Dec 302013
 

By Mohammed Waseem

Today, almost every business is venturing into mobile applications. Be it retail, real estate, stock trading, banking, and even government services. In this article, I will talk about mobile banking apps and their security.

The first bank in the world to offer mobile-based banking through WAP is reportedly Fokus Bank of Norway in 1999. As the mobile phones became more popular, this was adopted all over the world. With the introduction of Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms, this became even more accepted due to the ease of use, user-friendly platform, speed, etc.

Mobile Banking App

Today, almost every bank has an app for Android and iOS. Apart from dedicated apps created by the banks, there are third party apps such as Mint, Mobile Checkbook, Pageonce (now called Check),etc. which help users manage bank accounts, loans, investments, etc. across multiple financial institutions. Banks try their best to ensure highest security for their apps, so do leading third party app providers. However, we must know what are risks involved in this and how to avoid them.

When you download a mobile banking app, check who the publisher of the app is. For example, if you are downloading an app for Bank of America, it should be published by Bank of America on iOS, Android and other app markets; preferably browse to the Bank of America website from your phone and click on the mobile banking app download link provided there; in most cases, banks provide links to app markets on their websites. If you are using a computer, the link may be sent to you by SMS or email. For third party apps, you can use the link provided in app description to verify the publisher and read reviews of the app and the publisher before using them.

Why is this so important? Because you are providing them your sensitive personal information such as bank account details, passwords, etc. which are not stored on apps that come from the right source. If the app stores this information, someone may be able to access and misuse it. Even when you are using trusted apps, make sure you do not save usernames and passwords on your phone.

A banking app must necessarily be tested by the publisher for security flaws and must be screened for malicious software and published only after they pass this testing. Banks and leading third party app providers do this testing and only then release the apps. The concern is however for the untrusted apps which may seem exactly what you are looking for, but may leak your information to someone who may misuse it. You must also avoid using mobile banking apps on unsecure public Wi-Fi networks.

All of this may seem like hindrances to the convenience mobile banking apps provide, but obviously is worth it.

Dec 292013
 

By Mohammed Waseem

Bill payment has often been an inconvenient chore, requiring us to go to the service provider, stand in queues and make payment. Online bill payment has made our lives easier in which we just visit the service provider’s website and make the payment with debit/credit cards or from bank accounts.

A company in Russia called Yandex.Money has launched a one-stop bill payment service called Gorodskiye Platezhi (Urban Payments) with inclusion of over 30000 service providers across Russian Federation. One just has to visit their website, select the service provider using the TIN (Tax Identification Number) or the company name and make payment. They offer three ways to make the payment:

  1. Bank Cards (Credit/Debit cards)
  2. Electronic Money (Yandex.Money Electronic Wallet)
  3. Cash

YandexMoney

Interestingly, the website does not require the payer to sign up as many other bill payment services do. Wherever the users are, they can pay bills for internet, mobile phones, TV, parking and almost everything. No commission is charged for internet, TV, and telephones (mobiles and domestic) but for other services including utility payments, 1%-2% commission is charged; except for traffic fines in which case the commission is flat 30 Ruble.

For cash payments, one has to enter the payment information on the website and provide a phone number or email. A payment code is then sent to the specified phone number or email, which has to be presented to the nearest Euroset or Svyaznoi salon or a payment terminal which accepts Yandex.Money payments. If for example the terminal does not have change to return to the payer, the balance is credited to the phone number specified.

According to Yandex.Money CEO, a third of Russians don’t pay their utility bills on time because they don’t have time or they forget. When the next bill arrives, they pay the previous bill then. To cater to this irregularity, they started this service, which is available not only for Yandex.Money users, but for everyone, as payments can also be made using bank cards or cash. 4-traders.com reports that by the end of 2013, approximately 16 million electronic wallets had been registered on Yandex.Money, with 9000 new ones added every day and around 50000 stores operating on the internet and offline accepted Yandex.Money payments.

Dec 242013
 

By Mohammed Waseem

Shopping has been traditionally limited to stores, where customers walked in, chose products and checked out after paying for them. Then came the online shopping sites, where customers chose products, paid using their credit/debit cards and the merchandise was delivered to their homes.

UK retailer Tesco launched this unique way of shopping, which they called “virtual store”. Initially launched in Korea at a subway station, now even UK has it at the Gatwick Airport. It is called a virtual store, because no physical product is available here; it is just bill boards and touch screens.

Tesco's Subway Store

While people wait for their trains at the subway station, they can take a look at the virtual store and if they want to buy a product, they simply need to launch Tesco’s dedicated smartphone app and scan the QR code for that product, select the product and add to the cart. When the shopping is complete, payment is done through the same app which, which happens in a securely. The products purchased are delivered to the homes of the shoppers when they return from work.

Similarly, at the Gatwick Airport, people going on a holiday shop for products and make the payments using Tesco’s app, and the merchandise is delivered to their homes when they return from the holiday.

Many other companies adopted this idea, as it was innovative, as well as convenient. The companies include:

1. Walmart (in collaboartion with Procter & Gamble), which operates a truck which visits several popular locations in New York.

