Going mobile: Local executive carves niche as national expert on fast-growing banking-industry technology trend

Move over home computer, the more nimble mobile phone and competing handheld devices have taken the helm as the hippest ways to conduct banking business online.

What’s more, an Indianapolis banking executive is at the forefront of the mobile-banking information movement and is promoting the benefits on a blog he created that is attracting scores of new viewers each month from around the world.

Brandon McGee, 34, may keep bankers’ hours at the downtown office of the Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington National Bank. But, on his own time, he tracks the latest trends in the emerging area of mobile banking.

According to a study by the Bostonbased financial consultancy Celent, 35 percent of consumers who now bank online will be using mobile devices for banking by 2010. That’s up from less than 1 percent today.

The reason: “Convenience is king,” McGee said while touting the technological advances that have revolutionized the way the financial services industry conducts business.

Indeed, the advent of the Internet has enabled banks to provide customers 24/7 access to their accounts. But now, as cell phones typically are more than just … well, phones, users are starting to fully maximize the capabilities.

More banks are rolling out mobile services that allow consumers to check account balances, transfer funds and pay bills.

And while there’s one thing mobile banking never will be able to offer-the ability to withdraw cash-the technology does provide ATM locations of respective banks.

Yet, few banks in Indiana are offering mobile banking services, said Joe DeHaven, president and CEO of the Indiana Bankers Association. Over time, though, he expects that to change. As of last year, 10 banks nationwide had rolled out a mobile banking service.

Security concerns

Huntington and Chase are believed to be the only two with such services in the Indianapolis market. Customers gain access to their accounts by inputting their existing user name and password used for traditional online banking.

Banks provide the service for free and justify the investment based on strengthening customer relationships. Costs to implement such services can reach well into the six figures, although the service can piggyback on existing online banking and security technology.

With additional data-access points, the threat of identity theft grows. Pennsylvania-based Unisys Corp., an information technology consultancy, predicts banks will face “significant challenges” in protecting consumer assets, as more turn to mobile devices.

“Such e-banking attacks could wreak havoc on already shaky consumer confidence in the banking and financial sector,” the report said.

Mark Ford, a principal at the Detroit office of New York-based accounting firm Deloitte & Touche, is an expert in online banking security. He thinks demand for the service, particularly from younger users, will outweigh the risks involved.

“Identity theft and the threats that are out there are still a significant question in the minds of customers,” he said. “But the Gen Y effect will tend to outpace the demand for security.”

The American Bankers Association in Washington, D.C., recognizes the potential for identity theft and dedicated a session to mobile banking at a technology and security conference in April.

Blogging master

McGee did not participate in the April event, but he has cemented his prominence as an authority on the issue, frequently speaking at forums held in such cities as Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and New York City. He has been published in Bank Systems & Technology, and his Mobile Banking blog appears within The Banker’s Blog Watch section of the American Banker Web site.

Google “mobile banking” and his blog appears below only the Wikipedia entry on the subject and Bank of America’s product offering. You gain that type of notoriety when you write nearly 180 posts, typically two to three a week, within the last year and a half.

“Now I have friends and contacts all over the United States,” ranging from large institutions to credit unions, said McGee, a Huntington vice president and senior product manager of mobile banking.

But how can there be that much to write about mobile banking? Evidently, there’s enough to keep 3,000 unique visitors coming to his site each month, most of whom are bankers and vendors of mobile banking products.

The goal simply is to share what’s new in the industry, from a neutral standpoint, he said. His blog features no advertising and steers clear of promoting or panning any product or service.

The Lafayette native who earned a business and marketing degree from Purdue University in 1996 and an MBA from Butler University in 2002 arrived at Huntington in July 2007 through a series of mergers. He started at Union Federal Bank before moving to Sky Bank and ultimately to his current employer.

His banking career, though, began following high school graduation, literally by accident.

While working out to prepare for a summer job loading UPS trucks, McGee dropped a weight on his foot and shattered it. He instead got a job as a teller at the Industrial Federal Credit Union in Lafayette.

At Union Federal, he took the reins of its online banking effort. Its mobile banking initiative needed attention.

McGee began blogging to communicate with other bankers, particularly those in European and Asian countries, where mobile banking progress is years ahead of that in the United States.

What’s next?

Mobile banking products actually debuted around the time of the new millennium, but failed to gain much traction in the United States. Consumers were still getting acclimated to online banking, and the technology to support mobile offerings was still in the early stages.

Its resurgence within the past few years is due largely to the growing popularity of BlackBerries and smart phones. A smart phone features more capabilities than a typical mobile phone, often with PC-like functionality.

In the never-ending quest for superior technology, a mobile “wallet” likely will be the next big thing. It uses near-field communication, a short-range wireless communication technology enabling devices to exchange information from a distance of about 4 inches.

Instead of swiping your debit card to fill up for gas, for instance, you would hold the phone up to the pump to complete the purchase.

As for McGee’s mobile banking blog, is it a hobby he’ll pursue for years to come?

“Oh, yeah,” he responded. “It’s been so successful; it’s just going to continue to move forward.”

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