Citi Mobile on National Television

At the Mobile Commerce Summit, we heard Citibank is running national spots featuring its mFoundry-powered mobile banking service, Citi Mobile <>.  (Hat tip Richard Crone).

Back in the old days, like late 2006, we would have had to request a copy of the ad from the bank. But today, everything is on YouTube, so check out the 30-second spot below (screenshot at right). 

While its not as appealing as Apple's iPhone commercials, the Citi spot does a good job demonstrating the utility of mobile banking. It features a close-in shot of a couple driving down the road with the wife making a quick forgotten payment in a few seconds, while still carrying on a conversation with her husband. It is also great branding, furthering Citi's long-term positioning as a technology leader.*

What it Means
National advertising by the big banks, as well as carriers introducing their mobile wallets later this year and next, will create considerable awareness among consumers. Although, usage will be light for the next few years, mobile commerce is NOT a fad. This is one area you should address very carefully in your upcoming budgeting process for 2008.

For more information, see our Mobile Banking Report.


*Citi would look even hipper if it embedded the YouTube ad in its mobile banking landing page.

Citi Mobile Launches in Southern California

The long-awaited launch of True Mobile Banking 2.0 (note 1) in the United States happened yesterday with Citibank beginning a limited rollout of its mFoundry-powered downloadable mobile banking service. The service is currently available to Citibank customers in Southern California with nationwide rollout this summer. However, the bank's website today merely says it's "coming soon" (see screenshot below; link here).

The new service is not mentioned on the main Citibank website, unless you use the site search feature (see note 2).

Citi Mobile main page

The single mobile banking page doesn't tell us much we didn't already know (see previous coverage here), other than a few minor details are revealed for the first time:

  • Mobile PIN number is the same as what's used for regular phone banking; PIN numbers can be created online through a link on the mobile page
  • To enroll, users enter their mobile number, carrier and phone model and a link to the downloadable application is sent via text message

A short four-screen demo (below) shows users how to activate the service once it's been downloaded:


There was lot's of new coverage on launch day, indicating that Citi made the press rounds prior to launch:

  • Steve Bills from American Banker chimes in with a brief piece using consultant Richard Crone as a reality check on Citi's PR material (here)
  • Eileen Alt Powell put this out on the AP Wire
  • Time even picked up the story (here)


1. True Mobile Banking is defined as transactional banking directly from a mobile phone, without the need to access a website (WAP). The 2.0 means it's a second-generation technology, not to be confused with the circa 1999-2002 version 1 that worked on a limited universe of PDAs.

2. Accessed the website from a Seattle IP address via my laptop which does NOT know that I am a Citi customer.

Citibank Mobile Getting Closer: FAQs Posted

Citibank India SMS banking banner 

Citibank recently posted a short FAQ (click here or view screenshot below) on its website that confirms what we had suspected about its upcoming launch of mFoundry-powered Citi Mobile (see previous coverage here and here).

Here's what we now know:

1. The service will be FREE of charge

2. It will be a downloadable app (unlike the SMS-based service in India shown above)

3. It will work on approximately 100 cellphone handsets

4. It will work across multiple wireless carriers

5. It will include bill payments and funds transfer

6. A direct link to customer service is provided

Citi Mobile U.S. FAQsWhat we still don't know:

1. Will is support SMS/text messaging?

2. What login/security process will be used?

3. Will it work with all Citi checking accounts or only certain products?

4. Will it work across all major carriers?

5. Will it require a full data plan at the carriers?

As you can see from the Citibank India graphic at the top of the page, major banks offer mobile access in much of the world. But in the U.S., the Citibank launch is a major milestone as the first downloadable application that can be used on common handsets. For more information, see our latest Online Banking Report, Mobile Banking & Payments 2.0 (OBR 138/139).

Click on the screenshot right, to see the Citibank FAQ on mobile banking. Or go directly to its website here.   

Mobile Banking & Payments 2.0 Released: The Latest from Online Banking Report

OCBC Bank mobile banking serviceWe've finally wrapped up our latest report, Mobile Banking & Payments 2.0, published by Online Banking Report, our by-subscription research division (see note 1).

  • Link to the PDF abstract and table of contents here
  • Link for subscriber access, or to purchase, here

Work on this report started at BAI's Retail Delivery Conference in mid-November where we scheduled a series of briefings with the three mobile players in attendance: ClairMail, Firethorn Mobile, and mFoundry. As reported here previously, we were mightily impressed with the opportunities available in the mobile space.  

