Finance on your phone

My iPhone can do everything.

Whether it’s entertaining me in line at the grocery store, posting pictures online, or enabling me to video chat with people across the world, it’s a multi-functional star. So why shouldn’t I let it handle my money?

Like any tool, mobile banking comes with its advantages and plights.

Every major bank in Canada now has a mobile app to help its clients spend, save and transfer on a whim. All the major banks have free apps. In fact, TD Canada Trust, RBC Mobile, CIBC Mobile Banking, BMO Mobile Banking and Scotiabank apps now rule the coveted top five spots in Apple’s iPhone App Store.

On-the-go money management

Most of the apps do the same thing – allowing clients to track down the nearest branch or ATM and check their account balance, but some go as far as to monitor investments (TD Canada Trust) and create interactive bar graphs to show a person’s spending and saving behavior (CIBC).

Scotiabank has a special connection with students at Carleton University. It has a branch on campus and deals with students on a daily basis who are looking for mobile ways to manage their money.

In addition to releasing its mobile app in the fall of 2010, Scotiabank now has other tools that can be used on the go. The bank’s “find the money calculator” is a web-based tool available both using a regular computer as well as through a smartphone.

“It basically allows you to look at a breakdown of your spending, to see how much it’s costing you for insurance, food, things like this,” says Stacey Pryde, the Scotiabank branch manager at the university. “That’s a really good way to wake people up and thanks to your phone it’s available wherever you go.”

Pryde says the calculator’s biggest success story is a university student who used the calculator so effectively that he left Carleton with $10,000 more than he had going in.

Virtual wallet vs. real wallet

Pryde thinks the shift to phone finance is also being driven by the security advantages it offers, and says that having personal financial information on your phone is often more secure than carrying around a wallet full of credit cards.

With services such as Google Wallet and PayPal using near field communication technology, people can now use their phones interchangeably with a credit card. A simple flash of your phone at the cash register is all the payment needed.

This shift makes the smartphone and mobile apps even more valuable, Pryde says.

“If somebody loses their wallet the average time it takes them to report it lost or stolen is about 24 hours. If they lose their phone, it’s about 15 minutes. It’s always so close to us,” she says. “From a security standpoint, this makes cell phones a better choice.”

This increased security guarantee is just one of the reasons why more than 300,000 people downloaded the bank’s mobile app within two weeks of it first coming out.

The curse of accessibility

A simple tap of the Scotiabank icon on my iPhone allows me access to my personal account, just as I would at home or at a bank branch.

For me, it has also meant the ability to easily switch money from the account that is supposed to be dedicated to my savings into my recently depleted everyday spending account. The convenience of this on-the-go app has been both a curse and a blessing. On one hand I never have to worry about receiving the “insufficient funds” messaging in public, on the other, it means that I’m spending money faster than ever before.

It’s for this reason that students can create new accounts that don’t allow for app access, says Pryde.

“[Students] can create a separate investment account that requires them to either call or come into the branch to do a withdrawal. So that does help for sure,” she says.

An unconvinced user

Freya Wasteneys remains unimpressed by the world of mobile banking.

Wasteneys had no choice but to access her Royal Bank account on her iPod Touch after her laptop broke down in December. The second-year English student and varsity athlete has a busy schedule, and says convenience is key, especially when it comes to banking.

Working on her iPod was finicky and it could have been more easy to use, she says.

“I’m pretty new to the whole phone baking thing,” she says. “Even though using my iPod was pretty straightforward I definitely prefer doing stuff on my computer or in-person.”

Pryde says she still thinks more and more people will be drawn to mobile banking in the near future.

“More people are getting smart phones everyday, so I expect the popularity of mobile banking will keep increasing alongside,” she says.