At $12 billion in deposits, FirstBank narrowly misses being ranked among the top 50 banks. But it's rubbing shoulders with the top three as it becomes first non-founding member of the clearXchange person-to-person payments network.
ClearXchange's three founders JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo cover about half of the national online banking market, and their share is even higher in the Denver region, where FirstBank operates.
"Denver is a pretty tech savvy place and we need to be proactive with technology or we won't be successful in this market," says Jim Reuter, president of FirstBank Support Services.
Because these four banks together serve so many Denver-area residents, FirstBank's customers should be able to execute person-to-person transfers via clearXchange without having to worry about the recipient being at the wrong bank, Reuter says.
"We'll have access to a large part of the market right out of the gate and we anticipate other banks will be joining clearXchange, as well as some processors down the road," he says.
ClearXchange allows consumers to transfer money to one another without knowing the recipient's bank account number. Instead, users direct funds to an email address or phone number.
"People are on the go and they don't want to scrounge around for cash and don't want to use traditional means of payments when they are on the move," Reuter says.
More than a quarter of the bank's website logins now come from mobile devices, he says.
FirstBank anticipates deploying clearXchange by early 2014. The P2P system will become part of a broader mobile payments strategy that already includes use of smartphones for shopping and electronic payments, Reuter says.
The bank uses both browser-based and native mobile apps to enable digital payments, and is using responsive design to tailor content and function to specific mobile devices. Responsive design refers to the use of a layer of technology that resides between the consumer's device and the financial institution. That layer can sense the type of device and configures the design of the user interface accordingly.
"With all sizes of screens out there with tablets, phones and phablets, we want to be able to manage the content for all of the devices that our customers are using," Reuter says. "That makes more sense than developing mobile apps for every device that's out there."
FirstBank is not currently active in contactless mobile payments, but "we like the concept of mobile [point of sale] payments, so we are looking at the folks that are experimenting and piloting that technology," Reuter says. "When we look long-term, we see mobile devices being dominant for all transactions."
Mobile payments can also be combined with other services delivered to mobile devices, such as personal financial management and budgeting, Reuter says.
"The mobile device gives banks the ability to help people manage their money. People can get to the point of sale and want to buy something and can check their balance before making the payment," he says.