After three months of looking at mobile banking, talking to more players, and trying to develop a reasonable forecast, we have slightly tempered our initial enthusiasm. While we remain optimistic that the mobile channel will someday eclipse desktop online banking in terms of pageviews and routine transactions, in North America mobile banking is NOT a new channel, but rather an extension of existing sales and service channels (see note 2). And with few fees expected, the business case must be made on the softer retention benefits and customer service savings.   

The Forecast
U.S. mobile banking adoption compared to online banking adoptionEven with a challenging business case, most top-10 retail banks are headed to market in 2007-2008 with some form of mobile banking. We forecast that 25% of U.S. households will use mobile bank access by the middle of the next decade. The mobile banking adoption curve for the next 10+ years will be virtually identical to that of online banking from 1995 to the present (see inset above and note 3). 

But we are much less certain on which method of mobile banking will cross the chasm. Unlike Web-based banking, there are powerful entities, called wireless carriers, that stand between the bank and its customers in True Mobile Banking. So it seems that text/SMS-based services will lead the initial wave, because they are less dependent on the carrier and most under-40 users are already using them. However, long term, we believe more complete one-button (see note 4) solutions will prevail. And while we do forecast the adoption for all three methods, there are too many variables to be certain. A year from now, things should be quite a bit clearer.   

Subscribers, please post your comments about this report below, or email them directly to

End Notes:

1. For those of you that may be new readers, this blog is written by the publishers of Online Banking Report, an industry newsletter that began 12 years ago. Many of our blog postings are a by-product of the research we are doing for Online Banking Report, so you'll often see references to our more in-depth research published there, available by subscription only. 

2. This is different in other countries where branch and PC-based banking is less pervasive.

3. U.S. adoption by household, +/- 25%. The underlying data and assumptions for this table are in the full report, OBR 138/139, as referenced in the opening paragraph.

4. One-button mobile banking is our name for banking functions that may be called up on the mobile screen through a link on the main menu. It could be a WAP-based mobile website or a downloadable application. 

Citibank Teams with mFoundry for True Mobile Banking

Link to mFoundry I spoke with mFoundry CEO/Founder Drew Sievers last week. If you want to get energized over the possibilities of mobile commerce, this is the guy to talk to.

Although mFoundry already has more than 100,000 users of its mobile application, we were most interested in its recently announced deal with Citibank. The bank is set to launch a full mobile banking application in Q1 2007 that encompasses both SMS-based banking and what we call True Mobile Banking (TMB), a banking application running on the mobile device (see definitions here).

While mFoundry's CEO cannot confirm which functions Citibank will use, the vendor's mBanking platform includes the following: 

  • account inquiry
  • transaction summary
  • funds transfer
  • bill payment
  • ATM/branch locator
  • password generator

The platform also supports advertising and service functions (download spec sheet here).

How it Works
The mFoundry approach uses both text messaging for alerts and simple inquires and a complete downloaded application that mimics Web-based online banking (i.e., True Mobile Banking). With True Mobile Banking, the user's phone carries a unique identifier that is registered with the bank (factor one); and before receiving data or initiating a transaction the user must log in with a password or PIN (factor two).

When the user logs in, current balance and recent transactions are automatically downloaded and displayed, satisfying most user needs within seconds. The application times-out after a certain length of time and more importantly, no data is retained on the device itself, so security is nearly perfect. If the phone is lost or stolen a call to the bank will deactivate the service, although as long as the password or PIN has not been revealed, there is little security risk. 

As mentioned in our post three weeks ago (here), it's taken nearly a decade for me to jump on the mobile banking bandwagon. Earlier efforts were too hard to use and had limited appeal, primarily to a small group of PDA-toting geeks.

However, now that even basic mobile phones can use the service (see note 1) and top brands such as Citibank, Cingular, and MasterCard are poised to pump millions into educating the market, mobile finance should take off rapidly (see note 2). 

End Notes

  1. mFoundry says its service works across more than 200 different phones at the five major carriers, AT&T, Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon. Sure enough, even our relatively inexpensive 2-year-old Sanyo is on their list of supported phones.
  2. In order to download the mobile application, users select their carrier and phone type from sliding menus (see screenshot below, from mFoundry's My Mobile News).

Downloading the mobile application at mFoundry

2. The next issue of our Online Banking Report will contain a mobile banking forecast.