Banking on Your Smartphone

Every few months the local media picks up some buzz about Australian mobile banking, but often the news is 10 parts PR and only a few parts actual innovation.   We thought we’d look into the current status of consumer mobile banking in Australia and overview the services and features available at a few of the more innovative Australian banks.

The Australian recently reported on the new Money Tracker Tool launched by NAB as part of their online banking solution.  The headline of the Australian article is Money Tracker Tool Sparks Battle of The Apps however the tool is not actually a smartphone app. Money tracker is integrated with online banking, therefore the only way it can be accessed via a smartphone is through accessing NAB online banking via your mobile.

The tool sounds great,  it automatically organises your transaction history into categories based on all sorts of clever algorithms and analysis of details like transaction descriptions and BPAY biller codes.    You can’t change the categories, which appears to be a source of frustration for many customers, but overall it has been well received.  More than 28,000 customers were using it within 3 days of its launch.  Potentially  this is because it is integrated with online banking, so no additional action is required to begin using it.   Although these features are not built into a native mobile app, they are available to mobile customers.   It remains to be seen how NAB will develop their online & mobile experiences to be optimised for the smartphone and tablet customer.  I’d be surprised if this wasn’t on the NAB agenda for 2013.

It is likely we will see a lot more innovation from all the major Australian banks in 2013 – and probably several of the minor ones as well.    With over 6 million Australians now using mobile banking it is a lucrative market and the banks will have to continually up the ante to appeal to an increasingly mobile customer base. According to AIMIA 39% of Australians use their mobile phone for banking at least once a week, and Google tells us that Australians are 65 per cent more likely than the British and 14 per cent more likely than Americans to conduct banking on our phones.  We are a willing audience, a fact that won’t have escaped the attention of the banks who are raking in mobile transactions worth $10 billion dollars a month.  The big 4 banks alone are totalling anything from 2 – 5 million individual mobile transactions every month.

Commonwealth Bank has launched basic mobile banking capability for iPhone, Android & Windows Phones as well as the iPad.  They also have the popular Kaching App which lets customer pay friends just by using their mobile number, email address or Facebook account.  Kaching is available on iPhone and Android and includes all the normal online banking functions as well as the peer payment capability.  Interestingly, Commbank also supports contactless payments for iPhone users, by slipping your iPhone into an ‘iCarte’ case which lets customers pay at PayPass terminals by waving their phone over it, instead of a credit card.  Presumably this will be replaced with NFC payments once NFC chips are commonly available in many devices.

Similar to Kaching is the ANZ goMoney App which was released in 2010 on iPhone and followed up late last year with an Android version. The goMoney app lets you transfer funds to friends with only their phone number, as well as all the usual things like view accounts, transfer funds, pay anyone and pay bills using BPAY.

Westpac also has iPhone & Android Apps for mobile banking as well as iPad and Windows 8 Tablet apps which are (strangely) tucked away under business banking on the Westpac website.  The apps are popular, according to Westpac they had  1.5 million customers late last year using mobile banking, but it may be that Westpac are testing the real innovation via subsidiary St George.

St George bank recently announced 440 thousand mobile users and have been innovating in mobile for some time.  A new feature of the latest St George Mobile Banking app is a nifty service called Money Meter, which lets customers view a visual representation of their account balance without even logging into mobile banking.  A quick swipe from the iPhone home page brings up a visual meter gauge showing the balances of your main accounts.  St George have also launched an Android version of their banking app, along with a feature that will let Android customers open new savings accounts from their smartphone in under a minute.

Strangely enough, hearsay suggests it’s not that unusual for Australian customers to switch banks based on mobile services.   I personally know quite a few who switched when ANZ first launched GoMoney. I’d probably jump for true contactless payments.  If I was a mobile savvy customer with an interest in switching banks today, I’d be looking at Commbank or ANZ at the moment, but I’d be tempted by St George’s nifty Money Meter tool.  And with mobile apps popping up all over town, from ING to Suncorp I’d say another year will offer an even more interesting set of options.