Customers: About 471,000
iPhone users finally can kiss the bank teller goodbye, as a new mobile check deposit application strips away one more reason to visit the local vault.
First Tennessee Bank this week became the first regional bank in the state to offer mobile check deposits, through a method that uses the device camera to scan both the front and back of a physical check and upload it from anywhere, anytime.
"Businesses have had this technology for years, but now the technology has advanced to where we can give it to all our customers," said Keith Sanford, market president of First Tennessee.
The process takes about a minute, far quicker than going to a branch, Sanford said
Such changes in the way consumers interact with their bank have been under way for quite some time. Nearly half of all the bank's customers already use online banking every month, and the number who physically go to the bank has dropped about 3 percent each year, Sanford said. Only about 60 percent of First Tennessee customers go to a bank branch in a typical month.
A growing number -- 37 percent of smart phone users -- already bank from their mobile device to check balances or pay bills, according to First Tennessee statistics.
Though the business idea is to move more customers to less expensive mobile banking and away from physical banks, which have higher fixed costs, the bank doesn't currently plan to offer incentives for use of the application, said Angela Copeland, vice president of digital and e-commerce marketing and strategy for the bank.
"People are so excited about mobile banking that it should take care of itself," she said. "We're allowing them to check their balance, pay bills and deposit checks, all from the palm of their hand."
The application is now available on the iPhone and iPad, with Android compatibility coming soon. There are currently no plans to support Blackberry devices, she said.
Security continues to concern some customers, but they needn't worry, officials say.
Since the mobile application's roll-out in 2010, there have been no significant security problems, Sanford said.
The trick is, the software automatically logs a user out if the device is idle for a short period of time. That way, an iPhone left at a coffee shop or bar won't be a portal into a customer's banking life for any would-be thief, he said.
In addition, customers are free to put a password on their actual phone in addition to the application password, Copeland said, doubling the security.
"We've had mobile banking for 15 months and have had no security issues," Sanford said.
Some of First Tennessee's Chattanooga rivals -- SunTrust, Regions Bank and Wells Fargo -- offer similar mobile applications but don't yet give customers the ability to deposit checks from their phone, according to spokespersons.
Bank of America has successfully tested its mobile deposit feature, and plans to launch the app in 2012, according to spokeswoman Tara Burke.
First Tennessee is hoping that its mobile advantage will bring more customers into the fold, joining its 33,000 users, or 7 percent of its customers, who already are mobile bankers.
In a sign of how customer demand has evolved, the bank was able to discontinue its 24-hour help line, as more customers simply access information online or from their mobile device that formerly required a phone call.
And though teller visits are dropping, consumers are finding that increased convenience allows them to do more banking overall, he added.
"The biggest reason people choose an account is convenience," he said. "Even though teller transactions drop a little bit each year, people touch the bank more than they used to."