Banks trying to win Idaho customers' business with mobile apps.

broberts@idahostatesman.comApril 23, 2013 

As a mobile banking boom swept over the Treasure Valley in the past couple of years, the Bank of the Cascades was on the sidelines.

No smartphone app for checking balances or moving money. No iPad app for paying bills.

The bank, based in Bend, Ore., was preserving its capital and whittling away its problem loans, not investing in technology. Federal and Oregon regulators in 2009 ordered the bank to shore up its supply of capital after many of its loans went sour amid the real estate bust.

Regulators lifted their order against Bank of the Cascades last month. Now bank executives are scrambling to join their competitors in the mobile banking products market.

"No question - it is critical to our future," says Mike Mooney, Idaho regional president for Bank of the Cascades.

By fall the bank, which has 12 branches in the Treasure Valley, expects to launch a platform to allow customers to complete loan applications, transfer money and perform several other transactions on mobile devices. The bank says 60 percent of its customers are already engaged in some form of online banking.

Bank of the Cascades also will launch a mobile ATM in a van that will visit rodeos, county fairs and college football games.

Demand for mobile banking opportunities has jumped tenfold in the past five years, says Jacob Heugly, executive vice president of Zions Bank's corporate services division.

The bank is continually looking for ways to upgrade and expand those services.

A couple of years ago, Zions began Payfox, a credit card swiping device for moble products that lets businesses collect payments at remote locations. The bank has pushed the product in the past year as an alternative to competitors such as Square, a national company that offers a similar service.

Heugly won't say how much merchants pay to swipe a customer's cards. Zions is competitive with other companies, he says. Square says it charges 2.75 percent of a purchase.

Zions emphasizes the connection of its card with its bank, which means customers can receive service for Payfox at local branches.

Customers "are looking for their bank to provide solutions in handling payments today," Heugly says.

Research and development on new mobile products never ends.

Zions is upgrading a program that it has offered to smaller businesses that will allow large corporations to review wire transfers, look at balances and approve large transfers of money, all from a mobile device.

"Our customers are on the go," Heugly says. "People aren't sitting in their offices."

U.S. Bank brought its first mobile banking application online in 2009. In March, the bank added photo bill pay, in which customers use a mobile device to take a picture of a bill. The bank reads the account number of the bill and pays it.

Such applications are popular among Valley residents, says Jennifer Reynolds, U.S. Bank's Treasure Valley retail manager, especially among snowbirds, people who leave the Treasure Valley to winter in Arizona. They can do their banking by phone, she says.

"I see it as a huge asset in both recruiting and keeping customers," Reynolds says.

U.S. Bank is test-marketing an app in Portland and Salt Lake City that lets customers pay for merchandise or a meal by placing an iPhone over a payment terminal.

No date has been announced for when the devices will be available in the Treasure Valley.

Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts

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