TUKWILA, Wash.-BECU was in for a big surprise when it launched its mobile banking application in late August-nearly 13,000 members downloaded the application in the first week, 8,000 of those on the first day.

"Members have been asking for mobile banking for a long time, but we didn't anticipate that big of a volume in the first week," said Howie Wu, VP-virtual banking at the $8.7-billion CU.

Add those 13,000 mobile bankers to the 13,000 active users of BECU's existing wireless application protocol (WAP) version of mobile banking, and you find that nearly 5% of the membership is banking on the go.

Despite the rush to download the new app, all went smoothly when it was released at the Apple App Store, Android Marketplace and behind BECU's Internet banking log-in, said Wu.

BECU's mobile marketing is fueling member enthusiasm for the application, said Wu. "Get On-The-Go Money Management-Discover Mobile Banking" announces the main ad at BECU's homepage. The e-newsletter, e-mail campaigns and a statement stuffer also publicized the launch.

Though BECU's WAP mobile banking was released nearly two years ago to appease "adamant" members, the CU waited until the downloadable application was ready before telling members about mobile, Wu said. "We wanted to make sure we had the full product with various modes to offer a good experience before we mass-marketed mobile banking to our tech-savvy population."

The CU's application-based mobile banking is provided by Firethorn of Atlanta, and WAP is provided by MShift of Fremont, Calif.

Firethorn's app satisfies is the future of mobile payments, suggested Wu. "Firethorn is the way to deliver the mobile wallet concept." Firethorn is a subsidiary of giant wireless technology provider Qualcomm and is partnered several major wireless carriers, including AT&T and Verizon.

"Qualcomm is one of the biggest players and owns millions of devices around world," Wu explained. "Their product evolution and development capability is much stronger than other providers."

Next year, members may be able to tap another person's mobile device to pay that person, a service known as "bump" payments. Members already transfer $40 million in person-to-person payments per quarter at BECU's secure website.

Mobile deposit services are on the way, but BECU wants to wait until it can incorporate the its existing remote deposit processes into the Firethorn mobile deposit platform, said Wu.

BECU would like the Firethorn app to enable small business members to invoice and accept payments for products and services, which would be processed via ACH, Wu continued. "For now we're okay with ACH, but we don't want credit card interchange fees get away from us completely."

The mobile wallet would attract people who have mobile devices but don't own desktop or portable computers, said Wu. "Mobile devices show much more penetration than computers. Even low-income members have a mobile device."

BECU put off launching the Firethorn mobile banking app for two years while it addressed the recent flood of regulatory challenges, Wu said.

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