uncertainty for applicants
  • Location-aware mobile services for banking debut
  • Mobile banking goes mainstream
  • Mobile capture removes the paper from commerce
  • Mobile payments gains real momentum
  • Online personal financial management (outside of the bank) struggles
  • P2P lending solidifies its niche
  • Social media proves it can have real impact in financial promotions
  • Transaction streaming and sharing gain a foothold

__________________________________________________________________

New entrants on the list of the top 43 innovations of all time
__________________________________________________________________

Each year we rank the top online/mobile innovations of all time (North America). There are a total of 43 products listed from 42 unique companies:

  • 15 banks
  • 5 credit unions
  • 9 non-bank financial services companies
  • 13 technology companies

The class of 2010, which was unusual for being all technology companies rather than financial institutions (note 3):

  • Blippy for its automated transaction-sharing network
  • Cardlytics for its merchant-funded in-statement online rewards service
  • Finsphere for its location-aware fraud-targeting service, PinPoint
  • Mitek Systems for its mobile photo bill pay

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Notes:
1. The penetration of online banking into U.S. households is relatively flat going forward. However, because each households accesses a larger number of financial accounts, growth at individual financial institutions is still growing on average.
2. Forecast is for the United States. Mobile has already surpassed all types of banking in some developing countries.
3. Perhaps this can be explained by the necessary focus of financial institutions on getting through the global banking crisis beginning in 2008.

ActivePath Named OBR Best of the Web for Email Banking System

obr_bestofweb In our most recent report, Email Banking: Revitalizing the Channel, ActivePath was named the third OBR Best of the Web winner in 2010. The company was cited for its unique plugin software that turns the user’s email inbox into a mini online-banking center.

We believe that the future of banking information delivery is outside the website. Increasingly, users will rely on information pushed to them through Facebook, Twitter or RSS feeds, to mobile phone apps, and to the email inbox. ActivePath’s solution plays into that trend.

The just-launched Israeli startup becomes the 78th company to win the designation since we began awarding it in 1997. The other two winners this year:

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Note: OBR Best of the Web awards are given periodically to companies that pioneer new online or mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important industry development. Recent winners are profiled in the Netbanker archives.

Best of Web: Chase Launches Instant Action 2-Way Text Alerts

imageobr_bestofweb It’s been 13 years since email bank-account alerts first appeared in the United States (see note 1). And for 12.99 years, users have wished they could just reply back to the message to cover a checking account shortfall. 

Well finally, Chase Bank has delivered on that promise with real-time Chase Instant Action Alerts:

image    image

Chase account holders now receive real-time text-message alerts when their account drops below preset minimums. Customers can initiate funds transfers by texting back transfer instructions. Currently, transfers can be initiated only via text message.

While we would have been more impressed if the service covered the more common email alerts, the new feature does move the online/mobile banking state-of-the-art up a notch. That’s enough to earn Chase the second OBR Best of the Web awarded in 2010 and the 77th all-time (notes 2, 3).

The bank is promoting the new feature via Google AdWords (see screenshots below). And, they’ve done a good job identifying the key benefit in the landing page title:

Avoid Overdrafts | Chase Instant Action Alerts

I don’t see any mention of the new capabilities on the Chase homepage today, nor does it appear to be touted within online banking (note 4). However, a site-search for “alerts” drives users to the landing page shown below.

Advertising on Google search for “Chase email alerts”
(2 June 2010, 9 AM from Seattle IP)

image

Landing page (link)
Note: The top graphic is animated, showing how the alert and reply work (see images at the top of this post)

