Another reason for banks to push out a native iPhone app

imageRumors abound that Apple will super-size its iPod Touch next year with a 7- to 10-inch-screen version. VentureBeat has a compelling picture (inset), although it’s not likely to be authentic.

The thinking is that this device fits nicely between the $299 iPod Touch and the $999+ MacBook with a price in the
$600- to $700-range.

The device is expected to run the iPhone OS and use the same touchscreen interface as its much-smaller siblings. That makes it the perfect in-home device for running any of the 40,000+ apps available in App Store. 

Why it’s important
Because there are apps for everything, this device could become the de facto controller for key in-home systems running the television, DVR, telephone (especially if it has a built-in web cam), heating and air conditioning, plus the audio system, of course. It will also be perfect for checking the weather in the morning, the traffic on the way out the door, reading feeds, twittering, and sharing YouTube videos and photos with visitors at the kitchen table. 

And while those are the interesting uses, the Apple device will also be a convenient way to access all types of information, from Google, to ESPN, to your bank balance, all with the touch of button.

Significance for banks and credit unions
If Apple works its magic yet again, this device could end up in the living room of half the upscale households in the world.

image While this device can run a browser to access any website, the user experience is much better with a native app (see note 1). And when push notifications become available in the next OS release, it will be even better.

Note:
1. For more information on why you must build a native iPhone app for your financial institution, see our recent Online Banking Report on iPhone Mobile Banking.

Technology Credit Union and TDECU are first CUs with native iPhone Apps

More than 10 months after the iPhone App Store launched, two U.S. credit unions have joined the application marketplace, which numbers more than 40,000 in the U.S. store alone.

The first was Texas Dow Employees Credit Union (TDECU), whose ATM and shared-branch locator, Culoc8, launched on April 29, according to the company’s Twitter page (below, link). image

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The TDECU app (see inset) is unbranded and can be offered by other CUs to their members. 

Eaton Family Credit Union is offering CuLoc8 to members on its website (see below).

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image Yesterday, Tech CU, became the first credit union with a full-featured branded native iPhone app (App Store link, see note 1). The app (see below) includes full online banking functionality and an ATM/shared branch finder (second screenshot). The credit union also added something we haven’t seen yet, an iPhone optimized feed of its blog, Money Savvy (third screenshot). Nice touch.

Tech CU has offered a mobile website since Sept. 2007. 

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Note:
1. America First Credit Union was the first CU with native iPhone support via its participation in Firethorn’s shared mobile banking app which launched in Nov. 2008.

Intuit’s Quicken Online Releases Native iPhone App

imageYesterday, Intuit launched its first native app for the iPhone, Quicken Online Mobile. It’s already risen to number four in the Finance category (note 1), and will likely hit number one given the number of Intuit fans using the iPhone. Currently, E*Trade’s new Mobile Pro claims the top spot.

imageIntuit has incorporated some interesting features including this user-friendly “what’s left until payday” feature. Users can access a graphical map of their future balance level (below) and get a warning (right) if the account looks like it will run out before the next payday.

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image Intuit also uses the GPS/location-based capabilities of the iPhone with a built-in ATM finder (click on inset for larger view). And finally, users are able to input transactions on the fly to get a real-time look at the impact to their budgets on the latest expenses.

The two-minute YouTube video (link) is worth watching to see how to position your iPhone PFM as a mobile financial assistant (speaker is Intuit product manager, Barron Ernst):

There are a number of personal finance apps available on the iPhone platform including Mint, Wesabe (announced Tuesday at FinovateStartup), MoneyTrackin, iBearSoft Software, and dozens more. 

Notes:
1. Quicken’s mobile app is number four in the free apps section of the iTunes Finance apps section as of 8:30 AM Pacific time, 2 May 2009. It has 73 user reviews with an average 4-star rating (excellent). In comparison, Mint which launched its iPhone app in December has nearly 13,000 reviews.
2. According to VentureBeat, Quicken Online passed the 1-million user mark in mid-April.

Apple iPhone Print Advertisements Feature Personal Finance Apps

image_thumb8Apple must be one of the more lucrative advertisers these days at the Wall Street Journal. Apple has bought the back page more times than I can count to show off the iPhone and more-importantly, the diversity of applications available (see inset, note 1).

Lately, Apple has run “theme” ads showing applications related to a single category. Last week (Thurs, 9 April), the back of the A section showed personal finance apps (see left column below). Yesterday, the apps all supported small business and ran on the back of Marketplace (B) section (see right column below).

The only app to make both lists: personal finance superstar, Mint, which even scored top billing in the personal finance page, occupying the upper-left corner, where it’s blurb would likely score the highest readership. 

The Apple website also has themed app guides. The managing money page (see screenshot below) features again features Mint, which gets the biggest graphic, Bank of America, who’s app was featured in dozens of Apple ads in 2008 and earlier this year, Bloomberg, Gas Cubby, iXpenseIt, Save Benjis, and Home Finder.

