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Boeing employee credit union flies with mobile wallet

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing's employee credit union will next year launch a mobile wallet to let its members conduct mobile banking and payments activities through their phone.

Now known as BECU, the nation's fourth-largest credit union has turned to Qualcomm's Firethorn to allow members to check their account balances, transfer funds and view and pay bills through a mobile wallet on their mobile devices. Future service capabilities will include more advanced mobile transactions and mobile commerce.

"We've forged partnerships with AT&T and Verizon, and they both support, promote, market and preload our platform onto their devices, and we've also forged relationships with financial institutions to provide security and customer service via the mobile wallet application," said Tripp Rackley, founder/CEO of Firethorn, Atlanta.

"This partnership with BECU continues to expand upon the content that we provide to the AT&T and Verizon networks," he said.

BECU debuts the Firethorn mobile wallet in the first quarter of 2009.

With 550,000-plus members and more than $8.3 billion in assets, BECU is the largest credit union in Washington State and is one of the top five financial cooperatives nationwide. BECU has more than 45 branches and 150-plus ATMs in western Washington.

Firethorn is a mobile commerce enabler recently acquired by Qualcomm. Its mobile wallet platform is a certified, frequently pre-loaded application.

"The Verizon Wireless store actively markets this application to their consumers and our financial institution partners market to their customers as well," Mr. Rackley said. "On the mobile side, the key is placement and making it easy for consumers to discover.

"Verizon has done in-store marketing, billboards, TV and radio advertising, all the traditional channels, as well as in-box promotions and pre-loads," he said.

"The financial institutions we're partnering with all do the same things, but in addition, they have ATM ads, statement stuffers and opt-in internet banking programs. Internet banking has become widely available. Between 40 and 60 percent of banking customers use internet banking programs, so it's a natural fit to capture them for mobile banking."

The Firethorn mobile wallet is a single, secure, certified application embedded on select wireless handsets, which enables financial institutions such as BECU to deliver branded services to consumers via the mobile device.

Also, Firethorn lets wireless carriers deliver mass-market applications to subscribers and mobile-device users to access and add multiple financial relationships with a single password.

"Most applications have charges to the consumer, but in this case the consumer can download the mobile wallet free of charge," Mr. Rackely said. "Everyone sees the value of connecting the consumer to wireless carriers and financial institutions through mobile applications."

Take another announcement made yesterday.

Mobile Money Ventures LLC, a joint venture of Citi and SK Telecom, has developed a mobile financial services application that is compatible with Google Inc.'s Android mobile operating system.

"We believe in the growth of mobile banking around the world," said Steven Kietz, executive vice president of Citigroup and CEO of Mobile Money Ventures. "Citi has come together with SK Telecom to take our customer base and marketing savvy and add that to their expertise with mobile technology."

Android is a software stack that includes an operating system, middle ware and various applications -- including the new mobile banking software -- developed by the Open Handset Alliance, a multinational alliance of technology and mobile industry companies that includes Google.

While Citi is currently focusing on the partnership with SK Telecom, Mr. Kietz said that Citi will look to partner with other carriers and financial institutions around the world to launch this platform.

Like Firethorn's mobile wallet, this Android-compatible application lets consumers affiliated with financial institutions and carriers to transfer money, make payments, track receipts and expenses, check their account balance, get branch information and carry out person-to-person transfers.

The Money Ventures application also has a stock monitoring feature that allows for real-time trading, portfolio management and market information.

"In the U.S. a great model is what Bank of America has done -- they've signed up a million people for their mobile banking browser," Mr. Kietz said. "To market our mobile banking application, we'll use mass-media advertising and direct marketing techniques such as statement inserts, Internet ads and outbound e-mail.

"Despite everything that's going on in U.S. banking, financial institutions are increasing their investments in mobile banking solutions," he said. "It's a hot topic."

There are many signs that mobile commerce is about to enter the mainstream.

Mr. Rackely said Firethorn believes that "the future is mobile," and that his company's partnership with BECU sends that message to other credit unions and financial institutions.

"We absolutely believe that consumers will soon be able to do everything they do via a mobile device," Mr. Rackely said.

"However, we don't think the value is in replicating the online experience," he said. "We have to change the game for the consumer, make mobile applications easier, make them more secure and work with carriers and financial institutions to provide key components for their customers."