As consumers continue to embrace mobile banking and payments technology, banks and credit unions have to establish their place in that ecosystem as a partner willing to guide customers through the mobile commerce process.

"That's the real challenge for banks, to have a role in the customer's mobile-based experience," says Ron Shevlin, senior analyst with Boston-based Aite Group.

A "lot of convergence" exists between data in Shevlin's latest Aite report that indicates mobile banking will grow 300% in the next four years, and the growth of mobile shopping and payments, Shevlin says.

"The real impact of mobile banking comes when it is combined with mobile shopping and mobile payments," he adds.

When a consumer has completed product price comparisons through mobile devices and has decided what to buy, a bank should be prepared to quickly provide the customer's account information as well as other helpful information, Shevlin says.

"The customer will be asking if he can afford this product, and maybe how many reward points he has to use," Shevlin says. "Or he may ask which card he should use, and the bank should be ready to tell him if it would be better to open a new account to make this purchase."

Shevlin's report, a forecast on smartphone and tablet use in mobile banking based on a survey of 1,115 U.S. consumers during the second quarter of 2012, reinforces the notion that younger customers are more comfortable than older customers with using mobile devices to check their accounts and pay bills.

Still, only 14% of those surveyed used a tablet to pay monthly bills, while 16% used a smartphone for that task.

However, 26% of the surveyed Gen Y customers (those in early 30s and younger) paid bills through their smartphones, while only 9% of Gen X (mid 30s to late 40s) and 7% of Baby Boomers (late 40s to mid 60s) paid in that fashion. The numbers were more even for those who used tablets to pay bills, with 17% of Gen Y, 16% of Gen X and 12% of Baby Boomers.

"It was interesting, but maybe not so surprising, that the level of interest in using a smartphone for mobile banking amongst Baby Boomers was in the single digits, but using a tablet would spur more use and interest in bill paying," Shevlin says.

Older customers aren't going to use a smartphone to check their accounts, pay bills or "read anything on it" because the screen is too small, he adds.

Because tablets were popular amongst most age groups, financial institutions are likely to see more bill paying done through a mobile device, Shevlin says. "It isn't a case where a bank has to give away a tablet to drive more mobile banking, because the economics are not worth it," he adds. "But the banks are likely to see more adoption from older consumers because they like the tablet device and they like to use it."

Because early adopters have "a huge interest" in making mobile payments and taking advantage of a higher level of shopping experience by comparing product prices on their phones, they are naturally going to want to check their bank accounts to see what they can afford, Shevlin says.

"Banks have to figure out what role they can play in the consumer shopping experience because they don't want all of that interaction to go to Google or Amazon," Shevlin says. "The bank should be there to help the consumer figure out what he can afford."

Overall, Aite projects the number of consumers using a mobile device to access their bank accounts will increase from 33 million to 96 million by 2016, while smartphone users will account for 96% of the total mobile banking population.

But monthly bill payment through a mobile device represents one of the fastest growing areas of mobile banking, with Aite predicting such use will double from 14 million to 34 million users over the next two years.

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