Mobile banking has come a long way over the last few years with the majority of major UK banks offering SMS alerts and a select few offering full control of your account via mobile applications.

The SMS alerts are really useful, I can now see instantly when I’m overdrawn or received payments into my account as well as my weekly mini statement. However the one thing I need the most is to be able to check my balance without having to make expensive calls from my mobile to the banks call center.

By 2010, upwards of 70 percent of US bank center call volume will come from mobile phones. Half of those calls will be related to very basic balance inquiry information. The benefit to the bank by providing SMS balance enquiries is simple, it saves them money and allows them to provide a more efficient service.

I Recently spoke with someone who headed up mobile banking at one of the large UK banks and he explained to me that the amount of customers that actually used their mobile banking java application was a fraction of a percent. His reasons behind this was that the technology wasn’t where it needed to be to provide a good enough service, however I think it’s down to the user experience and mindset of consumers. First pick one of the most frequent customer queries (balance enquiries) then pick the simplest way on the mobile to achieve this (SMS) = a solution.

A mobile banking application already has the disadvantage of requiring a download, then installing and then setting up, this is already a step too far for many people. On top of this the bank in question decided to make users type in the full long URL to get the download rather than provide a text-in-for-wap-push method.

I know an application provides more functionality than SMS but why not keep it simple for the most common day to day tasks that people need? SMS is so easy to use and would enable a far bigger percentage of customers to try out the service.

I’m sure many of the concerns about SMS balance enquiries are focused around security but if my bank can send me my balance every Monday by SMS push, what difference does it make by doing it via SMS pull? Obviously security requirements could be placed in the initial SMS sent by the user to get the balance such as a special pin for the service etc.

After searching Google, I found some countries have this type of service available, check out the example diagram below from HSBC Malaysia for credit card customers and here for Citibank Philippines. Pretty sweet hey? Why can’t we get this stuff in the UK?

SMS banking