Mobile apps keep ING online-only

 ING Direct’s mobile banking and investing system went live in July on the iPhone and other devices, and its early success has helped to reaffirm the bank’s decision not to build physical banks, its CIO said recently.

“We will never build physical banks,” said ING Direct CIO Rudy Wolfs in an interview. “Our cost advantage [without buildings] is great. We have great rates and virtually no fees.”

ING Direct provides 36,000 no-fee ATMs in North America but has no retail buildings with bank tellers and safes. Before last summer, banking could be done via desktop computers, but with the explosion in the use of smartphones , ING Direct saw the benefit of offering mobile banking, Wolfs said.

“We’re certainly a pioneer in online banking, and we’ll certainly be a top player in mobile banking as consumers need to compute on different devices,” Wolfs said. “We are firmly committed to using the mobile platform.”

Wolfs believes that within five years, consumers generally “won’t own a desktop and will just use a desktop at the office but will rely on a highly functional mobile computing device that does everything for them.”

ING Direct, which has 7.5 million online banking and investing customers in North America, noticed a quick uptick of 300,000 mobile banking downloads to BlackBerries and iPhones when applications for those devices were released in July. It took a little longer to release av version for Android, because of the variety of Android devices. ING ShareBuilder, a mobile investing tool, went live on the platforms at about the same time.

ING Direct offers core banking functions, such as the ability to check an account balance via a mobile device, as well as the ability to pay a bill or to transfer funds to a friend from through a Person2Person address book. What is distinct is that ING Direct also built in social applications, such as Flip for Fun, which lets bank customers flip a smartphone sideways to enter ING’s Facebook or Twitter pages or its “We, the Savers Blog.”

About 80 per cent of banks offer some form of mobile banking, according to Jupiter Research, and ING Direct feels that users’ ability to quickly access to social apps will encourage more customers to use it.

Wolfs wouldn’t divulge the exact cost of building the mobile banking and investing apps but said it was millions of dollars, with the majority spent on actual development efforts and maintenance of the apps rather than on the cost of the tools, which were provided by Antenna Software.

The mobile applications were conceived two years ago, but actual development took about four months. Antenna proved to be a good choice because it provided a core development environment called Antenna Mobility Platform (AMP), which enabled the building of mobile apps that could be delivered to multiple devices quickly and securely, Wolfs said. “We have the ability to write code once and deploy to many devices in a world of quickly changing devices,” he said.

Antenna CEO Jim Hemmer said that in addition to providing a means for building apps that work on multiple devices and networks, AMP can support millions of mobile transactions per day. AMP also supports data compression, which reduces data consumption by up to 90%. Antenna supports security capabilities as well, including encryption and user authentication.

“ING Direct’s mobile banking and trading apps are innovative and reflect the personality of the brand,” Hemmer said.

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