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Putting market trends at their fingertips As largest lenders roll out mobile services, community banks focus on smartphone solutions for their customers

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Paul Van Ostenbridge, of Atlantic Stewardship Bank, says mobile banking offers 'a whole new revolution' for bank executives and their customers.
Paul Van Ostenbridge, of Atlantic Stewardship Bank, says mobile banking offers 'a whole new revolution' for bank executives and their customers. - ()

Atlantic Stewardship Bank CEO Paul Van Ostenbridge recalls when banking options seemed ordinary: Transactions occurred in person, at ATMs or via desktop computer.

Then along came mobile banking, which "is creating a whole new revolution, in terms of different ways customers can access accounts and make deposits," Van Ostenbridge said.

Now, just as larger banks have already done, many New Jersey regional banks and credit unions are adding mobile deposit services to their offerings, in addition to increasingly common mobile apps that allow online transfers, locate nearby branches or send alerts about account activity.

Mobile deposits take it one step further.

Termed mobile deposit capture, the technology allows customers to deposit money from mobile devices by photographing checks from the camera on a smartphone or tablet. It builds on a prior innovation aimed at business customers, called remote deposit capture, in which banks provided technology allowing companies to scan numerous checks rapidly.

Atlantic Stewardship unveiled mobile deposit capture as part of its mobile banking app in April 2012. Van Ostenbridge said customers are now making about 90 mobile deposits per weekend, surpassing the company's expectations.

Mobile banking innovations have been under way at big banks for years, said Maxine Ballen, president of the New Jersey Technology Council. But now that mobile devices have become more entrenched in consumer habits, the embrace of these concepts appears to be spreading across the financial industry, overcoming hesitations of insecurity or unfamiliarity.

"It's the way of the world," Ballen said. "I really think we're moving toward a cashless society."

Van Ostenbridge declined to say how much the Midland Park company has spent on upgrading mobile technology, but said the shift is less about growing profit than it is about solidifying relationships, now that consumers expect such flexibility.

The services don't require much promotion, because mobile banking is increasingly regarded as standard, he said. Van Ostenbridge said the products appeal across generations at Atlantic Stewardship, which reports about $700 million in assets with 14 branches in Bergen, Morris and Passaic counties.

"It transcends every customer group across our demographics," he said. "People from 18 to 80 are using this."

Mobile transactions reduce overhead, too. A 2012 report from Javelin Research found mobile deposits cost banks as little as 4 cents per check, whereas conventional branch-based deposits cost between 75 cents and $3 per transaction.

Shawn Gilfedder, CEO of McGraw-Hill Federal Credit Union, an East Windsor-based credit union that serves employers, said savings from mobile transactions are applied toward providing higher-than-average returns on accounts and reinvested in additional customer service and security. McGraw-Hill, which lists $312 million in assets, began mobile banking in 2011, and last year expanded to include mobile deposit capture.

Gilfedder said in the first month after making an iPad app available last May, the credit union saw a 14 percent drop in desktop use, though members tend to use personal computers when performing more detailed activity.

Credit Union of New Jersey anticipates similar trends. Robin Hickey, vice president of marketing and business development, said the credit union plans to allow mobile deposits by July; it unveiled a mobile banking app in November 2011.

"There are a lot of things we need to do to add convenience, since we don't have a branch on every corner," Hickey said of the Ewing-based credit union, which has six branches and about $239 million in assets.

Still, there is some caution in embracing mobile tools.

"Where are we going in five to 10 years?" asks Greg Scharpf, CEO of Amboy Bank, in Old Bridge. "That's what the industry is trying to figure out."

Scharpf said people are not embracing mobile devices for banking needs, but for wants like music, communication and reading. Given the prevalence of mobile technology for those reasons, Scharpf said it follows that banks respond by providing service on such devices for the convenience of their users, though "I don't believe someone gets a smartphone so they can mobile bank on their phone."

Amboy Bank, which has 22 branches and more than $2.2 billion in assets, will be unveiling tablet and smartphone applications in August that will include text messaging functions informing consumers about account activity, such as overdraft, as well as location-based features. Amboy also plans to unveil mobile deposit capture, he said.

"We look at mobile as the next step," Scharpf said, but "I don't think anyone is clamoring at the doors."

But ConnectOne CEO Frank Sorrentino said there's no turning back. The Englewood Cliffs bank, which operates eight branches and has about $1 billion in deposits, began offering mobile deposit capture last year.

From the customer's side, the concept — and benefits — of banking in the palm of one's hand has taken root, Sorrentino said.

"The banks that don't do this are going to find themselves behind the eight ball pretty quickly," he said.

E-mail to: tomz@njbiz.com

On Twitter: @biztzanki

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