Wells Fargo Bank Offers $25,000 to Go to Paperless Statements

image Full disclosure: I’ve always liked sweepstakes. Even though I’m a Diet Coke addict fan, I’ll gladly grab a different cola if it has an “instant win” cap. It’s like a free lottery ticket.

So when banks try to save a few coins switching customers over to estatements, I think it’s the perfect time to give some of it back in the form of a sweepstakes. You’ve created a little excitement in online banking and likely made it all back with a lift to the estatement response rate. ING Direct, Chase and many others have taken this approach in the past (previous coverage).

Wells Fargo’s current sweeps is pretty straightforward (link to details). For every account switched to paperless statements, customers get one entry in the sweepstakes. Ten customers will win $2500 each and one will get $25,000. A relatively small, but effective $50,000 prize pool.

The contest runs from April 12 through June 4.

Login splash screen (interstitial) (19 May 2010)

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Landing page after choosing “Switch now” above
Note: Link to View Samples (see below)

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Sample statement (click to enlarge)

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Holiday Themes: ING Direct Offers Up Anti-Black-Friday Tease

imageRarely does ING Direct disappoint when it comes to adding a little holiday pizzazz to its website. And it’s no turkey this year.

The bank’s homepage is given over entirely to a flash animation that starts with its trademark orange ball rising over a cityscape. Then a decked-out turkey joins the scene and its revealed that its a play on tomorrow’s NYC Thanksgiving Day parade balloons.

But the more interesting development is the small orange “Black Friday” sale tag in the upper right corner (see inset). ING Direct has four Black Friday specials that will be revealed at one past midnight this Friday at <ingdirect.com/blackfriday>.

imageWe are sworn to secrecy on two of the deals, but we can tell you that there will be a $683 discount (the average amount American’s spend on holiday gifts) on ING mortgage products (currently 3.75%) and a 20% off ShareBuilder deal.

The Black Friday tease was also emailed to ING Direct customers this morning (see inset).

My take: The Black Friday promotion, which is being pushed out to media outlets in advance of Friday, is brilliant. It plays perfectly into the more-conservative budget mindsight in the country and gives the press something else to write about beside the long lines at Best Buy at 4 AM Friday.

Grade: An A+ and an extra helping of sweet potatoes to ING Direct for both timing and creativity.  

In a quick survey today of the 25 largest retail banks, three others had holiday promotions or themes: 

ING Direct (USA) homepage (23 Nov 6 PM Pacific)

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ING Direct black friday landing page (25 Nov 2009)

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Zions Bank homepage (23 Nov 7 PM Pacific)
Note: Trusteer promotion on homepage

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Wells Fargo homepage (25 Nov 2009, 1 PM Pacific)

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Note: For future reference, this post was made on the day before Thanksgiving.

How Many iPhone Banking Apps Will There Be?

image Are you tired of hearing “there’s an app for that” yet? Well, get used to it, we are still at the beginning of the great app rollout

Even as recently as our iPhone Banking Report published in March, I assumed most financial institutions would have a single iPhone app. One bank. One app. It’s how the Web worked, for the most part.  

But when Starbucks unveiled a dedicated app just for its stored-value card (separate from the main Starbucks brand app), I realized that I wasn’t thinking big enough.

For example, in August PNC Bank become the first U.S. financial institution to offer multiple apps when it released an app for its Gen-Y-focused Virtual Wallet. That was followed last week by Wells Fargo when it unveiled its cash-management app for larger businesses, CEO Mobile (screenshot below; press release).

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image Now, I believe that each major bank will roll out dozens of apps, perhaps hundreds, to support their business lines, major products and large segments. There will be an app for each major affinity credit/debit card, one for students, one for small businesses, one for large business, one for senior checking, one for home equity lines, and so on.

And, if that’s not enough, there could be a dedicated app for each stock broker, loan officer and mortgage broker. There could be one app for every branch, neighborhood, or region. Right now the search-and-discovery tools at Apple would implode under the weight of all these apps. But they’ll figure that out. It’s worth billions to them. 

