Mobile banking apps now pack a punch, with transactions that traditionally could be done only in person - such as sending money overseas or opening a bank account - now available on a smartphone.
But mobile banking use in Singapore is surprisingly lower than in less-developed markets like Indonesia and India. A study by financial research firm RFi Group found that only 24 per cent of bank account holders in Singapore carry out transactions on their mobile devices at least once a week, compared with 42 per cent in Indonesia and 34 per cent in India.
These transactions include transferring money to friends, paying bills and viewing bank account balances. The group surveyed 20,000 consumers in 10 Asian markets.
Mobile banking apps now allow users to perform a multitude of functions, including easy peer-to-peer money transfers, viewing of unit trust prices and locating the nearest ATMs or bank branches.
Apps such as Standard Chartered Bank and Singtel's Dash also allow users to transfer money to businesses, making it a convenient way to pay at places such as 7-Eleven stores and Pizza Hut outlets.
I have asked people why they don't want to use it, and they said that because it's so easy, they think it's not safe.
MR VERNON WEE, chief operations officer at a maritime security company and a DBS PayLah! user
A plethora of banking options via laptops and at the many ATMs littered conveniently across the island have put Singapore behind its South-east Asian neighbours in mobile banking use, said analysts and experts.
Some consumers wary of security issues are also holding back, questioning the safety of transacting on their mobile devices.
MANY ALTERNATIVES TO MOBILE BANKING
Low mobile banking usage may seem unusual for Singapore, which has one of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world - at about 150 per cent, meaning everyone has at least one mobile phone.
Mr Gerald Ferguson, RFi Group's Asia general manager, explained that this is because Singapore is one of the "more developed markets in the region where there are more options for online banking, such as desktops and laptops".
Like Singapore, mobile banking usage in Hong Kong is also low, with only 19 per cent using it every week, according to the study.
In Singapore, for instance, Internet banking over the computer was introduced about a decade ago before mobile banking was added. In contrast, markets like Indonesia and India do not have a long history of Internet banking like Singapore.
The extensive ATM network in Singapore also competes with mobile payments. Mr Cyrus Daruwala, managing director for IDC Financial Insights in Asia-Pacific, said ATMs are "almost ubiquitous", allowing people to pay bills, transfer funds and have easy access to cash.
"Stored-value cards like the ez-link card or CashCard also compete with mobile banking apps in a highly fragmented payment market," he added.
Tech-savvy users cited concern about lack of security as a key impediment to mobile banking and payment. DBS PayLah! user Vernon Wee, 57, said trying to convince his friends to use the app has not been easy. "I have asked people why they don't want to use it, and they said that because it's so easy, they think it's not safe. You just need the cellphone number of someone to make a transaction," said the chief operations officer at a maritime security company.
For instance, payment recipients can be identified by their cellphone number on the DBS PayLah! app and their Facebook profile on OCBC's Mobile Banking app.
However, the banks maintain that the apps comply with the Monetary Authority of Singapore's technology risk-management guidelines. MAS requires all app log-ins to be protected by two-factor authentication, a process by which
users enter their usual password and a one-time password delivered either via SMS or a security token.
Mobile banking may even be more secure than Internet banking as location-based locks can be set, said Mr See-Toh Wai Keong, senior lecturer, diploma in business information technology, School of Business, Temasek Polytechnic. "For instance, the app can be set to work only in the user's office or home," he said.
BANKS ARE BULLISH
Meanwhile, banks are optimistic that the use of mobile banking will rise over time.
UOB launched its app in 2011 after discovering that many customers were accessing its website through Web browsers on a mobile device. "Banking on-the-go and off-the-desk was fast becoming a norm," said Mr Gilbert Chuah, the bank's executive director and head of Internet channels.
In the past six months, the average number of mobile transactions through the app had increased by 20 per cent, he said.
Mr Gene Wong, executive director and regional head of e-payments, consumer banking group at DBS Bank, said its DBS PayLah! app launched in May last year has since garnered 240,000 downloads.
For those who prefer mobile banking to visiting bank branches or ATMs, the reason often cited is convenience. Accounts executive Yvonne Mok, 27, said: "My mobile phone is always with me, be it for transferring money to friends or for bill payment. But I may not always carry my wallet, ATM card or my bank passbook."