One of the first financial institutions to offer online banking, Wells Fargo ($549 billion in assets) now is among the pioneers of mobile banking in the United States. And the San Francisco-based bank isn't just peddling m-banking to its consumer customers; it also is providing small business and commercial m-banking services.
Wells Fargo Mobile, the bank's retail offering, allows individuals to transfer money among their Wells Fargo accounts in real time; receive account activity information for all their Wells Fargo products, including loans and cards; view past transactions; and receive alerts. The small business solution provides a similar experience, with the added abilities to check cash positions and assign different degrees of access for accounts.
According to Eskander Matta, an SVP in Wells Fargo's Internet services group, the small-business m-banking offering was a natural next step for the bank since there is a great deal of overlap between its consumer customers and small business clients. The bank is offering the services to customers as both a browser-based solution, with which users enjoy an experience similar to what they see online, and as an SMS-based solution, with which customers and the bank interact via text messaging, Matta continues.
Two Ways to Attract Users
Such a dual approach, according to analysts, is the best strategy to spur adoption of m-banking in the United States. "Initially, analysts debated on whether there should be text or browsers or downloaded applications for mobile banking," Matta observes. "We concluded early on that it was important to offer customers a choice of how they bank with us -- we wanted to make it convenient by offering mobile in different ways."
Matta adds that some mobile banking modalities are better suited for particular financial transactions than others. "For example, for a balance inquiry, text is just fine," he says. "But for a more complicated transaction, the browser experience is sometimes better. We're also going to see more of an interplay between the different types of m-banking modalities."
Matta characterizes the Wells Fargo m-banking platform as a hybrid solution that uses capabilities from inside and outside the company. Although he declines to name particular vendors, he says that for the browser solution, for example, the bank uses third-party software that helps recognize both the phone and the carrier and can resize the mobile banking screen to suit the device.
The bank has taken a gradual approach to its m-banking initiative, introducing features little by little, according to Matta. Wells Fargo took its first steps in m-banking in 2006, piloting and then introducing the text alert service. The browser capability was rolled out to the entire consumer customer base in July, and the small business product was introduced in September.
Although he can't provide specific figures, Matta says that the response to m-banking by customers has exceeded expectations. "We haven't been doing much marketing around this. But even so, m-banking has grown at twice the rate we expected," he relates. "The level of engagement of users has been pretty spectacular, too. They'll access their m-banking an average of two-and-a-half times per week."
Matta also notes that m-banking customers might not be quite who one would think. Of course, there are the tech-savvy early adopters. However, Matta says, many of Wells Fargo's m-banking users are customers who use the bank's phone banking service. "Instead of calling us and interacting with an IVR, they're sending and receiving the same information in text messages," he explains. "They're using the phone but in a different way."