Lou Carlozo is new to Money Under 30. Based in Chicago, Lou is a personal finance contributor for Reuters Money, a columnist with DealNews.com, and a former managing editor at AOL’s WalletPop.com. This is his first post. Welcome, Lou. -Ed.
Hours before writing this story, I accomplished a techie first in my banking life — one I would’ve dubbed sci-fi fantasy a decade ago. Using my iPhone camera, I took front and back photos of a check I’d received in the mail. Then, tapping a few keys on my smartphone screen, I deposited it without ever setting foot near a bank branch.
This 21st-century banking breakthrough comes courtesy of a feature called remote deposit capture. And thanks to the sophistication of big-bank apps (I used one from Citibank), we now have more flexibility than ever in how we manage our money. Yet even credit unions and community banks, once laggards in this tech race, are catching up on the mobile banking front, says Claes Bell, a senior banking analyst at Bankrate.com.
“It’s becoming more common, depending on which community bank or credit union you are looking at,” Bell says. “All you have to do is go to the App Store and look up ‘community banks,’ and you’ll see hundreds of apps being offered by institutions that didn’t have them just a few years ago.” (Check out these apps from Cornerstone Community Bank of Redd Bluff, Calif. and Community Bank of Florida.)
The best of both worlds, Bell says, is to get the personalized service of local bank or credit union with the incredible convenience of mobile banking. That said, it’s going to be difficult to find a smaller financial institution with photo check deposit or the other bells and whistles the big boys offer — not that the gap isn’t narrowing with each passing month.
Big or small, your bank should offer a baseline of core services to fit your mobile lifestyle, especially if you use your smartphone more as a second computer. Bell points to person-to-person payments as another key feature to seek out.
Imagine that you’re at a restaurant splitting the bill, but don’t have any cash on you. Using your smartphone, you can send payments to the person who’s fronting you the cash. “Chase has been a pioneer in this area,” Bell says. “They’ll send a text message to the person with a link that allows them to pick up the money.”
Remote deposit capture is a huge perk, though it has its limits. Checks may not post to your account as fast as with a teller visit, and banks typically set a ceiling on how much you can deposit via one photo transaction. (Citibank’s maximum is $1,000.)
What’s more: It doesn’t always work. Even with a strong wireless signal, my first attempt at this a week ago failed due to endless transmission errors, forcing me to quit after 15 minutes. (By comparison, it took me half as long to drive to the closest Citibank branch.) My second attempt was buggy, too; it took 5 minutes of fighting tech glitches before my mobile deposit went through. Finally, the check was credited to my account in two business days, compared to the immediate credit I get for a teller deposit.
Here’s a quick look at some of the apps offered by major banks, and how they stack up feature-wise.
Citibank: Allows you to pay bills, transfer between accounts, check balances, make direct payments to linked credit accounts (such as a Citibank credit card), find Citibank ATMs and branch locations, and send money to other people via Popmoney. You can also deposit checks by remote deposit capture.
Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch and Android
Wells Fargo: Allows you to pay bills, transfer funds between accounts, check balances, find Wells Fargo ATMs and branch locations, and transfer money to other people. Not as advanced as its competitors’ apps, but gets solid positive ratings from its users.
Available for: iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Palm devices
Chase: Allows you to pay bills, transfer funds between accounts, check balances, find Chase ATMs and branch locations, and transfer money to other people via QuickPay. You can also deposit checks by remote deposit capture.
Available for: iPad, iPhone, Android, BlackBerry or Kindle Fire
USAA Mobile: Allows you to pay bills, transfer funds between accounts and stop payment on checks. Members can also get assistance on a suite of financial services, including insurance claims and requesting insurance cards, and trading stocks. You can also deposit checks via remote deposit capture.
Available for: iPhone, iPad 2, Android or Windows Phone 7 devices.
TD Bank: Allows you to check bank balances, transfer funds between accounts, pay bills, find TD Bank branches and ATMs, or use one-touch calling for 24-hour customer service. Remote deposit capture and person-to-person transfers are not featured, but this app also gets largely positive reviews from consumers.
Available for: iPhone, iPod Touch, BlackBerry and Android.
Based in Chicago, Lou Carlozo is a personal finance contributor for Reuters Money, a columnist with DealNews.com, and a former managing editor at AOL’s WalletPop.com. Contact him with story ideas for Money Under 30 at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him via LinkedIn and Twitter (@LouCarlozo63).