2.  EBAY, which has opened a QR Code shop in London.

3. Sorli, a Spanish retailer, which has established virtual stores at train stations in Spain.

4. 9straatjes (9 Little Streets), an area in Amsterdam, Netherlands where shops have collaborated with PayPal for payments.

5. PayPal, in Singapore, has enabled commuters at 15 subway stations to shop using QR Codes, and pay by logging in to PayPal account or using a credit card.

What customers usually worry about is payments, as they enter their credit/debit card details, passwords, etc. Like the secure payment gateway on a computer, these mobile phone apps use secure networks, which ensure security.

It is already evident that the concept is working successfully. In a few decades, perhaps, each and every bus station, subway station, airport, etc. will have virtual stores.

Dec 212013
 

By Mohammed Waseem

Mitek Systems in association with US Bank has come up with an innovative way of paying bills. In this, the account holder can add a payee to their account and make payments directly from their phone; and all of this by taking a picture of the paper bill or statement.

All an account holder has to do is open the app on phone and take the picture of the bill. A list is displayed to select the correct payee from. After the payee has been added, payment can be made for the bill in question and recurring payment can also be setup for a particular payee. In other words, bill payment can be setup by merely one snap of the paper bill. Of course, one requires a camera-enabled smartphone or tablet for using this service. This app also corrects image distortion automatically, reads relevant data and auto populates all needed information.

Mobile Photo Bill Pay: Image Courtesy - US Bank

According to the forecast reported by US Bancorp, Mobile Photo Bill Pay will reach 33% adoption among US consumers by 2018, resulting in migration of 1.4 billion bills to mobile channel.

Forrester Research reports that it takes less than150 seconds to setup a payee and pay the bill. Forrester Research also suggests that this service will help banks gain loyal customers as they will avoid switching banks, because they will not have a reason to do so with this innovative service and they wouldn’t want to go through the hassle of unwinding online bill pay and establish payees all over again with another bank. So here, customers get a convenient way to enrol a payee while the bank gets more and more digital bill payers.

This app can be used for adding a new payee, setting up recurring bill payments, one-time non-recurring bill payments and for making expedited bill payments. This eliminates the need for manually entering data, drawing checks, or logging on to a computer.

This is an innovative and convenient service which saves a lot of time from the customers’ viewpoint. There have been apps in the past to scan papers and images with a mobile phone and extract text in order to copy and paste it elsewhere as required. There have also been barcode scanning apps for a long time. This app from Mitek – Mobile Photo Bill Pay runs on similar technology which extracts text from paper bills and scans for relevant information. But the difference is that all the fields are auto-populated on the app without having to manually copy or paste and the data is secure. So, this makes this app more convenient and user friendly. All the user has to do is review the populated information and approve it, in order to go ahead with the payment which is done within minutes.

According to The Financial Brand, Mobile Photo Bill Pay was initially piloted at US Bank, but Mitek is in discussion with several other banks for adoption of this app into their process. As Forrester Research suggest, this is both a next generation mobile banking feature, as well as a step forward in banks’ efforts to enhance digital banking experience.

Dec 162013
 

Have you heard about free mobile credit? Recharging your mobile phone has become easy with online payments using your bank accounts or your credit/debit cards. But what if you shopped online and earned points from these transactions, to be used for sending credit to your phone? And what if you paid for the recharge and were given discount of an equivalent amount while shopping elsewhere?

All of this is possible and in fact, has been implemented by some companies. One of them provides points for shopping through them and another provides discount coupons for retail outlets or fast food joints and much more.

The first one is RewardBase, which operates in over 120 countries. They have tied up with various websites and provide points for specific tasks including online shopping through their website. Then these points can be used for sending credit to mobile phones without having to pay for it. You complete some tasks through www.rewardbase.com and get Reward Points (RP) to recharge your mobile phone with.

Mobile Recharge

So how do they make money? It is by the referrals they make. They refer the customer to the available offers with their clients. This may include shopping, playing a game, taking part in contests or surveys, watching videos, etc. And in the end, you get free credit to your phone. As they claim on their website: “RewardBase thinks mobile recharge should be free. You complete simple member tasks and we reward you with Reward Points which you can trade for free recharge credit”

There is another interesting company which is not like RewardBase which operates in so many countries, but I like their idea. It is FreeCharge.com owned by an Indian company called Accelyst Solutions Pvt. Ltd. It operates only in India and is growing. They provide an instant credit after payment for the recharge amount with a debit/credit card. Before the payment, the customer is asked to choose discount coupons for an equivalent amount from among the list displayed, consisting of coupons for retail outlets, eating joints, etc. They do charge a nominal, rather quite insignificant amount for delivery of the coupons to the customer’s postal address.

Along with this, they have tied up with various companies who provide promotional codes on purchase of their products, which can be used during payment on www.freecharge.com for additional discounts. So they all make money from each other.

Perhaps they are inspired by the work of Chris Anderson called “Free” in which, he discusses how everything can be free.

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