Today, more than 100,000 apps are available for the iPhone. But fewer than 20 are for U.S. financial institutions. It’s conceivable that in the banking vertical itself, well over 10,000 apps could be developed, possibly many tens of thousands (see notes 1, 2). 

Wells Fargo is first U.S. bank with a cash management iPhone app (12 Nov 2009)

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Notes:
1. They won’t all be iPhone apps. The mobile market is too big to have it all consolidated at one player. 
2. It’s also conceivable that we’ll move away from the dedicated app framework, and users will be able to configure their phones with hundreds of info feeds without needing to install an app for each one. More like the iGoogle portal model.  It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

Don’t Waste the Marketing & Communication Benefits of an iPhone App Update

image I’ve written plenty about the importance of the iPhone App Store, both here and in Online Banking Report (note 1). But there’s one subtle side benefit I hadn’t thought too much about previously. 

Every time a new version of a native app is released, users must take action to download it if they want the new features. While this process used to be a nightmare in the desktop software days where users had to use floppy disks, CDs or large downloads to reinstall the software, it’s an absolute breeze on the iPhone and usually takes less than a minute from start to finish. And there’s no restarting the iPhone or choosing installation options. It’s just a one-click process plus the input of your iTunes password if you weren’t already logged in.

So why is this process a benefit? Because each time a new release is available a little icon shows on top of the App Store icon (see screenshot 1 below). Users then press the App Store icon, choose update, and they see a list of applications with updates available (screenshot 2). At that point users choose to update them all or look at them individually.

We believe most users are interested enough in their financial apps to take a look at the update, at least until the novelty of the mobile app wears off some years in the future. This provides financial institutions a free marketing opportunity to not only explain the new features of the app, but also deliver other marketing messages. You are much more likely to make an impression with your customers during the update process, compared to sending out a random marketing email.

In the three bank examples below, only USAA (screenshot 3) uses the opportunity to further cement its relationship with mobile customers, touting its new remote deposit capabilities along with several other enhancements. Wells Fargo (screenshot 4) takes a matter-of-fact, “we’re fixing bugs” approach that is OK, but still misses the chance to communicate with users. But Chase (screenshot 5) completely annoys users with two sentences of marketing speak that says nothing about the update. 

Lessons for financial & mobile marketers: Whenever you release an update for your mobile app (note 2), take the opportunity to communicate with your customers as follows:

  • Clearly explain the benefits of the changes to the app
  • Highlight one or two related benefits of the app
  • Mention any related news or promotions
  • Strike a good balance between disseminating technical info and marketing new benefits

Screenshots

1. Main iPhone screen shows                        2. The Updates page shows the 4 apps
    that 4 app updates are                                       that have new versions available.
    available (right side halfway down).

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3. USAA’s latest update explains the specific changes made and provides several new benefits to using the app.

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4 & 5. On the other hand, the Wells Fargo and Chase update messages are sparse. The Wells Fargo update appears to be a minor bug fix, so we’ll cut them some slack for the terse message. However, Chase, with a minor update (2.0.1 update) to its major 2.0 release (released Aug 25), says absolutely nothing in 24 words of marketing-speak: 

We’re listening — You asked for a fully native iPhone banking application. This Chase iPhone app is built exclusively for iPhone and iPod touch users.

Seriously Chase, this is the best you could come up for the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of iPhone users waiting for your updated app? At least the bank gets points for brevity.

                   Screenshot 4                                                             Screenshot 5

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Note:
1. For more info on the importance of a native iPhone app see Online Banking Report: Mobile Banking via iPhone.
2. The same advice holds true for communicating online banking improvements as well, although the communication methods are different (email, newsletter, statement insert, blog, interstitials, log-off messages, etc.).

