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.
And customers for Sonoma Bank in Santa Rosa, part of Sterling Bank of Spokane, Wash., last month began using a new banking app for Apple and Android phones.
Already 15,000 customers have signed up for mobile, "and that's just in its first week and a half," said Patricia Baughman, a senior vice president for Sterling. The mobile users amount to more than 12 percent of customers who already bank with a personal computer.
Consumers have used their own computers for online banking for more than 15 years. They began by checking their balances and transferring funds. Now they can pay bills and even apply for loans.
"The Internet can be very good for taking care of life chores," said Susannah Fox, associate director for the Pew Research Center. "That's one significant advantage that the banking industry learned early on."
For those on the go, even a basic cellphone can check balances, receive alerts and transfer funds among personal accounts by using text messages.
And smartphone users have long been able to access their accounts online as they would by computer.
Maria Vierra of Santa Rosa used her iPhone for three years to access her account via the Redwood Credit Union website. But she downloaded the credit union's mobile app about a month ago after Redwood began to offer the means to deposit checks by phone.
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