June 03, 2011

The banking industry often is accused of dragging its feet on corporate mobile banking. "While the potential of the consumer mobile banking market is certainly attractive, little emphasis is being placed on the corporate or small-business markets," Celent senior analyst Jacob Jegher wrote in a blog post in July. "This is quite surprising given the penetration of mobile devices in the business world."

Wells Fargo is an exception. The San Francisco-based bank not only has offered corporate mobile banking since April 2007, when it launched the CEO Mobile service, the mobile version of its Commercial Electronic Office online banking product for corporate customers, it adds new features on a regular basis, according to Ranjit Pradhan, channel manager for wholesale mobile services at Wells Fargo ($1.3 trillion in total assets).

For instance, the bank recently enhanced CEO Mobile to enable commercial card customers to view the balances on their corporate credit cards as well as the reason why a charge was declined. It also added mobile check deposit capabilities to the product and is rolling out the ability to approve and initiate mobile ACH payments.

A soon-to-be-released feature that Pradhan says customers have asked for is two-factor authentication that doesn't require the user to carry a security token. Instead, users will be able to register and request that a one-time code be sent to their mobile phones. "We feel our customers will appreciate having true freedom with their mobile devices," notes Pradhan, who offers a hint toward future advances: Wells Fargo, he reveals, is contemplating how it might incorporate location information into CEO Mobile.

The hardest part of creating CEO Mobile, which Wells Fargo built in-house from scratch, was simplifying complex transactions for a mobile device, Pradhan reports. "We stayed away from replicating everything on our website and putting it on a mobile device because that's too much information," he says.

"There's a lot of stuff people don't want to do [on a mobile device]," Pradhan continues. "We looked at the flows that make sense on the device, and the term we use internally is 'snack sizing' -- delivering a snack or a bite rather than the whole block of information."

According to Pradhan, the majority of customers who use CEO Mobile are treasurers, CFOs and CEOs at $10 million and larger companies. "They're usually the upper level managers of companies, or the owner/proprietor of a smaller company," he says. "They use it primarily for treasury and cash management." CEO Mobile provides cash management reporting (Pradhan says this feature is extremely popular), secondary approvals, fraud monitoring, images of questionable checks, and wire transfers.

Helping Small Businesses Manage Finances

Wells Fargo also offers mobile banking for smaller businesses. The bank began extending its retail mobile banking services to small businesses in September 2007, including a mobile-optimized website; downloadable apps for iPhone, Android, Palm and BlackBerry devices; and text banking.

"Control over their finances is top of mind for small-business customers. They always have to know how much money is in their account," says Jinee Ellis, VP of mobile banking at Wells Fargo. "When you're ... debating a purchase, text banking lets you send a balance request to us while you're in line. You get your balance information within seconds."

Wells Fargo was one of the first banks to let small-business customers use mobile banking without making them sign up for online banking, Ellis notes. "A lot of small business customers may not have access to a PC on a regular basis," she says, adding that contractors and doctors, for instance, often don't carry laptops. These Wells Fargo customers can sign up through a mobile website, via a mobile phone and even at an ATM, Ellis reports. Like so much of mobile banking, she suggests, ease of setup and convenience are critical to user adoption.

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