Value-added Online Financial Services: $4.95 per Month is the New Free

imageAs we’ve mentioned before, there are surprisingly few fee-based online financial services in the United States (see note 1). But things may be changing. In the past month we’ve looked at three innovative services charging fees:  

Today, we highlight a fourth new fee-based service, also charging $4.95/month (or more), vSafe from Wells Fargo. vSafe is a secure online storage solution that sells for $15 to $15 per months as follows:

  • $4.95/mo for 1GB of storage
  • $9.95/mo for 3GB of storage
  • $14.95/mo for 6GB of storage

The service was introduced several months ago, and I’ve been using it for a couple months. The service automatically stores Wells Fargo statements, and allows users to upload any other file up to the storage limit. It would be even more useful if it offered automated retrieval and storage of other bank and biller statements.

Wells Fargo homepage (1 June 2009, 1:15 PM PDT)

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Landing page (link, 1 June 2009)

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Take a test drive in the Wells Fargo lab (link, 1 June 2009)

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Interactive video highlighting benefits

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Signup explanation

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Notes:
1. The golden rule of consumerism: “You get what you pay for.” Because online banking services are typically offered free of charge, U.S. consumers have had to contend with clunkier, slower, less secure and less feature-rich online services than consumers in other countries that pay for online access. Fees for online services can be a win-win, allowing financial institutions to offer premium online services for those willing and able to pay for them, while at the same time offering basic services free of charge so that everyone can benefit from online banking. 
2. Article updated 9 July 2009 to remove incorrect reference to Expensify’s $4.95/mo fee (see comments).

Why Mobile Banking/Payments will be Highly Profitable

imageMy credit card number was stolen again. It’s the third or fourth time since the Internet came along. It’s annoying, and a little disconcerting, but not a major problem, thanks to efficient card issuers who take the info, credit my account, and send me a new card. On a ten-point “hassle scale,” where 10 is having your hard drive crash, it’s only a 2 or 3.

And my previous stolen cards resulted in little financial loss to the issuer, other than the cost to process the chargeback and reissue the plastic. In those cases, either the issuer caught the fraud before anything was shipped, or the items purchased were digital (online subscriptions) and didn’t result in any lost inventory.

But this time was different. Someone used my card number to buy a PS3 gaming console and three games at a Best Buy in the Bronx. Assuming Best Buy follows proper procedures, Wells Fargo will be out more than $600 just for the merchandise. All told, with the cost of the investigation and processing, it’s probably an $800 to $900 loss to the bank and merchant.

Wells Fargo is generally very good about suspicious charges and usually calls us. I’ve had the card for almost two decades, and it’s been othe primary card for both my wife and me for much of that time. WF knows our purchasing habits better than we do.

Yes, we get to NYC at least once a year, but our charges are usually travel- and tourist-related ones in Manhattan. And we probably visit Best Buy in Seattle a couple times a year (we have teenage boys), so the gaming system charge is understandable. But it’s highly unlikely we’d buy a system while visiting NYC, and we’ve never visited the Bronx, so the authorization request likely triggered flags.

But unless there was inside theft, the bank’s authorization system evidently decided the $10 in interchange was worth the risk. Bad call this time, but probably right 99%+ of the time; otherwise, they’d be out of the card business.

What’s mobile have to do with it?
But if Wells Fargo had a real-time connection to me via mobile phone, they could have texted me for an OK (similar to the screenshot above, which is a text-based activity request to Wells Fargo). If it really had been I who stood at Best Buy’s register, it would have taken a second to reply “yes,” and the transaction would have gone through.

Of course, in this case, I would have said ‘no, I’m in San Francisco right now.’ Or even better, in the not-so-distant-future, if I’d allowed the bank to track me via GPS, they would have known, without even contacting me, that I was 3,000 miles away from that store. Either way, the bank saves nearly a grand from that single text message. Multiply that by the millions of fraud purchases every year and you have serious money, billions by most estimates.

So yes, mobile banking (really mobile payments) does have a robust and tangible business case from fraud reduction and customer service savings. The technology is in the hands of the users now, and most know how to use it. So, let’s get moving.

