Financial Institutions Bank on Apps

If you're banking online, it's likely you can also bank on your phone.

At Arvest Bank of Fayetteville, for example, you can text "BAL" to the bank and receive a summary of your account balance. According to Jason Kincy, Arvest's director of marketing, the number of customers using Arvest's mobile applications has doubled since September, more than 70,000 active users per month.

"The growth is very strong," Kincy said. "The iPhone is the largest user base, and the Android is the fastest growing."

The trend isn't limited to Arvest. It's now normal for a bank to offer a mobile app: Little Rock's Bank of the Ozarks launched its apps for iPhone and Android about a year ago, with an iPad app following about six months later. Liberty Bank of Arkansas in Jonesboro rolled out an iPhone and Blackberry program late last year. An Android option came out early this year, and an iPad version is in development for the end of 2012.

A standard banking app allows a user to transfer funds, check his balance and pay bills, among other things. They typically are offered free as part of an online banking package.

Some financial institutions are using apps to help solve their own problems.

Arkansas Federal Credit Union of Jacksonville, for example, recognizes one of its weaknesses: It doesn't have service centers on every street corner. To that end, it's developing an app that lets members deposit checks using only their phones.

"They can take a picture of the check with their iPhone, then send it off to the credit union," said Greg Parris, marketing specialist for AFCU.

Similar programs are being developed by larger banks as well. Mark Greenhaw, vice president of marketing at Bank of the Ozarks, said the bank would launch its own check-scanning application later this year.

Many banks design their apps in-house and then contract a company to do the actual coding. PM Systems Corp. of Chapin, S.C., for example, manages AFCU's apps. ACI Worldwide of New York City, PM Systems' parent company, designed Bank of the Ozarks' apps. Arvest used both Clairmail Inc. of San Rafael, Calif., and Rockfish Interactive of Rogers.

Occasionally, a bank will design a program to complement its typical banking app.

"We have another app, called MyArvest," said Kincy. The app features personal financial calculators, a newsfeed and a GPS map of nearby Arvest branches and ATMs. The GPS displays green and red lights to indicate whether branches are open or closed. Kincy said Arvest was adapting MyArvest for Android, and an iPad version should be available by the summer.

MyArvest was released in 2010. When Arvest's main banking app was redesigned and re-launched late last year, MyArvest was tweaked to include a limited version of the mobile banking software, streamlining Arvest's mobile services into a single program.

"We knew a lot of customers that were totally comfortable with having more than one app," Kincy said. "But some preferred everything in one package. We built it in as a response to that."


In the Future

On-the-go banking is more than possible now, and before long we may be able to solve all our financial problems with just a smartphone.

For example, banks are now working on giving smartphones the same attributes as debit cards: Just scan a code and the money gets drawn from your account. This technology has already been seen online with Google Wallet, which works at several Foot Lockers, Footaction and Champs in the state, and at some businesses, like Starbucks.

"We have certain IT people salivating over that," said Parris at AFCU. "It's a really cool concept. It's on the agenda."

It's still a ways away, though.

"The biggest challenge is that you have to have enough merchants willing and able to accept those kinds of payments," said Kincy at Arvest. "Customers are a little concerned about their payment info being in the phone. There needs to be a period of education and adjustment, like any new technology."

Customers will be using the popular plastic cards, Kincy said, until someone finds an incentive to change the system.