The iPhone brand has so far been the winner in the phenomenal growth of smartphone take-up, and users display a very close emotional bond with their sleek looking handsets. One of the things that’s very clear is that iPhone users see their phones as being a very integral part of their lives. Indeed, it’s revealing that when researchers ask iPhone users to explain what they use their iPhone for, they almost have to prompt people to mention the actual “phone” capability. Instead, the focus is almost always upon the apps that are available and how they can enrich people’s day to day lives.
Given that we now use iPhone apps for almost everything, from accessing Facebook to finding the nearest kebab shop (!), it’s not surprising that there is increasing demand for being able to conduct our financial management via this channel. And, despite a slow start, banks are cottoning onto this latent demand and are starting to develop apps to meet their customers’ needs. In the UK, for example, Royal Bank of Scotland, NatWest, and Ulster Bank offer iPhone apps that enable users to do things such as check balances, mini statements, do mobile phone top-ups, and opt into balance-related text alerts.
Given that iPhones deliver Internet browsing capability, there’s also the potential to browse to bank websites and to login to their Internet Banking sites. However, the potential of this is currently hindered by the fact that very few banks (and very few companies at all) have optimised their websites to be mobile-friendly. Viewing a site that’s been configured to be viewed on a computer-sized screen can be a frustrating process on the much smaller iPhone screen.
Of course, iPhones do also offer the capability to connect with your bank in a more old-fashioned way, namely by phoning their Telephone Banking service. And we may increasingly see smartphones being used at point of sale as a contactless payment mechanism. You may already have seen schemes whereby you can touch your debit card to a machine in a shop to pay, and pilots have been run to apply that contactless payment functionality to phones rather than cards.
The main benefit of being able to use your iPhone to conduct your banking is that of convenience. It’s not always possible to pop into your local branch and we don’t always have access to a desktop computer or laptop. However, we do nearly always carry our iPhone with us, so the development of banking applications provides us with an ever present link to our bank.
With iPhones (and smartphones generally) also providing access to e-mails and text messages, there is great scope for receiving up to the minute text alerts from your bank. At the moment, where banks offer text or e-mail alerts, such services tend to be fairly rudimentary but we can expect that the range of available alerts will expand hugely in the next few years. Being able to get an alert when you’re in danger of exceeding your overdraft limit could be invaluable, as would be alerts reminding you that you can make a lump sum payment into your mortgage, or that your car insurance policy is coming up for renewal.
Mobile phone banking services are offered across a range of handsets but it’s the bigger sized screen that makes the iPhone stand out from most of its competitors as being particularly suited to mobile banking. Research has shown that iPhone users expect to be able to conduct their banking through their phone and that they want to see a range of functionality similar to that offered through online banking. The only thing holding up a huge surge in banking usage is the relative shortage of banking applications and the challenges that banks face in terms of expanding their services beyond basic informational services. However, with the rate of growth being experienced in iPhone and smartphone usage, it is only a matter of time before mobile phone banking becomes as established and mainstream as Internet banking.