Note: For more information see our Online Banking Report on iPhone Mobile Banking

Notes from the Mobile Commerce Summit (day 2)

image Day two of the Mobile Commerce Summit ran just for the morning (see Day 1 highlights), but anyone who overslept missed the highlight of the conference: the much-too-short panel discussion on revenue opportunities that started at 8:15 AM and ended at 9:00 (note 1). 

Panel: Mobile revenue opportunities 

  • Drew Sievers, founder & CEO, mFoundry
  • Joe Salesky, chairman & chief strategy officer, ClairMail
  • Cameron Franks, director, Mobile Commerce Americas, Sybase 365
  • Jayatsu Bhattacharya, SVP business development, Mobile Money Ventures (Citigroup & SK Telecom joint venture)
  • Mustafa Patni, former director of mobile banking, WaMu

Observations from the panel:

  • POS payment services: NFC at point of sale
  • Value-added services
  • Fees for mobile banking services: transaction, monthly, or annual
  • Premium accounts with a rich mobile feature set
  • Stock/investment trading (Citi Hong Kong is able to charge a premium for mobile trading)
  • Bill pay: expedited payments
  • Person-to-person (P2P) payments
  • Much of the revenues will be indirect, from deepening and improving customer relationship
  • Remote deposit capture for businesses
  • Merchant advertising: offers to customers as they shop
  • Loyalty programs: driving customers to certain merchants with alerts, offers, and discounts
  • Lots of cost-saving opportunities: self-service customer service, moving bill payments to on-us transactions, loyalty program management, security, fulfillment, marketing, call deflection

Panel: Smartphone impact on the customer experience 

Armin Ajami, VP retail Mobile channel, Wells Fargo

  • Almost half of smartphone users use the mobile Web daily (source: ABI research, Feb. 2009)
  • 18% of U.S. consumers have smartphones
  • 263,000 apps now available for smartphones, predicted to grow to about 700,000 by 2013
  • There are 27 different app stores today
  • Mobile-optimized website <wf.com> launched in July 2007, text banking launched Oct. 2007, native iPhone app launched May 2009
  • Funds transfer on mobile-optimized websites takes 2 minutes with 5 clicks, no zooming or scrolling vs. 10 minutes via iPhone mobile browser with 7 clicks, 5 zooms, 7 scrolls and 10 minutes

Alain DeSouza, sr. mgr., market development solutions marketing, Research in Motion

  • Globally, 12% to 14% of mobile phones sold now are smartphones; in North America, it’s now above 20% (22% to 26%)
  • Blackberry app store officially launched April 1, 2009
  • Not excited about putting NFC chips into handsets (adds cost); will do it when it makes business sense (last year it was a top-5 opportunity, this year more of a top-20)
  • P2P transfer is not a killer app, but could be important for adoption
  • Be careful not to waste bandwidth in your app development

Note:
1. Note to conference organizers: Never start a session at 8:15 AM after a Thursday night in Las Vegas.

Wells Fargo launches native iPhone app

imageTwelve hours ago, Wells Fargo became the last of the “big four” banks to release a native iPhone app in the Apple App Store (see screenshot below; note 1). The bank, which has long been a pioneer online, let Bank of America reap much of the branding benefits of their association with iPhone banking for the past two years.

But we are glad to see Wells Fargo available and enjoyed checking our balance via iPhone for the first time. At just 0.1MB, the application was a quick download and compatible with my first-generation iPhone. There’s no need to first visit the bank’s website, as the app can be immediately used with your normal online banking username/password (see note 2).

While it won’t win any design awards, it’s simple to use with the typical online banking functions: balance inquiry, transaction listings, funds transfer, bill pay and GPS-enabled ATM/branch finder. Only the 12,000 Wells or Wachovia ATMs are listed in its database.

