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The black-and-white picture shows a television set the size of a suitcase. The keyboard next to it looks like a cross between an electric typewriter and a label printer. The woman who operates it is almost an arms-length away and touches a key with one finger as though she fears being sucked into the machine like Tron. It’s around 1981 and the article in Digital Deli describes how Chemical Bank has released Pronto, America’s first home banking service. Within two months of launch, the $20 million of development costs had been rewarded with no fewer than… 500 users in the New York area . The bank was hoping to add another 2,000 before the year was out.
In addition to Chemical Bank, Chase Manhattan, Citibank and Manufacturers Hanover also produced home banking systems in the early eighties. The services offered by those early platforms were basic but they covered most of the functions that a bank’s customers might need. The screens displayed balances and cash flows. Users of Chase Manhattan’s Paymaster system could make payments, review cash, and they could call the bank if they got stuck. Chemical planned to add portfolio analysis and “teleshopping” to its list of services. Citibank tried to make the $10 monthly fee it charged users worthwhile by including a Dow Jones News/Retrieval Service, content that had previously cost as much $160 a month.
In those pre-World Wide Web days, the service was delivered using videotex, a very simple network. But videotex only took off in France in the form of Minitel. In the United States, the system soon faded away, and took those early online banking systems with it.
The rise of the World Wide Web in the mid- and late nineties, together with the merging of banks (and their customer databases), gave the idea of home banking a new lease of life. Now it was possible to deliver banking services through a system that people were starting to bring into their homes anyway. Customers no longer needed to buy special equipment. The banks weren’t charging $10 a month and they didn’t need to spend $20 million to create a website. By the turn of the millennium, as the dotcom bubble was about to burst, almost all US banks were offering ebanking in one form or another.
But while the changes in technology meant that take-up was faster than it had been in the eighties, growth in the use of ebanking was still slow. Customers weren’t yet used to the idea of trusting their credit card details to a website and they worried about accessing financial details on a computer system. According to a 2009 Federal Reserve Bulletin, just 7 percent of US households used online banking in 1998. Three years later, as Internet users grew accustomed to placing orders on Ebay and Amazon, the numbers had risen to 21 percent but even in 2006 only around half of US households were banking online. The most popular services offered the simplest of functions: monitoring accounts, transferring funds between accounts, and paying bills. Just 11 percent of online bankers in 2006 were using bank websites to apply for loans.
By 2009, usage had improved substantially. Eighty percent of US households with Internet access said that they were banking online, a total of nearly 72.5 million households. The types of customers who were using online banking services had changed too. Once the preserve of the young and the educated, nearly half of the people logging into their online bank accounts at the end of the millennium’s first decade were aged between 35 and 54, and nearly a quarter were older than 55.
Banking customers used to lining up and talking to a teller were now getting into the habit of sitting at their computer and using a website to check their accounts and the pay their bills. With that change in habits rose a new form of bank: a financial institution that had no local branches and no bricks and mortar stores at all. Brands like EQ Bank and BankMobile were launched to serve retail customers exclusively online.
The next big change in ebanking came with the rise of smartphones. Now bank customers didn’t even need to sit in front of their desktops to manage their bank accounts. They could open their iPhones or their Samsung Galaxies and perform all of their banking needs through a dedicated app. The 2015 Federal Reserve report found that 39 percent of all mobile phone owners and 52 percent of smartphone owners with a bank account had used mobile banking in the previous twelve months. Mostly they’re using those apps to keep an eye on their balances and recent transactions but also to transfer funds and receive notifications. Just over half of mobile banking users have deposited a check using their mobile phones, and 22 percent had used their phones to make a mobile payment.
A process that had started as a dedicated machine targeted at high-end business users has become one function on a device owned by more than two-thirds of the population.
The benefits to banks of that shift are clear.
Why Banks Love Ebanking… And So Do Customers
In 2015, JPMorgan Chase closed 142 branches and laid off 10,000 employees. Citigroup shaved the number of its branches by 13 percent over the year. Bank of America went from 4,947 branches to 4,741 while installing 2.5 percent more ATMs… and reducing its workforce by 7 percent.
That was a lot of shrinkage, caused at least in part by low interest rates that have weighed heavily on banks’ ability to generate profits. But the rise of online banking has given banks an easy way to cut costs. According to Brian Moynihan, Bank of America’s CEO, a mobile transaction costs just 10 percent of the cost of a transaction that takes place in a branch. Together with JPMorgan and Wells Fargo, Bank of America reported double digit growth rates in the number of mobile banking users in 2015. At the same time, its operating expenses fell by 4 percent.
For banks, the rise of online banking is an opportunity that has come at exactly the right time. Just as they were looking for ways to reduce overheads and slim their workforces, they’ve been presented with a tool that enables them to close branches without sacrificing the quality of their services.
That last point is critical. Cutting services, particularly the frontline services when members of staff meet customers, usually results in lower customer satisfaction. But in February 2016, America’s six largest banks had higher customer service rankings than their smaller rivals. Much of that satisfaction came from younger customers, the type most likely to engage with new technology. American Banker, an industry website, put the high marks largely down to the rise of ebanking. “The results… suggest that the big banks are reaping measurable benefits from their considerable spending on consumer-facing technology,” the publication said.
For those young customers used to shopping with their mobile phones and sending small payments to each other with apps like Venmo, the idea of driving down to a bank and waiting in line to carry out a transaction sounds as outdated as buying a bag of beans in a village market. They’re able to check their accounts, track transactions, deposit checks and perform a host of other functions at a time they choose and in the comfort of their own homes. Online banking is both familiar and convenient.
In this report, we’re going to look closely at ebanks and ebanking . We’ll examine what you can with an ebank, review the risks of ebanking and explain how to reduce them, and we’ll talk a little too about the future of ebanks.
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