How mobile is redefining the way we handle our money
What's the first thing you do when you wake up?
More than likely, you reach for your smartphone. You check email. Browse through Twitter. See what's been happening overnight. Check your bank account.
For a lot of people, smartphones are no longer a “nice to have”. They're a necessary part of their daily lives. And this is having a huge knock-on effect on the way we do things.
Not least of all the way we manage our money.
Today, if you want to check your bank balance, you don't head over to a cash point. You open up your mobile banking app. Ten years ago the latter would be unheard of, but now it's the former that gets the funny looks.
I've grown up with these changes. When I opened up my first bank account, smartphones were only a year or two away from hitting the mainstream. I'm a first-hand witness, you could say, to how mobile has changed the way we handle our money.
I'll lay out the main trends these changes have brought on, where I think they're headed, and what they mean to me – a millennial consumer – below.
The local bank is a dying breed
I can't remember the last time I visited my local branch. Well actually, I can. But I was opening up a new bank account, and needed to prove I have a pulse. It was a non-avoidable, yet trivial, visit.
Pulse-checking aside, it's almost unheard of for someone to visit their local branch for something as simple as transferring money or getting a statement. In fact, a lot of people don't even bother firing up their PCs for these things any more.
Most banks have mobile apps. They make life a lot easier. Because your phone is yours and yours alone – unlike, say, a laptop – once you're in these apps, you're in. No lengthy security questions every time you want to check your bank balance.
Having everything you could ever need – your balance, statements, transfers and even emergency cash withdrawal codes – right at your fingertips means one thing for the local branch: they'll (slowly, kind of) die away.
That's not to say they'll go completely extinct. There will always be situations where a computer can't be of much use. But they'll shrink in number. The local village branch will become the local town centre branch. The local town centre branch will become the local city branch. And just like that, physical branches will fade into the background.
Owe your friend some money? No need for cash
Mobile might be replacing certain parts of finance, but it's also creating entirely new experiences in its own right.
Let's use payments as an example. I'm pretty disorganised, and am forever leaving my credit card at home. So at any single point in time, it's likely I'll owe a friend some money. We're not talking huge sums here – 20, maybe 40 dollars max.
It normally takes a while before I finally pay off these little debts. Not because I don't have the money, but because I'm constantly forgetting to take out the cash I owe someone when I'm meeting them.
But soon enough, this problem will be a thing of the past. Apps like Google Wallet – which has already hit the mainstream in the US, and soon will over here – let you pay a friend back by selecting their name from your contact list, entering the amount you want to pay them and hitting “send”. It's as simple as that.
These apps are great if you're the disorganised type like me, but there are tons of other areas where they'll be useful too. Splitting the bill between friends at a restaurant is another good example. Either way, these kinds of apps are here to stay – and they'll only keep making our lives easier and easier.
Who needs cards, anyway?
Thanks to mobile banking apps, I can cut down my reliance on credit cards when I'm out and about to almost zero. If I need cash, all I have to do is open up my mobile banking app, enter how much I need, and I'll be given a withdrawal code. I can use this code to withdraw the money from any (read: almost all) compatible cash point over the next 24 hours. No card needed.
And soon enough, I'll be able to take it 1 step further than that. When apps like Google Wallet come into the mainstream, I'll be able to go without a card completely. If I'm buying something at the local grocery store, all I'll have to do is tap my phone on the checkout counter and the money will be automatically taken from my account.
For me – and I imagine a lot of other people, too – these things are and will be life savers. I'm constantly forgetting to bring my card with me, and if I do remember it I'm just as likely to drop it down the side of the seat in my car.
I use my phone to withdraw cash quite a lot as it is, but I imagine as soon as apps like Google Wallet come into popularity, they'll soon become the main way I pay for things. It's a shame the concept hasn't caught on already, but as soon it does people will rightly welcome it with open arms.
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by Ben Lawton