A few weeks ago, my mother, seemingly at random, decided to extol the virtues of a bank innovation circa 1970.
"I love having a debit card, she said, while getting ready to leave the house.
Really, Mom, a debit card? I replied.
Yes, she said. I turned to see she was holding a deposit envelope. I use the ATM for everything. I never have to go into a bank."
I was so stunned to subsequently discover she had possessed said debit card only for the last three years; it didnt dawn on me until later that I should probably pitch her mobile banking.
It probably wouldnt occur to most banks either.
A Baby Boomer who has banked with the same small financial institution for more than 37 years, she hardly fits the mobile profile. But if you were to look below the surface, my moms actually a prime candidate. She owns a smartphone and an iPad (which she has used to reach Level 421 in the game Candy Crush), is active on Facebook and keeps asking me if she should be on Twitter.
Moreover, what she wants most from her bank namely, to never have to set foot in one ever again is the very demand mobile is meant to cater to.
Given her explanation for the debit card delay I just never thought I needed one, but I love it now that I know what it can do I decided to try to get her to go mobile. Unfortunately, her community bank didnt offer mobile banking services, including the one she was likely to find most useful remote deposit capture. (It does offer online banking services, some which my mom already uses regularly.)
Fine, I thought, well skip the easy stuff and jump right into mobile payments. But picking this test vehicle wasnt much easier. Google Wallet, in true mobile wallet form, is primarily available on Sprint phones my mom uses Verizon Wireless and Isis, the mobile wallet venture led by AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon, had yet to roll out nationwide (more on that later.)
After a consultation with PaymentsSource Editor in Chief Daniel Wolfe, I settled on introducing Mom to LevelUp, the mobile payments platform that coverts a credit card number into a QR code and incentivizes use by offering discounts at merchant partners.
This effort too, however, got derailed when, after scanning her credit card into the app, we discovered the closest participating business was outside our New Jersey hometown. (Out of state, actually; the top search result was a bagel shop in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
This was unfortunate. I would use this, my mom enthused, scrolling through vouchers for businesses well outside her normal stomping grounds, if there was a place nearby that accepted it.
In the middle of this (admittedly non-starter) experiment, Isis rolled out nationwide. But I couldnt readily secure the enhanced SIM card that is necessary for the app to work on my Galaxy S3 and Moms Galaxy S4 because our local Verizon shop didnt have any available four days after the launch. They also had no idea when they would be getting any in.
Isis spotted my tweet about the situation and offered to send us SIM cards directly. (Were awaiting their arrival. Once theyre on hand, Ill write an update.) Kudos to Isis for actively trying to ease adoption, though Id argue at this point, thats a necessity.
Mobile adoption is confronting the classic chicken-or-egg conundrum. To promote widespread adoption, banks, card issuers and merchants need to know more customers will use these types of services. But for more customers to use these types of services, banks, issuers and merchants have to offer better mobile services.
My guess is, if the industry were to enhance products and/or build more seamless, ubiquitous solutions, even the long shot customers will come.
Jeanine Skowronski is the deputy editor of BankThink, the American Banker blog.