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Mobile banking grows in Sonoma County

  • Jeanie Stapleton of Petaluma uses her mobile banking app to deposit a check from home. (CONNER JAY/Press Democrat)

Jeanie Stapleton couldn't wait to deposit personal checks with her iPhone.

“Maybe some people don't mind going to the bank. I do,” said Stapleton, a part-time legal assistant, wife and mother of 9-year-old twins in Petaluma.

In December she began photographing checks with her smartphone and depositing them electronically via a new feature from Wells Fargo Bank.

Stapleton uses the same mobile phone app to transfer money directly to friends, baby-sitters and relatives. She said the free mobile deposits and person-to-person transfers help her make better use of busy days.

“If I can get those minutes back and spend it on something else, that's more time for me,” she said.

Banking is going mobile in a big way.

Both local and national institutions keep rolling out free services for mobile phone owners. And while some ideas aren't yet ready for widespread use, experts foresee a day when smartphones become “mobile wallets,” used like credit or debit cards and linked to a system where merchants can offer targeted coupons and loyalty discounts.

Thirty-five percent of U.S. cellphone owners now use their devices to connect to their banks, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. Only 18 percent did so two years ago.

In comparison, about half of U.S. adults do online banking with a personal computer. That number has changed little in recent years.

At Wells Fargo, mobile banking has grown 30 percent year over year to more than 11 million users. Customers are flocking to it faster than they did to online and telephone banking and to the introduction decades ago of automatic teller machines, said Armin Ajami, a Wells Fargo vice president and senior product manager for mobile.

The new phone features give customers convenience, choice and control.

“They basically have their bank in their pocket,” said Ajami.

Two Santa Rosa financial institutions, Exchange Bank and Redwood Credit Union, last fall separately released their own mobile banking apps. Both report that slightly more than one in 10 customers now bank by phone.

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