Bottom line: Financial institutions should think about how to add similar money management functionality to their mobile and online offers. As Aite’s Ron Shevlin pointed out in a comment here last week (emphasis added):

…..(the FinovateStartup participants) you talk about are helping people manage their financial lives, while the banks are [still] focused on helping people manage their financial accounts.

Big difference.

Table: iPhone apps listed in recent WSJ ads (clockwise from upper left)

Personal Finance Theme Small Business Theme
Helping you stretch your budget, one app at a time. Helping you run your small business, one app at a time.
Date: 9 April 2009 Date: 15 April 2009
Mint.com (PFM) Credit card terminal
Gas Cubby (mileage tracker) Print & share (document management)
Spotasaurus (parking finder) FedEx Mobile
RepairPal (mechanic finder) Jott (voice recording/transcription)
AllRecipes.com (recipe finder) iXpenseIt (expense report mgmt)
GoodGuide (product finder) Jobs – Time Tracking
WootWatch (cheap gadgets) Analytics App (website analytics)
Save Benjis (shopping comparison) LinkedIn
RN Dining (rewards dining) LogMeIn (remote computer access)
Find an Apartment YellowPages.com
Cellfire (mobile coupons) Mint.com
Barista (how to guide) Quicksheet (spreadsheet)
Wi-Fi finder Air Sharing (file manager)
CompareMe (price calculator) Nomina (name/trademark search)
Loan Shark (loan tool) SimpleMind Xpress (brainstorming)
Small Spend (mini PFM) Keynote Remote (presentation tool)

Apple’s Money Management page on its Website (link, 16 Apr 2009)

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Notes:
1. My apologies for the image quality, taken via iPhone naturally.
2. For more info, see our latest Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone.

MasterCard Launches ATM Hunter iPhone App

image A few weeks ago there wasn’t a single dedicated ATM finder in Apple’s App Store, and now there are three, not counting the bank-branded versions (more on that below). MasterCard is the latest entrant with a cute app called ATM Hunter (see inset; iTunes link) launched six days ago.

The free app can lead you and your iPhone to any of more than one million ATMs worldwide. The app automatically senses your location and lists nearby machines. And it’s integrated with Google maps so you can map the location with a single click.

Unlike other ATM finders, MasterCard’s version has a helpful filter to zero in on the following ATM types:

  • surcharge-free
  • drive-thru
  • wheelchair accessible
  • 24-hour
  • deposit sharing

It also has a “share” function (upper-right of second screenshot below) that allows you to text the ATM location to a friend or to yourself for later reference. 

Here’s what’s in the app:

                         Main page                                   List after “location” search

image     image

              Filtering by feature                                           ATM detail

image     image 

The launch is supported with a webpage at MasterCard’s Priceless.com (see screenshot below).

Bottom line: It’s an excellent app that should prove popular; however, I wonder if MasterCard is encroaching a bit on its banking clients’ turf. Location-based ATM/branch finders are one of the cornerstones of a retail bank’s mobile application (note 1). If customers are already using MasterCard’s app, they have less reason to go mobile with their own financial institution.

On the other hand, the vast majority of financial institutions that don’t yet have their own mobile app can safely recommend MasterCard’s app and keep customers from using a banking competitor’s app. 

MasterCard’s ATM Hunter landing page (link, 10 April 2009)

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Notes:
1. For more info, see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking: iPhone Edition.
2. Apple is approaching 1 billion downloads since the App Store opened last July. The company is celebrating the coming milestone with a $15,000 gift to the person that downloads lucky 1 billion. It also has a huge ticker on its website (below) that counts to the big number in real time (here).

Billion-download counter at Apple’s website (10 April 2009, 6 PM Pacific)

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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).

New Online Banking Report Published: Mobile 2.0 — iPhone Edition

image This is a report I’ve been meaning to write for a few months, but it kept getting pushed back for more pressing (Growing Deposits in the Digital Age) or timely (Year-end Wrap and Forecast) reports.

But a few days ago, we put the finishing touches on the latest Online Banking Report. It will be mailed to subscribers by the end of this week. It’s also available online here. There’s no charge for current subscribers; others may access it immediately for US$495.

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Mobile Banking 2.0: iPhone Edition
How to build a smartphone app even
your CFO will love

In the report (press release), we outline the reasons why every financial institution should consider an iPhone app, even if it’s just a simple surcharge-free-ATM/branch finder like 1st Mariner Bank (iTunes link; see note 1) or a one-screen interface to your mobile website, essentially what Bank of America started with last year. Being on the iPhone is like having a website in 1995. Just by being there, even if it’s crappy, you are ahead of the curve. And for the rest of time, you can brag that you were an early adopter of all things mobile.

And the icing on the cake, you get to slap Apple iPhone pictures all over your website. Baltimore, MD-based 1st Mariner, a bank that doesn’t appear to even support basic mobile banking (note 2) has the most iPhone-ish website in the land (see screenshots below).

