Bank of America Study Shows Darker Side of Mobile

  • Philip Ryan
  • June 21, 2016
  • 2

CanstockphotoMake no mistake, Bank of America is committed to mobile, and reveals more about its work on the platform than most banks. One example is the inclusion of BofA’s mobile check deposit figures in its quarterly earnings call. Few, if any of other banks, lay it out so starkly.

That’s why the bank so closely tracks changes in customer behavior on mobile devices. Today, Bank of America released its third annual “Trends in Customer Mobility” report, which looked at mobile’s place in its customer’s lives, and not just their financial lives. The report was based on a survey of 1,004 smartphone-owning bank customers, but not necessarily Bank of America mobile customers.

Bank of America recently hit 20 million active mobile users. In its first quarter earnings report it reported 19.6 million active mobile users, up 15% over the previous year. These numbers and the report point to one overriding message: mobile is it.

“Every demographic is increasingly leveraging mobile,” said Hari Gopalkrishnan, the client-facing platforms technology CIO for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “The older generation that had trouble with double-clicking and never really took to online banking, has an easier time with the iPad.”

Mobile penetration is so all-pervasive that it is changing customer expectations.

“Today, customers are expecting the digital channels to do the work for you,” Gopalkrishnan told Bank Innovation. It’s no longer a surprise that certain tasks can be accomplished digitally — Gopalkrishnan used the example of ordering checks through the mobile app, which Bank of America offers but most other banks do not. “Now it’s surprising if digital can’t do what you want to do,” he said.

This shift in customer perception and expectations is part of a larger trend that Bank of America captured in its report. When banks speak of mobile, it is almost always in glowing, positive terms. BofA’s report, however, reports significant ambiguity, and looks at mobile’s pervasiveness as a not entirely positive phenomenon.

Here are some of the terms used to describe mobile in the report:

  • Dependency: “On an average day, millennials (39%) interact with their smartphone more than anything or anyone else. Many (29%) Americans mimic this behavior, and are twice as likely to interact with their
    mobile over their children (15%).”
  • Denial: “When asked about smartphone behaviors, respondents appear to be in denial, with less than one in five (17%) thinking they are on their phone too much and only 10% thinking they are tuned
    out to the outside world when on their mobile device; these perceptions are drastically different when
    considering the behaviors of others at 56% and 50%, respectively.”
  • Anxiety: “When they don’t have access to their smartphone, many respondents feel anxious (29%)
    and bored (22%). Younger millennials experience the strongest range of emotions.”
  • Bad manners: Millennials are more likely to notice they are on their phone too much when in company (22%), and less likely to fault others for doing the same (51%). Just 17% of baby boomers think they themselves are on the phone too much, but say that 62% of others are.
  • Instant gratification: “The majority (67%) of Americans feel the appropriate response time to a text is under an hour, with 43% citing under 10 minutes and 10% thinking it should be instantly. Younger millennials are the most likely to look for a quick response.”

Banking services are described in terms of being “stress relievers” in the survey, but it is not difficult to see how the opposite could also be true — constant checking of one’s financial situation could heighten stress.

Bank of America should get credit for an honest and open look at mobile use that includes the good with the bad. (The statistics on selfies are particularly depressing.) Banks, just like their millennial and Baby Boomer customers, are still learning about the complex role of mobile — to say nothing of wearables and the internet of things — in our lives, financial and otherwise.

“We’re smart enough to know that we don’t know everything,” Gopalkrishnan said.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism. He can be reached at

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