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Do Americans Hate Bank Branches So Much They'd Rather Use Their Phone?

Bob Sullivan

It's not just teenagers who'd rather look at their phones than talk to people. Bank account holders feel that way too, apparently. New research from Javelin Strategy & Research suggests that consumers now prefer mobile banking to in-person branch banking.

Javelin's survey found that 23% of consumers choose to use their smartphones as a primary access point for their checking accounts, compared to 17% who prefer to visit the branch.

Online banking still trumps all, with 39% telling Javelin they primarily access their checking accounts that way.

But making mobile phones the primary access point for one-quarter of consumers, rather than a mere add-on, represents a significant change in consumer behavior.

The rise of mobile banking is well chronicled, with the ability to remotely deposit checks a ragingly popular feature. The Federal Reserve said earlier this year that 51% of mobile bankers used "remote deposit capture" last year, up from 38% in 2013. In all, cellphone owners who've used mobile banking jumped from 22% in 2011 to 39% last year, the Fed says.

Perhaps that's because consumers really do like the idea that they can bank anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Feedzai, a security firm, said its recent poll found nearly half of mobile bankers are "doing it in the bedroom." It also found 30% banked in the bathroom, and 13% even confessed to banking while driving (don't do that). Another 18% banked while standing in line – presumably not at the bank.

And those who do bank online are "addicted," argues Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, which found in its survey that 55% of those who access mobile banking do so at least two to three times a week.

Javelin says heavy online bankers are more likely to be younger, female and have children in the household — in other words, they are busy — than online-first or branch-first customers.

In case you're curious, online banking first became the most preferred banking method in 2009, according to the American Bankers Association. Previously, visiting a branch was the most popular method, followed by visiting ATMs.

Online banking is far from perfect, Javelin warns, which is one reason online banking remains so popular.

"Currently, mobile bankers are not able finish transactions on mobile devices and are purposefully shifted to online or branch channels for completion, causing frustration," said Mary Monahan, Executive Vice President and Research Director at Javelin Strategy & Research. "Financial institutions should aim to create a unified view of the customer and offer a more seamless, easily navigated banking experience, to appeal to the broader user community."

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