Mobile Banking Apps - how to safely use them

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By Crispin Bateman
Updated on Wednesday 4 December 2019

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Mobile Banking Technology for Personal Finance Management

The advances in online banking has led to the development of some very useful mobile apps to help with maintaining a healthy bank balance. The immediate access of a mobile app allows you to check your balance at no notice anywhere, from planning your spending at the beginning of the day, to making an immediate transfer of funds at Tesco when you brought the wrong bank card.

With additional features being added all the time, such as the ability to set alerts when you are low on funds or make a secure bank transfer from the comfort of your armchair, mobile banking apps are a swiss-army-knife style tool in your personal finance arsenal.

Online Banking vs. Mobile Banking

Choosing between using web-based online banking or the mobile app is not a case of one over the other. For many banks, there are still features which are available through the main online platform that don’t exist on their mobile app, but these features are being transferred over at a rapid rate and it won’t be long before there’s little difference in functionality.

For most, the mobile banking app represents an easy-to-use daily interface for managing their finances, and the main online site finds itself taking a back seat, returned to when more in-depth services are required.

What Can Mobile Banking Do?                                                        

The services offered by a mobile banking app differ from bank-to-bank, but almost every provider offers the following:

  • Viewing balance and transaction – being able to see your current balance at a glance, as well as being a quick touch away from a statement-like list of recent transactions is the primary purpose of any mobile banking app, and by far the most important thing it can do. Prior to mobile apps, the only realistic way to check your balance quickly while out was to take time out to check on an ATM – something which was both inconvenient and often out of date. Mobile banking really provides a powerful level of information to help you manage your current account right down to the minute.

  • Transferring between accounts – many people have multiple accounts with a single bank – perhaps an ‘every day’ current account, a back-up savings account, a long-term savings account and more. Moving money between these accounts is effortless and takes mere seconds from an online app. Find yourself short a few pounds before going shopping? Switch it out from your savings account without any problem.

  • Paying a third party – often there is a need to transfer money to another person. Perhaps you are just paying back for the night before or making a quick transfer to cover your child’s horse-riding lesson. Paying a third party straight into their bank account has never been easier. Current security levels mean there is a slight delay while the bank double checks your identity, but this can be done by texting you so often it’s all still done off the same device!

  • Planning the day / week / month – a list of your regular direct debits and standing orders means it is easy to plan forward to see what is coming out and when. By preparing yourself for the activity on your account, it becomes a lot easier to make sure the funds are there when needed and avoid unnecessary charges.

With a desire to provide their users with a better experience, many banks and institutions are adding more and more functionality to their mobile apps. Some of the better ones can also offer the following:

  • Emergency cash – forgot your debit card? Need money right away? By entering a code into a cash machine, it is possible to have it give you money – and your mobile app can offer you that code! The emergency cash system has you make a request on your mobile app for an amount of money just as if you were taking it from an ATM and the app then provides you a code which you can enter into an associated ATM to get the cash. It’s a useful system that gives you an extra level of access to your money when all can seem lost.

  • Apply for an overdraft – often, overdrafts are pre-approved and can be applied for and activated in minutes with your mobile app. If you do not have a pre-approved overdraft amount, then the fuller application process can be done through the app and a decision given to you as swiftly as possible.

  • Apply for a loan or credit card – like overdrafts, loans and credit card applications can now be done from the phone app, with the process taking no more than a few minutes and the results available often within a few hours.

  • Find a cash machine – utilising your smartphone’s GPS, some mobile apps will point you to the nearest ATM for your use.

  • Pay someone with just their mobile number – simpler even than transferring with bank details, simply sending someone’s phone money which they can then pick up is a feature available with many banks.

  • Communicate with the bank – if you have something more complicated which needs doing, your mobile app can open a message window to speak to a personal banker. There’s a slight delay as you are put ‘on hold’ waiting for an advisor but this is usually a lot shorter than trying to get through on the phone.

  • Report a card lost or stolen – with details of your cards, it can be a matter of a few presses to report a lost card and have a new one on its way to you.

Mobile Banking and Security

Like online banking mobile banking apps have a very high level of security and any breaches of that security are usually down to a user giving away passcodes or other important information.

For a comprehensive understanding of online and mobile banking security, read our article on online banking. Additionally, when using a mobile banking app, you should be aware that access to your phone may mean access to your bank.

If you have given someone else full access to your phone though a fingerprint reader or Apple’s FaceID, then you are likely to have given them full access to your mobile banking. That’s fine if there’s an impeccable level of trust involved but can lead to issues. Mobile apps do allow you to mitigate the risk (turning off fingerprint identification or always requiring the passcode, for example) but ultimately you must hold yourself responsible for the security of your devices.

Finding the Best Bank for Mobile Apps

With the mobile apps fast becoming the main way consumers interact with their accounts, banks are keen to remain at the top for their apps.

Within the last few years, there has been a surge in mobile-only banks, such as Monzo and Starling. These are known as challenger banks and offer a legitimate alternative to traditional banks in the UK. 

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