Wells Fargo & Co. has announced that Wells Fargo Mobile Deposit is now available in the Northwest Georgia area. Customers can simply take pictures of the front and back of their checks using an Android or iPhone device and deposit the check directly to their accounts.
SunTrust Bank also offers the Mobile Deposit feature for smartphone savvy customers.
Most of the banks with a physical presence in Rome offer some sort of mobile banking services, particularly the bill pay feature, account transfers and account review features.
Bank of the Ozarks Rome branch manager Penny Shiflett said that for all of the growing popularity of mobile banking, she thinks there will always be a place for the physical presence of a bank.
Shiflett said some banks have tried for years to nudge customers toward increasing use of technology. “You might see a little less people, but people still like to come to the bank,” Shiflett said. “Truly, from 10 years ago you don’t need near as many tellers because people are using alternative measures.”
The Bank of the Ozarks is hopeful of opening another branch location in Rome at some point in the future. “People still like to talk to a person,” Shiflett said. “We have a lot of people that come and open accounts who said I tried that e-banking, but I just didn’t like the fact that I never saw anybody.”
Roger Smith, president of River City Bank in Rome, said he hopes to have a mobile direct deposit app available to his customers by the middle of 2013.
“Banking will be something that you do in the future, not necessarily a place that you go,” Smith said.
Ryan Earnest, president at Heritage First Bank, said he also expects to have a mobile deposit app available for customers sometime late during the second quarter of 2013.
David Johnson, president of the United Community Banks in Rome, said UCBI is working on a mobile direct deposit app.
“They (the big national banks) may have mobile banking, but you can talk to us,” Johnson said. “We are working on an upgrade to our mobile banking app,” Johnson said. “I would guess by the end of the first quarter in 2013.”
“The exponential growth of mobile banking is fueling the thirst for more futuristic, easy-to-use applications such as mobile deposit,” said Brian Pearce, senior vice president, head of Retail Mobile Channel, Digital Channels Group for Wells Fargo.
“I don’t believe it’s going to replace brick and mortar,” said Stephanie Firth, manager of the Well Fargo downtown Rome branch, 501 Broad St. “You’re still going to need a loan where that face-to-face service is a benefit. They still need mortgages, and they still need cashier’s checks. Digital can’t give you that.”
Johnson said he’s finding more applications are being created for people who are in a hurry. “They want convenience and want to be able to do something at 2 a.m. instead of 10 a.m.,” Johnson said. “You’re going to begin to see less need to physically walk into a place. For community banks I think there still are a group of people who still want to come in and talk to somebody face-to-face.”
Firth said digital services offer that convenience. “Through the app, you have transfers from account to account, you can balance inquiry, look at your transactions,” said Firth.
David Lance, president of Greater Rome Bank, said GRB is taking a hard look at mobile banking technology.
“With frequent innovations in technology, mobile banking is a convenient option for customers,” Lance said.
Pearce said that the mobile banking customer base has grown by more than 30 percent in the last year.
For extra security, credentials and check images are not stored on the mobile device itself. Wells Fargo uses advanced encryption and security technology to mask sensitive information.
Jim Halverson, Northwest Georgia president for Regions Bank, said his institution also expects to have a mobile deposit feature online during the first half of 2013.
“Take a picture of a check and make that deposit, what a concept,” Halverson said.
Regions Bank has had a mobile app to check balances, pay bills and transfer of funds for at least three years. Regions’ app also allows customers to get a text alert each time a debit card is used or if their balance falls below a certain threshold. “It’s a really neat feature to have, especially if you’ve got two people using the account,” Halverson said.
Angie Lewis, president of Citizens First Bank of Rome, said she expects mobile direct deposit capability is something that her parent corporation, Synovus, is working on.
“It’s definitely high on my wish list,” Lewis said. “It’s just a matter of prioritizing the time frame that things roll out.”
Earnest suggests that while the national banks may have thousands of branch locations, they still only have one website. “I have three branches, but I have one website as well. The technology is there, and it levels the playing field for us,” Earnest said. “We see it as a significant advantage for us.”
Smith said that younger customers in particular have no desire to come to the bank building. “They want to be able to use their phone to look up their balances, transfer their funds, make their payments, apply for their loans,” Smith said. “It appears to be the direction that banking is migrating very rapidly.”
Earnest said the growth of mobile banking might have a lot to do with the immediate gratification culture that has developed. “That’s kind of the way the banking business has evolved,” Earnest said. He pointed out that the cost of developing the software is relatively inexpensive, particular when the banks consider the risk versus reward factors.
Smith said that when he was at the LSU School of Banking in the mid-1980s there was a lot of talk about a checkless society. “At that time there was a lot of discussion about brick and mortar,” Smith said. “There are still checks out there, but the checkless society pretty much is here.”
Is the cashless society far behind?
“Nowadays banks keep very little cash in their vaults,” Smith said. “People use their check cards or their credit cards for all their purchases now.” He said that when people feel the need for cash, they’re likely get cash on the back end of their bank or credit card purchases at the grocery store.
Lewis said she couldn’t imagine any economy existing without some form of currency and cash. “The number of customers that carry cash is certainly reducing day by day,” Lewis said. “I’m amazed at how many people that I will be with in a social situation that make the comment they never carry any cash any longer.”
Some people still like the thought of actually holding cash in their wallet or handbag. Others are concerned about the security factor of electronic and mobile banking. Firth at Wells Fargo said identity theft protection is another product the bank offers, “if a customer is feeling like they need that added protection, or worry about, ‘What if I lose my phone,’” Firth said.
She encourages each of her team members in Rome to take advantage of the new technology so that they understand the product and are able to explain it to a customer. “Any time a customer has a concern over something, our role here is to educate and help them understand what the risks are and how we can overcome the risks,” Firth said.
The local Wells Fargo manager also said she feels the mobile deposit app will be a very popular service for women. She said that a lot of women do not necessarily feel comfortable about using an ATM at night, for the obvious security reasons. “With the app, you can sit down at home in front of the TV and make your deposit from the safety of your living room.”
That gets two thumbs up.