Beware the sting in the take-up of smartphone banking

If you've recently discovered the convenience of paying bills on a smartphone, you're not alone. Australians are embracing mobile banking at a cracking pace.

If you've recently discovered the convenience of paying bills on a smartphone, you're not alone. Australians are embracing mobile banking at a cracking pace.

About 6 million people manage their finances through a mobile telephone, according to a recent report from the Market Intelligence Strategy Centre.

For all the time saved by banking through digital channels, however, this boom comes with some costs. You may notice this most if you're someone who does a lot of their banking at a branch or through automatic teller machines. As this week's graph shows, the value of online transactions with the country's biggest bank, the Commonwealth, has surged almost tenfold in the past decade. The other major banks experienced a similar trend.

Mobile banking has been the fastest-growing area. It seems we're adopting banking apps far more quickly than we took up online banking on desktop computers. And the banks reckon we're still in the early stages of a change in how we manage money.

Westpac has predicted that the number of customers using smartphones to do their banking will almost triple in the next five years.

Paying bills on smartphones is probably only the first phase of growth. Experts think the real kicker will come from the use of "mobile wallets" - when more people start to use their smartphones to pay for everyday purchases such as cups of coffee.

At the same time, there is a decline in more traditional types of banking - in February the amount of cash taken out of ATMs plunged to its lowest level in six years.

Last year banks also began cutting back on the number of ATMs for the first time, reversing decades of expansion. Latest figures show the number of ATMs fell in the year to December, in stark contrast to steady growth over the 1990s and 2000s.

Bank branches are also feeling the winds of change - their transaction volumes have been falling for more than a decade.

After suffering a backlash against widespread branch closures in the 1990s, banks are wary of going down this path again. But they are still looking at ways to cut costs.

The size of branches, for instance, is shrinking by about a quarter at several big banks because of lower customer numbers. They're also likely to eventually employ fewer staff as tellers.

So even though the online revolution means fewer of us are visiting branches for transactions, you can still expect to wait in a queue when you do.

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