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Holding a Bank in Your Hand

More Consumers Manage Finances From Their Cellphones

Matt Certo, 37, chief executive of WebSolvers Inc., a digital-marketing company, uses his smartphone to do mobile banking at his Baldwin Park home in Orlando, Florida, October 31, 2013, with his dog Baron by his side. Certo counts himself among the early adopters of mobile banking. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Matt Certo, 37, chief executive of WebSolvers Inc., a digital-marketing company, uses his smartphone to do mobile banking at his Baldwin Park home in Orlando, Florida, October 31, 2013, with his dog Baron by his side. Certo counts himself among the early adopters of mobile banking. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/MCT)

Snap, tap and done.

That’s the catchy mantra of mobile banking, increasingly touted by financial institutions as a way to oh-so-easily pay bills, check balances and deposit checks from your cellphone. And consumers are heeding the call.

Walk-in, online and ATM transactions are leveling off as U.S. consumers’ preferred methods of banking, but on-the-go mobile banking is having a growth spurt.

“Yes, it’s an explosion,” said Mary Monahan, executive vice president and mobile research director for Javelin Strategy & Research in Pleasanton, Calif. According to Javelin’s most recent report, 1 in 4 mobile phone users were doing mobile banking in 2012.

“Smartphones are our security blanket. We’re looking at them over and over,” Monahan said. “If there’s a sale at Nordstrom, you want to check your bank balance when you’re on the go, not go back home and call up something. That’s what’s driving this.”

Banks and credit unions say they’re simply responding to what customers want.

“It’s all consumer-driven. If you have a banking account, there are certain types of transactions that are abundantly more convenient done from your bedroom in your bunny slippers,” said Doug Johnson, vice president of risk management at the American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C.

Internet banking — where customers manage their financial life from their home computer or laptop — has been widely used for years. According to a July 2012 ABA survey, 39 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed said they “most often” managed their bank accounts via the Internet, either from a laptop or home computer. That was followed by visits to bank branches and ATMs.

But all three of those have largely stayed flat in recent years, while cellphone banking has nearly tripled as the preferred method - growing from 3 percent in 2010 to 8 percent this year. In a recent Pew Research Center study, the number of bank-by-cellphone Americans nearly doubled in the past two years.

The push from Internet to mobile banking got started with “money monitoring,” which allows consumers to use their phones to look up a bank balance, see whether a check cleared or get text alerts if an account is running low.

“Now consumers want more: money movement, which is where banks are right now,” said Monahan. Financial institutions that don’t offer that capability, especially mobile check deposits, will lose customers, she said.

The hottest feature that more banks are pushing these days is the ability to deposit a paper check by cellphone. In recent months, there have been a handful of new TV ads by Wells Fargo and others. In one, a stylish young woman deposits a check — by phone — while getting a salon pedicure.

Nicole Quinonez, a Sacramento, Calif., lobbyist who doesn’t have financial clients, said she’s been using her Golden 1 Credit Union mobile deposit application for about a year and loves the convenience. The 30-year-old said she rarely goes into a bank because her paycheck is direct-deposited. “So when I do get a paper check, I don’t like making a special trip to the bank just to deposit it.”