When BBVA Compass rolled out its mobile check deposit service four years ago, it got a number of mostly tech-savvy customers to take photos of their checks and deposit them over their smartphones. But as is often the case, the technology did not get the wide reach the bank wanted right off the bat.
So to get customers to come in droves, BBVA Compass had to make improvements to its service. Lots of them. Last year the bank increased its check amount limits, added new features and began an aggressive branch-based marketing campaign.
What came next, you might say, was a deposit to top them all.
Mobile check deposit volume grew to an amount 70 percent more than the three previous years combined. This time, every day customers got into the act as they learned the joys of spooning their cereal with one hand and stashing a check in the bank with the other.
“This is a great convenience tool for all customers; they don’t have to go to the bank or to an ATM to deposit their checks,” says Alex Carriles, director of mobile and online channels for BBVA Compass. “They can do it from their kitchen table.”
What’s more, improving this integral part of the payments chain opens new avenues to customer loyalty — while maintaining the status quo, even briefly, poses high risks.
“This is not just about checks,” says James Van Dyke, CEO of Futurion, a digital consulting firm. “It’s about banks being perceived as technology leaders. If customers can’t get their checks to go through their mobile phone right, they’re going to look for another bank when they want to use a credit or debit card for mobile pay or when they want to make a P2P payment.”
One important change BBVA Compass made addresses a pet peeve of bank customers everywhere: raising limits on check deposits via smartphone.
The bank uses a complex algorithm to set limits for each customer based factors such as account balances and length of time with the bank. The final amounts are “multiple times higher than what they previously had been,” Carriles says. Today, a new customer with a low balance might be allowed to deposit a check up to $1,500 while a customer with the highest score may deposit up to $30,000.
Clearly, experience quality matters just as much as deposit quantity.
“To move adoption to the next level, banks need to deal with design challenges that have hampered customer experiences,” Van Dyke says. Along with a team of experts, he ranked the mobile deposit customer service experience at 15 large banks. What he found wasn’t always good.
Those banks with the lowest customer satisfaction — and lowest use of the services — often had rigid and low deposit limits and did not address ease of use. Customers often didn’t know if a check was accepted or not; how long to hold on to their checks; and when funds would be available.
BBVA Compass now tells customers exactly when funds are available (as opposed to in general) and speeds funds availability for a fee. Other new features include “My Snap,” which lets customers decide whether to allow the bank app to automatically take the check picture or let customers do it. (Some RDC-enabled apps literally take over the phone, snapping pictures before customers have their checks lined up for the smartphone camera.)
Compass is among the mobile payments services that utilizes auto-capture technology, ensures framing, lighting and other factors are correct before the app snaps the picture. That reduces the number of checks rejected because of poor image quality.
Elsewhere, Bank of America has added was the ability to print, save or e-mail images of the check deposited. “We found when we added the ability to print images of check deposits on ATMs, ATM deposits really took off,” says Michelle Moore, Bank of America’s head of digital banking. “So we added the same feature to mobile deposits to give customers the confidence that their check image is secure.”
But fancy features alone won’t get customers to use mobile check deposit. Strong marketing messages are needed, too. Which is where the llamas come in.
BofA’s “talking llama” ad series shows a beast depositing a check in a diner while declaring mobile deposit is “as easy as eggs over easy.”
The bank gives step-by-step instructions on how to deposit a check via a mobile phone on its web site. It has also assigned 3,800 “digital ambassadors”— employees specially trained to promote mobile payments features — in 4,500 branches.
As a result, the bank processed about 306,000 mobile-deposited checks in the fourth quarter of 2016, up 23 percent year-over-year. Mobile checks now make up 19 percent of all check deposits at the bank, compared to 15 percent a year earlier. And 5.2 million out of 21.6 million BofA mobile customers now use the check feature, a number that’s sure to grow.
Whether more credit belongs to the llama or the ambassadors is another matter entirely.
Lauri Giesen has spent more than 25 years writing about banking technology and payments for numerous business and financial publications. In the 1990s, she founded and edited Financial Service Online, a magazine covering Internet-based forays into banking and investment services.