Is Remote Deposit Capture the Killer App for Mobile?

Is Remote Deposit Capture the Killer App for Mobile?

I’ve been poo-pooing mobile payments for the underbanked for quite a while, much to the chagrin of everyone who believes in technology or has half a brain.  And of course, it all does look so good: underbanked people, globally, actually own mobile phones, actually use them, and the phone could bring down the cost and increase convenience and disintermediate so many payments and banking services.  And look at all the innovators globally, the proponents say.  Look at MPesa and look at…. um, all the innovation in the Philippines and in Japan and in South Africa and…

You see, I agree with all that.  It SHOULD work.  It SHOULD be amazing.  It SHOULD actually improve millions of people’s lives meaningfully and SHOULD create billions for mobile providers and their payments and banking consorts.  But it ISN’T – at scale – anywhere in the world, except for MPesa in Kenya.  And mobile payment isn’t new.  In 2004, perhaps, it was new.  At current rates of innovation, funding thrown at solutions, and consumer adoption, we should see signs of take-up after 6-7 years, don’t you think? This is not Gutenberg here.

My colleague, Rachel Schneider, made me think twice about something recently: remote deposit capture.  Possible since Check21 passed in 2004, largely used by institutions, but now recently being introduced to allow someone – you! – to snap a picture of the front and back of a check, send it into the cloud and voila, your check has been deposited.  No trip to bank or ATM… or check casher.  It’s not a stretch to insert a check risk management vendor, like Chexar, VALID or Certegy: snap a picture, send to cloud, determine validity of check and get instant funds on a prepaid card.  Sounds arcane for a “killer app”? It could be, but…

…but consider these things: it (remote deposit capture by mobile for the underbanked) substitutes a super common transaction: check cashing; it is more convenient – and potentially cheaper – than going to the check casher; it disintermediates the merchant to get funds on the phone – which I believe is one of the biggest impediments to successful mobile payment deployment for the underbanked; and with funds on the phone, you’re in business: people follow the money.

So keep your eye on USAA’s iPhone app, Chase’s iPhone app, and Mitek’s iPhone app for starters (all announced within the past couple months).  Quick Jay Shipowitz, or NetSpend, get on it!