Smart Consumer: Are money Apps the way forward? You can bank on it!
Popping into your local branch to take care of your banking needs has never seemed so old-fashioned.
First it was telephone banking, then online banking. Now the focus is very much on banking Apps. And as more and more of us have Smartphones, managing your account while on the move is increasingly popular.
First to the market in September 2010, Ulster Bank has 100,000 active App users. At National Irish Bank Apps, 15,000 have been downloaded since it was launched in September 2011.
Allied Irish Bank customers have downloaded 200,000 Apps since last October and Bank of Ireland's App has been downloaded 65,000 times since its launch in May.
All of these Apps are now available for both Apple and Android platforms. As for Blackberry users, only Ulster bank currently offers a compatible App, although Bank of Ireland say they "plan to have a touch browser version that will facilitate Blackberry users soon".
So how do they work? Well anyone who banks online will find the Apps instantly familiar, and pretty much the same functionality is there.
You can check your balance and transactions on various accounts, make payments and transfer money between accounts, find your bank's ATMs and locations and contact your branch.
The number of recent transactions you can view varies. On Ulster Bank's App it's the last six transactions; you can view from the last statement date with Bank of Ireland; it's 100 transactions or six months' worth with AIB and 13 months worth of transactions are available on National Irish Bank's App.
Extras differ too, so on Ulster Bank's App you can set up alerts to help you manage spending. You select a day and time to receive a weekly balance alert, and when it goes below or above a certain amount an alert is sent to your mobile.
NIB's App enables you to review exchange rates and convert to more than 25 currencies and they will soon be introducing their secure mail facility to the App. You can top up your mobile phone via AIB's App.
But what about security concerns?
Ronan Murphy, CEO of Smarttech.ie says: "Online banking Apps are safe." He says that, crucially, the App system is not the same as your PC where you (or a fraudster) can look back over information used and stored.
'These Apps are programmed in a way that creates a 'hand-shake' with the bank's server to connect to the bank's system when you are logged in," he explains. "But this times out and disconnects from the server even if you have forgotten to log out, so essentially no data is stored in the App."
So let's say you haven't logged out of the banking App, leave your phone down in a bar, and don't have a PIN to protect use of your phone.
Then someone comes along and because you don't use a PIN they can get into your phone. But your banking App will have logged you out and the person, not knowing your security details wouldn't be able to open it and do anything with your account anyway.
We've had zero security issues with our App," says Glynis Hobson, senior manager of Direct Banking at Ulster Bank, whose App has been around the longest.
"We recognise that security is the number one concern, so we commit to a security promise to our customers, and keep up to date in testing, ensuring security and keeping up with fraudsters."