Banking is a part of everyday life but at times can be extremely frustrating. Arcane policies, banking newspeak, overdraft fees, and waiting for funds to clear can be a source of frustration. And, with the rate at which technology is advancing, you’d think that banking would become increasingly efficient and trouble-free. Unfortunately, this is not the case with all banks yet, but we can rest assured that some of the more forward-thinking institutions are on the vanguard of a mission to make banking more enjoyable and more accessible for its customers. We like these types of banks, and we like banks that are willing to embrace new ideas, especially those with us in mind. The following are six innovative banks that have helped restore our waning faith in banking institutions:
Arguably, the most technologically innovative change to mobile and online banking this year was USAA’s new check deposit feature, via their iPhone application. Essentially this allows customers to take pictures of both sides of the check (using the iPhone’s camera) and send the images as attachments to USAA for approval, as a deposit — with this system, the physical check never has to actually make it into the bank. With this app, the time that a check takes to clear is the same as if you were to go into a branch and deposit a check physically, and pending approval, funds are then made available. The app can also use your GPS coordinates and tell you where the closest ATMS are located, if you want to deposit checks the old fashioned way, or if you just need cash and are looking to avoid non-bank ATM fees.
ING routinely generates positive press, and with good reason. This bank has one of the easiest online platforms to use, and offers a wide array of services including: high-yield checking and savings accounts, CDs, money market accounts, IRAs, and mortgage accounts – all of which can be linked to each other, and even linked with other accounts to outside institutions. But you can also keep your retail checking accounts separate from your ING accounts, if you want to create a buffer, or if it is easier for you to stay on budget this way. For example, with ING, you can have your paycheck deposited to each account automatically, or to your ING savings account, and from there to each account automatically. Recently ING announced iPhone optimization (available at http://m.ingdirect.com), which enables a mobile banking experience, including: scheduling payments, linking accounts, and transferring between accounts. There was recently also an app released for the Android platform (ING Wegwijzer) which is still Europe-only.
Ally Bank’s major selling points are twofold: they try their hardest to get the highest return for customers’ money, and they offer unparalleled customer service. For starters, Ally’s products offer returns that are well above what is currently available from most banks: 1.65% for savings, 1.7% for money markets, and 2% for CDs (for which there no penalties for early withdrawal). And, if a new product should become available with a better rate of return, Ally will email you to tell you about it. The bank has also made contacting a customer service agent extremely easy. For those that want to call in, there is 24/7 customer support line, and the wait time for customer service is posted on the home page (which usually is 0 minutes). But the really exciting feature is the occasional prompt to ‘chat with an agent’, that may pop-up if you are on one page for an extended period of time. You can also choose to initiate the ‘chat now’ feature, if you want. This is definitely a far cry from having to deal with call centers in far away lands, and getting the run around, when you are really looking for help.
MoBank is the self-styled “wherever you go” bank. The service this UK brand provides is offered via the iPhone and iTouch. While the app is linked to your bank account, it is the commerce aspect which is truly innovative. With this service customers can search for and purchase movies (similar to buying tickets via Fandango) and train tickets, and buy things from web retailers all with the click of a button. There is also an interesting feature – that Mint users could appreciate – that categorizes your spending, so you can better track your spending habits. My initial concern about an application with this type of service was: what if I had this and lost my phone – what would stop the lucky finder from buying a bunch of stuff online with my money? Luckily, the accounts are PIN protected. Unfortunately, however, this service is only available in the UK, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a flood of similar services being offered in the very near future in the US market, with the current hype about, and demand for m-commerce apps.
SmartyPig is a really great idea, and unconventional as it may sound, it works. This site makes saving fun, and social: after joining this service, subscribers set savings goals, and make them public ( along with your progress). Members can then invite friends and family to help save – it effectively lets them know, “hey, I’m trying to saving some money over here and you are welcome to help me out by directly depositing into my account.” While maybe not all of your college buddies will be willing to shell over money for you to get a new motorcycle or laptop, it might be a way to subtley suggest to a grandmother than you’d rather her contribute to your savings, than buy you another sweater this Christmas.
Wells Fargo Envelope-less ATMs
One of the less-hyped but more interesting innovations I have seen lately is the implementation of Envelope-Less ATMS at Wells Fargo. I often find myself depositing checks at the ATM, and for whatever reason, I usually don’t carry pens around in my car. There have been other times, where I have made it to the ATM, only to find out that I had a pen, but that the machine was all out of deposit envelopes. Thankfully, Wells now has a feature that enables customers to deposit up to 30 Checks, or up to 50 Bills in one transaction, without any envelope (or pen, of course). You simply feed the checks or notes into the machine, everything is scanned in and counted for you, shown on a display for you, and you are issued a receipt. Bank of America has recently implemented a similar product, but their ATMS operate on a one-check-one-deposit transaction, although multiple bills can be deposited. Not surprisingly, Chase earlier this month announced that they will be introducing these new ATM’S in many of their branches later this year. Hopefully, one day a system will be in place for funds from checks scanned into these new ATMs to be made instantly available, but for now this will have to do.