The report also looks at:

  • Mobile banking application market (Apple’s App Store, RIM’s Blackberry App World, and Google’s Android Market)
  • Mobile banking forecast (U.S.)
  • 33 features to consider for your mobile banking app
  • Leveraging iPhone hype to increase interest in financial products and services
  • Legal issues in mobile banking from our guest columnists at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel

1st Mariner Bank homepage (16 March 2009)
Note: Nice job with the St. Patty’s day theme too!

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1st Mariner iPhone landing page (16 March 2009)

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Notes:
1. The 1st Mariner app, built by PointAbout, identifies the nearest of 16,000 surcharge-free MoneyPass ATMs. It also features other integrated apps for local weather, lowest gasoline prices, accident alerts, traffic (powered by MapQuest), grocery stores, and Zagat restaurant listings (but not reviews or ratings).
2. Ironically, if you navigate to the bank’s website on your iPhone, you cannot even see its iPhone homepage graphic (shown above) because the graphic is Flash-based which is not supported by the iPhone’s Safari browser

RIM’s New Blackberry App World Includes Wells Fargo, E*Trade, Fidelity, and Bank of America

image_thumb[12]It will be a long time before the new mobile application markets, Google’s Android Market and RIM’s Blackberry App World, get anywhere close to Apple’s App Store in breadth or depth. Currently, there are 162 apps listed across all categories in the Android market and 88 for the Blackberry (North America), compared to more than 25,000 for the iPhone (U.S.).

However, Blackberry already has tied the iPhone in one sub-category, big-name U.S. financial services companies. As of today, each has four. Bank of America is the only one supporting both.    

iPhone App Store Blackberry App World*
Bank of America Bank of America
Chase Wells Fargo
Citibank E*Trade
PNC Bank Fidelity Investments

*Blackberry App World also has an Obopay mobile payments app with ties to Citibank.

Financial institution opportunities: The list of participating financial institutions won’t stay short for long. You must support iPhone and Blackberry users, the sooner you do so, the more free publicity you can garner. For more information, see our latest Online Banking Report, published today, Mobile Banking 2.0: iPhone Edition.

Blackberry App World Finance & Banking section
(9 March 2009, 10 PM Pacific)

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Allpoint Surcharge-Free ATM Finder Launches on iPhone

image This is the application I wanted to build, a surcharge-free ATM finder, but my business partner wisely talked me down from that ledge last month (see note 1). I can officially deep-six that idea with the launch of Regular Rate and Rhythm Software‘s Allpoint ATMs: Surcharge-free ATM Locator.

The app went on sale today in the Apple App Store for a one-time $1.99 fee (iTunes link). The app, which directs users to one of 37,000 Allpoint ATMs, could not be simpler: 

  • Launch the app
  • See the nearest Allpoint ATM
  • Tap for walking/driving directions courtesy of Google maps (see inset

Using WiFi, it took 19 seconds from the moment I pressed the application button to when the nearest ATM location was listed, inside a Safeway five blocks away (note 2). With WiFi off (Edge network), it took just 4 seconds longer. Mapping the location, if necessary, took a few more seconds.

There are very few finance apps where users will willingly pay a fee. But this ATM finder, which saves about two bucks every time its used (note 3), should be popular at $1.99. Of course, it won’t be long before the free, ad-supported version comes along, so the windfall may be short-lived.

Bottom line: This is a great tool for credit unions, community banks, and direct banks looking to compete against the massive ATM networks of the major banks. The best strategy is to build this right in to your own iPhone/Android/Blackberry app. But until then, you can at least point customers to this app.

Notes:
1. While it’s a great opportunity for financial institutions, or scrappy coders to build, it’s ultimately not what we want to focus on. Still, it could be a gold mine, at least until financial institutions, especially credit unions and community banks, start adding it to their own iPhone applications.
2. This was news to me, even though I’ve lived in then neighborhood for a decade. 
3. Assuming you would otherwise use an ATM which levies a $2 surcharge.

Blaze Mobile Wallet Transforms iPhone into Payments Device at the Point of Sale (sort of)

image It will take years before the mobile phone fulfills its promise as a true mobile payments device. Or will it?

If you don’t mind a bit of a work-around and you limit your purchases to MasterCard PayPass-enabled merchants, you can pay by cell phone today thanks to Blaze Mobile.

How it works:

  1. Download the Blaze Mobile Wallet at the Apple App Store (iTunes link), cost $1.99 (note 2).
  2. Sign up for a Blaze pre-paid MasterCard issued by MetaBank
  3. Affix the MasterCard PayPass RFID sticker to the back of your iPhone
  4. Wave and pay at MasterCard PayPass terminals

Granted, few people will go through this trouble just to buy an Arby’s sandwich without pulling out their plastic (note 1). However, it shows that the technology is available today to enable at least some mobile payments. And for financial institutions, it provides a cool way to differentiate debit and credit cards.

Notes:
1. According to MasterCard, there are 463 PayPass locations within 25 miles of my Seattle location. 
2. The wallet also works on other mobile platforms, see the company’s website.
3. Previous post on paying via credit card stickers (here).
4. For more info see our Online Banking Report on Mobile Payments.