image

Notes:
image 1. Signet Bank was the first major to offer email account alerts. We covered it in OBR 22 (Feb 1997). We didn’t learn until a few months later that community bank Britton & Koontz actually beat Signet to market with alerts launched in the summer of 1996.
2. You could argue that Chase is not first with this capability. The handful of U.S. text-banking programs that support transfers are already offering the same capabilities as Chase (for example, see text commands at Natco Credit Union).  However, Chase is the first major bank to provide the functionality, as well as the first to really promote the reply-back function as a major benefit.
3. OBR Best of the Web awards are given periodically to companies that pioneer new online/mobile banking features, products, or enhancements. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important development that “raises the bar” in alt-delivery. Chase’s Instant Action Alerts are the 77th recipient since we began the awards in 1997. It’s the second for Chase. The bank also won in 2007 for being the first major U.S. bank to roll out text banking. For a list of the top innovations of all time, see our January 2010 Online Banking Report.
4. It was not mentioned within my business banking account or consumer credit card account. I don’t have a Chase consumer checking account.
5. For more information on alerts and messaging, refer to this Online Banking Report published in 2003.

PNC Virtual Wallet Redefines the Online Banking User Experience

image I have been using my new PNC Virtual Wallet account for a week now (previous coverage of the application process). The account takes a novel approach to core online banking and money management. Honestly, the user experience is so different, I’m still digesting it.

I think I love it, but I want to make sure it’s not just the novelty I’m attracted to. And that it really makes sense for users to interact with their bank accounts this way. I cover the PFM/OFM features in the most recent Online Banking Report and will publish a complete analysis in the future. But <spoiler alert>, I’ll reveal the account’s secret now.

Calendar view.

PNC did not invent the calendar approach to tracking finances. Most of the OFM/PFMs and online banking platforms we’ve had on stage in Finovate during the past three years, eg. Mint, Fiserv, Metavante, Intuit and others, have it. 

But Virtual Wallet (VW) defaults to calendar view. And they don’t let you change that. If you are a VW user, you will be managing your finances in calendar-flow mode. The designers took a risk here, but I think it pays off. They are targeting younger users, who have not grown up viewing reverse-chronological transaction lists, so why not train them from the get-go in how to manage the past, present, and future on a single page.

The first time you log in, the software asks when you get paid so it can add those happy events to your cash-flow calendar. Then as soon as you start making transactions they show up on the calendar along with your current balance in a blue bar at the top of each date (see screenshot below). Also, future events such as bill payments, are shown on the appropriate day to keep you from overdrawing your account.

It’s a good way to see what’s happening. But it also seems like a little more work. Like I said, I’m still evaluating the user experience tradeoffs here.

image

The Pig
image As much as I enjoy exploring the big-picture ramifications of this new user experience, the real reason I finally opened a VW account is for the pig. Maybe it’s the Iowa boy in me, but I’m a sucker for pigs.

VW has a cute feature, admittedly aimed at somewhat younger customer than your typical banking industry analyst, that allows you to make a checking-to-savings transfer by punching the pig graphic at the top of the screen (note 2). And the oinking sound, followed by a the cash register, kaching, punctuates the transfer perfectly.

But it was a little annoying to have to confirm each punch with a popup window asking if I really did want to send $1 to my savings account (see note 1). How about just building an undo button to protect those who get a little carried away clicking that little oinker (see the pig in the upper right in screenshot).  

Notes
1. Users can change the default transfer amount so that punches are equal to more than $1. 
2. Users can customize the look and sounds their pig makes. I switched mine to an orange flame motif, which I’m not sure my farming ancestors would approve of.
3. We awarded PNC’s Virtual Wallet with an OBR Best of the Web in our recap of the most important innovations of 2008 (OBR here).
4. For more on adding appropriate online financial management (OFM) features to your online banking offering, see our latest OBR published just yesterday: Online Financial Management 3.0.

PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet Offers Three Ways to Put Your Savings on Autopilot

imageIf PNC Bank’s Virtual Wallet, launched in July 2008 (previous post), worked with any bank account instead of just PNC’s, it would have hundreds of thousands of users instead of the 60,000 or so estimated by Compete.

From the outside it’s hard to know whether the strategy has paid off for PNC. It depends on the profitability of these customers, how many were new to the bank, and how much was invested in the effort. 

imageThe Virtual Wallet contains several superb products wrapped in an inviting user interface.  No wonder it’s won so many awards, including an OBR Best of the Web from us. The eight awards are shown in a scrollbar at the bottom of the homepage (see inset).

