Mobile banking reaches critical mass for big banks

The 4Q11 financials from both JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo underline the extent to which mobile banking has emerged as a key banking channel, while also indicating that online penetration may have reached a ceiling.

  • Chase:
    • Between 4Q10 and 4Q11, Chase grew its active mobile banking customers by 57%, while during the same period active online banking customers increased by 3%
    • Active online banking customers as a percentage of total Chase checking customers rose from 62% in 4Q10 to 65% in 1Q11, but has remained at 65% for the three subsequent quarters.  Active mobile customers as a percentage of checking customers rose from 20% in 4Q10 to 32% in 4Q11
    • Active mobile customers as a percentage of active online customers rose from 32% in 4Q10 to 48% in 4Q11
    • The rate of growth in active mobile customers does not yet show signs of abating.  The quarterly growth rate fell from 13% in 1Q11 to 9% in 2Q11, but then increased to 10% in 3Q11 and again to 16% in the most recent quarter

  • Wells Fargo:
    • Active mobile customers increased 55% between 4Q10 and 4Q11.  During this period, active online customers rose 8%
    • Active mobile customers as a percentage of active online customers rose from 26% in 4Q10 to 37% in 4Q11

The demise of bank branches?

In August 2009, Bank of America signaled that it would be reducing its branch network by up to 10%.  Some industry commentators took this to be indicative of the longer-term demise of the branch channel.  These analysts pointed to branch costs, as well as the increased usage of online banking and related services.  Most leading U.S. banks did reduce branch numbers in 3Q09.  However, many of these banks acquired other banks over the past year, and the reduction in branch numbers comes from the elimination of overlapping branches.

Going forward, banks may well continue to shave branch numbers in order to control costs and reduce branch density.  However, we do not envisage the demise of the branch channel.  What we are seeing is a re-evaluation of the role of the branch, given that online banking, online bill payment and mobile banks are not accounting for a growing share of day-to-day banking transactions.  In the future, branch activities will be more focused on complex interactions, such as lending, marketing of new products and services, the provision of financial advice and general relationship development.

The following are branch counts for leading banks in 3Q09 (with changes from 2Q09 in parentheses)

  • Wells Fargo: 6,653 (down 15)
  • Bank of America: 6,008 (down 101)
  • Chase: 5,126 (down 77)
  • PNC: 2,553 (down 53)
  • Regions (down 4)
  • BB&T: 1,859 (up 354, due to acquisition of Colonial Bank)
  • SunTrust: 1,690 (down 2)
  • Fifth Third: 1,306 (no change)
  • Citi Retail Banking North America: 1,051 (up 21)
  • KeyBank: 1,003 (up 10)
  • Huntington: 610 (no change)
  • Comerica: 444 (up 3)