During the initial signon, the app encouraged users to create a short account nickname for easier reading on the small screen. And the bank also prompted me to sign up for text-message banking, something I hadn’t used at Wells before. When I agreed to do so, a six-digit confirmation code was texted to my phone, which I entered back into the app. 

There is no mention of the new app on the Wells Fargo site.

Wells Fargo listing in Apple iTunes App Store (18 May 2009; link)

Wells Fargo app in the iTunes App Store

Notes:
1. Big four U.S. banks: Bank of America, Citibank, Chase/WaMu, Wells/Wachovia.
2. We’d previously registered our mobile number, which may have eased the activation hurdle.  

Where Are the Online Banking Fees?

imageI am rarely at a loss for material when looking for examples to illustrate a point about online finance. Across thousands of financial websites, there’s an almost infinite supply of novel new services, marketing strategies, and promotional efforts. 

However, there’s one area with almost zero innovation. Pricing.

In the United States anyway, nearly every bank and credit union offers online, and now mobile, banking free of charge (see note 1). It’s an appealing price point for sure, but it also hampers the ability of financial institutions to develop novel service offerings. It’s a game of minimizing channel costs rather than maximizing returns.

However, several interesting new services that are at least trying to charge fees have recently shot up in online personal finance. Two debuted their new services at FinovateStartup April 28 (see notes 2 & 3; videos of their demos will be available online shortly):

  • LowerMyAssessment.com is charging $125 to help consumers lower property taxes on their homes
  • Home-Account is charging a $8.75/mo to help users manage their home mortgage

We’ll look at both companies this week starting with LowerMyAssessment.com.  

Notes:
1. We covered online banking pricing in a 2004 Online Banking Report (here). While the report is nearly five years old, sadly little has changed, so it remains relevant to today’s situation in the United States. 
2. In addition, at FinovateStartup we saw several new services that could increase payments-related income for banks, including the alt-payment companies, especially Acculynk and Moneta, offering revenue sharing and interchange fees for banking partners, and MicroNotes, which showed a platform that provided fee income to delivery-targeted advertising within the bill-payment function.
3. Also, Wells Fargo should be given credit for rolling out a fee-based storage solution integrated within its online banking services. The vSafe program costs $4.95/mo and up based on storage capacity desired. 

New Online Banking Report Published: Selling Behind the Password

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We just posted our latest Online Banking Report.
It will be mailed to subscribers tomorrow. It’s also available online here. There’s no charge for current subscribers; others may access it immediately
for US$395.

———————————————————

Selling Behind the Password
Unlocking the marketing potential within
online banking

48 pages (published 21 April, 2009)

In this report (abstract), we go behind the login screen and report on the marketing and cross-selling practices of 15 financial institutions and card issuers.

Even among large banks, there’s a huge disparity in the amount of cross-selling efforts within online banking. Wells Fargo is the most prolific, with nine marketing messages and product placements alone on its main account-management page. The bank also uses login and logoff activities to display promotions (see screenshot below). On the other hand, US Bank has just a single link to an “offers page” buried below the fold. Most FIs fall somewhere in between.

We looked at the opportunities within six different areas:

  • Interstitial pages (splash screen) inserted after performing any online activity, especially after the initial login.
  • Banner and keyword promotions within the secure online banking area
  • Product placement within online banking and bill pay
  • Transactional upgrades
  • Page displayed after an online banking session has concluded (either through logout or inactivity)
  • Product/shopping/discount portals and third-party ads

The following financial companies were analyzed by logging in to actual accounts and documenting their sales and marketing efforts:

  • American Express business gold
  • Bank of America online banking
  • Chase credit card
  • Citibank business card
  • Citibank online banking
  • Discover Card
  • Everbank
  • First Tech Credit Union
  • ING Direct
  • Jwaala (demo only)
  • Mint
  • Netflix (non-financial)
  • PayPal
  • Revolution Money
  • US Bank
  • WaMu
  • Wells Fargo

Wells Fargo promotion displayed after logging out from online banking
(27 March 2009)

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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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