One thing the wallet does better than most is try to make savings less painful or even fun (see last week’s post about making banking fun). There are three ways users can boost their savings rate (see inset from PNC’s demo):

  • imageEstablish automated savings transfers at various times of the month
  • Set up a savings amount to be transferred every time a bill is paid (same concept as Bank of America’s Keep the Change)
  • And my favorite, Punch the Pig. Every time you hit the animated pig, a certain amount of cash is transferred to the Growth (savings) account.


Note
: For more information on the PFM space, see our Online Banking Report on Personal Finance Features (new report available in April). For more on deposits, see Online Banking Report: Growing Your Deposits in the Digital Age (Dec. 2008).

Blippy Demonstrates the Power of Real-Time Streaming of Financial Transaction Data

image Blippy has been one of the more controversial financial entrants in the past few years. Observers have called it the “end of privacy as we know it,” a way to take “oversharing to a dizzying new level,” and a “great tool for phishers.” And those are just the people who like it.

Blippy, a kind of Twitter meets Yodlee service, allows users to stream their purchase activity to the startup’s website. Users can choose to publish data from credit and debit cards, bank accounts, and/or directly from purchase activity at ecommerce-partners sites (see list below). It’s the ecommerce transaction stream that provides the richest data describing the actual product purchased or rented rather than just a dollar total.

For example, here’s an entry from @Julia who’s connected her Amazon account directly to Blippy (note 1)  As you can see the Amazon purchases are shown in detail and one of the items, a giraffe teether, has elicited a question/comment from a friend (highlighting ours):

image

In comparison, credit card transactions list only the merchant name and not what was purchased. However, Blippy allows users to annotate their transactions to add that detail, as you can see in the following entry. 

image

One of the most common ways Blippy is used is to stream media consumption via iTunes and Netflix. Here are the three Netflix movies on their way to @crobertsjr:

image

The Palo Alto-based startup received a $1.6 million angel round in January 2010 from Ron Conway, Jason Calacanis, Twitter’s Evan Williams, Sequoia Capital, Charles River Ventures, and others. 

How it works
I got my first taste of Blippy after it opened to the public on Jan. 14. It’s simple to get started, calling for just an email address, screenname and password. You also have the option of finding friends using your email address book or choosing from a list of 13 suggested people including Blippy founder Philip Kaplan (@PUD) and interstar Jason Calacanis (@jason).

But you don’t even need to register for Blippy to see it in action. There’s a live stream on the homepage that anyone can watch (see screenshot below). If Blippy follows the Twitter/Facebook model, they will soon have an API available that will let outside developers tap the data stream.

Usage stats

  • Number of beta users: More than 5,000 who streamed $4.5 million worth of transactions
  • Most-streamed merchant: Netflix with 54,000 entries
  • Most prolific spender (that I ran across): Foo Bar (@foo), who does not identify himself other than CEO at a gaming startup, has linked his business credit card and streamed more than 350 purchases worth more than $300,000 (he’s a big online advertiser at Google, MySpace, Facebook).
  • Most-followed user: Leo Laporte (@leolaporte), from the Premiere Radio Network, with more than 2,600 followers

Features/benefits

Data sharing within workgroups:

  • Ability to share financial transactions within a family, a workgroup, or small business. It would be a great way for financial gatekeepers, e.g., the bookkeeper, CFO, or even board members/investors to keep tabs on company spending (see @foo above).
  • Ability to annotate expense streams. Users can add short descriptions to expense items so their followers can see the specifics.
  • Ability to discuss/comment on expense items. For example, CFO can ask “why did our Google AdWords expense spike yesterday?” and anyone in the group can comment back with an answer or speculation. We use Yammer in our company for this type of back and forth. 

