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.


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!


1st Mariner iPhone landing page (16 March 2009)


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)


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.

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.

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.

Citibank Launches Dedicated iPhone Application

image Earlier today, Citibank launched a dedicated iPhone app (iTunes link) powered by mFoundry. Previously, certain Citi cardholders could use the Firethorn iPhone app, but there was no App Store listing under the Citi brand.

The app, which is free to download, is currently number 10 in the App Store Finance (free) category. It will likely rise to the top, at least briefly, as Citi customers download the app.

The app is featured on the Citi homepage today (see first screenshot below) and is front and center on the Citi Mobile landing page (second screenshot below). The bank has also posted a nine-screen demo of the app here (see inset).

Anyone that’s ever used a mobile website will appreciate the Citi login screen (see inset below). A jumbo-sized numerical keypad is included below the signin area to make typing the PIN easier on the small screen. image

The Citi application does the usual four functions:

  • check balances
  • transfer funds
  • pay bills
  • find Citi branches and ATMs

The bank wisely informs users that their iPhone access can be deactivated immediately in the event of a lost or stolen phone by calling its toll-free number.

With this launch, four of the 10 largest U.S. consumer banks have a dedicated presence in the Apple App Store: Bank of America, Chase, and PNC Bank.

Citibank homepage features the iPhone app (2 March 2009)


Left: Landing page for Citi Mobile (link, 2 March 2009)


The Citibank application page in the iTunes App Store (link, 2 March 2009)


1. See our Online Banking Report on Mobile Banking for more information on the market. 

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)

image        image


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 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.

Bank of America Knocks Mint Off Top of iPhone App Store Finance Category

image Bank of America, which has been at or near the top of the Finance category (free apps) in the iPhone App Store since its July 11 launch, was back at the top today (12:45 PM Pacific). Mint, which has been number one since its Dec. 22 launch, moved to number two.

Contributing to the rise in the App Store standing is BofA’s purchase of a feature spot in the iTunes store (see screenshot below). The release of a new version Dec. 28, is also helping the download count. 

The BofA application now leverages the location-based capabilities of the iPhone, automatically showing nearby ATMs without inputting a Zip code (see video below, posted in the BofA mobile media center here).

iTunes App Store main page
(20 Jan. 2009)


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

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) 


 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

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

Bank of America Sponsoring Popular iPhone Tip Calculator CheckPlease

image Like much of the Internet, many free iPhone apps have embedded advertising as their revenue model. The most popular tip calculator, and third-most-popular app in the finance category, CheckPlease, added advertising across the top of its calculator in its version 3.3 release (Nov. 12).

The current sponsor? Bank of America mobile banking, which has the second-most-popular finance app in the iPhone App Store. The advertising is handled by Mobclix, an advertising network focused on the iPhone and Android markets that debuted at TechCrunch50 in September. In a half-dozen visits, I’ve seen only the BofA ad. But the developer, Hardy Macia, says he’s seen several movies advertised on the app. 

Clicking on the BofA ad (first screenshot) takes users to the BofA landing page (second screenshot on right) hosted within the App Store environment, i.e., the pages are not displayed within the normal Safari environment. The only navigation options are:

  • Learn more (see 3rd screenshot)
  • Download (see 4th screenshot)
  • Visit
  • Close (the X in the lower-right) which takes you back to the CheckPlease app

CheckPlease is a product of Catamount Software which has developed mobile personal finance software since 1994, when it launched PocketMoney for the Apple Newton. PocketMoney is now available for the Palm and iPhone. The company just added an ad-free version of CheckPlease for $0.99.

The free CheckPlease iPhone app has been downloaded more than 200,000 times according to its developer and owner of Catamount Software, Hardy Macia.

      CheckPlease iPhone App                       BofA landing page

  photo (2)          photo 

          Learn More page                                 Download page (note 1)

  photo (3)         photo (4)

1. Surprisingly, the buttons on this page are not clickable. To download the BofA app, iPhone users must close this screen and open the App Store button on the home screen(s) of their iPhone.

Citibank Credit Cards Coming to the iPhone Nov. 1, Powered by Firethorn

image Firethorn (owned by Qualcomm) has a new iPhone app called Mobile Banking for AT&T Customers. The app is currently ranked number eight in the finance category of the Apple iTunes App Store (see screenshot below). Of the transactional services, only PayPal and BofA’s Mobile Banking are higher.

Firethorn iPhone app (27 Oct 2008) The application can be used to access online banking at any of the ten financial institution holding companies, and their subsidiaries, currently supported by Firethorn:

  • 1st Bank (Colorado)
  • America First Credit Union
  • Arvest
  • BancorpSouth
  • Caroline First
  • Mercantile Bank
  • Suntrust
  • Synovus
  • USAA
  • Wachovia (now owned by Wells Fargo)

The Firethorn application has 27 reviews so far and has scored a 4-star average (out of 5), much better than the typical finance app (see previous coverage here). The main complaint is lack of coverage for the user’s bank, which is not the fault of the app.  In comparison, Bank of America’s app garnered 434 reviews and a 2.5-star rating.

I downloaded the application today and, unfortunately, I don’t have an account at any of the financial institutions; however, that will change next week if they hit the dates contained in the Featured Providers page.

Here are coming-soon financial institutions:

  • Citi Cards (Citibank) “coming Nov. 1” (previous press release here)
  • Chase Bank “coming soon”
  • Regions Bank “beginning this fall”

Firethorn Mobile Banking on AT&T in Apple iTunes App Store (27 Oct 2008)