Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Text me a tenner - mobile phone banking comes of age


Will new i-mode and Java banking services attract consumers?

By Steve Ranger

Published: Tuesday 13 December 2005

Who wants a mobile phone that could print you a few extra tenners when your wallet empties out during a night out?

OK, the bad news is we're not there yet but mobile phone banking systems are getting a massive overhaul to try to tempt consumers to give the services a go.

While early WAP-based services didn't prove as popular as hoped, new Java and i-mode services are offering users richer content and functionality.

Banks are now looking at mobile phones as their fifth channel to customers after branches, ATMs, internet banking and phone banking.

The demand is there - according to research sponsored by mobile banking provider Meridea, half of consumers are interested in mobile banking, with the biggest fans at the younger end of the scales.

One in four of us would even consider moving banks because of free banking services, the research claims. As a result a number of competing technologies are trying to turn that interest into action.

Early next year a number of banks will launch a service which its developers claim will allow people to use their mobile phones more like cash machines - although they won't actually dispense money.

The company behind the service - mobileATM - is a joint venture between UK cash machine network operator LINK and IT services company Morse.

To use the service, consumers will need a Java-enabled mobile and a download of the application. Customers will be able to use the same application to log onto accounts from different banks, just as they are able to use a cash card in any bank's ATM machine, the company said.

The application will allow them to check balances, get mini statements, top up mobile phones and could also add security to online banking by generating authentication codes which could help ward off phishers.

This means if a fraudster has someone's bank details but not their mobile phone they would not be able to log on because they would lack the code generated by the phone.

The company's CEO, Alastair Lukies, said banks are now looking at mobile phones as their fifth channel to customers after branches, ATMs, internet banking and phone banking.

He told silicon.com the service will be available early next year: "We are launching in the first quarter of next year with two tier-one banks, two out of the big five. And two tier-two banks. This is the first example of true mobile banking."

Bank of Ireland and First Direct have already shown their interest in the service and the company hopes to have half the banks which are members of Link signed up by September.

Taking a different approach, since October, Egg customers have been able to access their bank balances via O2's i-mode service.

In the first stage, customers with O2 i-mode phones will be able to access details of balances and transactions, accessing the information using their current Egg login details.

An Egg spokesman explains: "A few years ago Egg started off with a WAP service which didn't really take off. WAP was fairly primitive - for example just looking at your balance. What consumers are willing to do now with mobile phones is significantly more than we would in the days of WAP."

But a later phase could see customers texting each other cash. He adds: "In the first wave it will be about balances but our aspiration - and we have the ability in place - is to move money between different accounts by mobile phone and send each other money by text message. You can see how the mobile phone could be a very interesting way of managing your money on the move."

The service is only available on O2 at the moment, which means only a quarter of Egg customers will be able to access it. But Egg said this could change. The spokesman said: "Our intention is not to limit ourselves to one provider - O2 were the first to launch this in the UK and it makes sense with them but that doesn't mean we will only have a service on O2."

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