Product research/social networking:

  • Ability to find other customers of the same store
  • Ability to discuss product or media purchases with friends or strangers
  • Ability to post positive/negative info about purchases (yours or others)
  • Ability to find previous purchasers of a product you are considering (currently not supported through search)
  • Ability to compare how much people paid for a certain item (not currently supported through search)

Personal financial management:

  • Ability to annotate expenses for future reporting (e.g., marking taxable items)
  • Store transactions free for as long as Blippy keeps the servers running
  • Ability to search own transactions

Financial institution opportunities
1. Card companies and banks should create similar sharing functionality for alerts; especially for small business clients. While public posting of purchase data may never have mass appeal, there are many private uses for real-time transaction data.

2. PFM’s should be building this functionality now to get out in front of Mint/Intuit who could simply acquire Blippy and incorporate real-time data flow within weeks. 

3. Once the Blippy API becomes available, banks should tap it to allow their customers to use it directly from within online banking.

Analysis
Whether Blippy lives on as a standalone service is difficult to predict. It depends on whether these capabilities are incorporated into other social networks, particularly, Facebook (note 2) and Twitter. And how fast card issuers move to make real-time transaction info easily available to their own customers.

image But regardless of where the company nets out, Blippy should be credited with pioneering real-time financial transaction flow, something every financial institution and ecommerce company will support in the coming years. As a result, we are awarding Blippy an OBR Best of the Web award, our first of 2010 and just the third in the past 14 months (note 3, previous winners).   

Blippy Homepage (14 Jan. 2010 7 PM Pacific)

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 Optional sign-in to Gmail, Yahoo or AOL to locate friends on Blippy 

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Purchases/activity at these merchants can be automatically tracked
Note: 13 ecommerce merchants currently participate (Amazon, Apple iTunes, Audible, Blockbuster, GoDaddy, GroupOn, Netflix, SeamlessWeb, Stubhub, Threadless, Wine Library, Woot, Zappos)

image

The Blippy real-time transaction stream
Note: You can choose to watch all activity or just that of the people you are following

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Notes:
1. If she hadn’t given Blippy her Amazon login info and linked only her credit card, there would be no product detail. It would just show as $80.95 spent at Amazon.
2. Blippy is similar to Facebook’s ill-fated Beacon service launched in Nov. 2007. The service was quickly toned down, then eventually dismantled, due to the privacy brouhaha that ensued. Blippy is very different because its users are signing up specifically to share purchase info. 
3. OBR Best of the Web awards, from Online Banking Report, are given periodically to companies that pioneer new online and mobile banking features. It is not an endorsement of the company or product, just recognition for what we believe is an important development. Blippy is the 76th recipient since we began awarding it in 1997. There were just two winners in 2009.

Happy 10th Birthday PayPal!

image In preparation for our upcoming report, I re-read our first report on P2P payments published almost 10 years ago to the day (29 Nov 1999). Although written early in the game, I was very impressed with PayPal, a service launched two weeks earlier (15 Nov 1999) by Confinity, the original name of its parent company.

We’ve made our share of incorrect predictions over the years, but this one we got right (note 1), annointing PayPal with one of the first OBR Best of the Web awards. Here’s our take from that original report, when PayPal was available as a payment option on just nine eBay auctions:

image(PayPal) is not as well known as BidPay….but as soon as (eBay) participants discover (PayPal) is free and real-time, it should catch on quickly.

PayPal was originally developed as a payment mechanism between Palm Pilots, which explains the “beam money” call-to-action on top of the original user interface (below). But I wasn’t a Palm user, so what got me excited about the service was the use of the email address to facilitate payments:

Much of (PayPal’s) press coverage has focused on the Palm application…(but) it’s the email-payment program that has the huge potential.

The rest, as they say, is history.

PayPal “send money” interface at its 1999 launch (15 Nov 1999)

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PayPal “send money” today (19 Nov 2009)

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Note:
1. And truth be told, we predicted  that PayPal would need to hook up with an existing payment player to get past trust issues. But luckily for them, the extremely deep-pocketed VCs in the bubble days floated PayPal a massive amount of cash so it could buy its way into the wallets of consumers.