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Connected cashBanks plan more mobile options for Central Pennsylvania businesses

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If you're a small-business owner who barely has time for lunch, much less standing in line at a bank to make deposits, don't despair over time management in business finances.

Chances are your bank could be readying to offer more options, flexibility and security so you — or your chief financial officer — can manage the books from nearly anywhere using a smartphone or tablet.

Banks say they continue to see a move toward mobile banking, and business owners are right there in the trend. That means if banks want to keep or gain commercial customers, they must improve mobile services.

Lancaster County-based Susquehanna Bank has offered mobile banking since 2009 and sees the increased options as an investment in its own business.

"(Mobile is) becoming a more accepted channel. It's something that we as a bank need to put a lot of focus on. We have to make sure we're engaging customers, as well as make sure we're making the right services available," said Melissa Hoffman, Susquehanna's senior vice president and director of product support and service delivery.

Susquehanna now offers bill payment, fund transfers and mobile credit card swipes, as well as information and alerts, she said. The bank will roll out more options for business this year, such as remote deposits and wire transfers.

Remote deposit, which could be introduced as early as February, would allow companies to take photographs of checks to be deposited and send those images using Susquehanna's secure site, Hoffman said. Then the paper check can be destroyed.

Duplicate detection in Susquehanna's security measures then prevents multiple deposits of checks, reducing the risk of fraud, she said.

Susquehanna is finalizing testing for its wire transfer option that would allow mobile business-to-business transactions, she said.

"The business owner could be in a meeting offsite and still authorize transactions they typically would need to be in their office to do," Hoffman said.

Citizens Bank, the Rhode Island-based bank with a large Central Pennsylvania presence, has offered similar mobile options to its business and consumer customers for the past three years.

Citizens Bank will offer more options this year, such as wire transfers to pre-approved vendors, positive paycheck verification for mobile deposits and administrative controls to allow employee access to business accounts, said Jim Gifas, the bank's executive vice president and head of treasury solutions.

"Small businesses have fewer employees and they have multiple jobs, so this will allow those companies to give access to people in case a key person is traveling and doesn't have access to accounts," he said.

Personal transferability made available by smartphones is moving into the business environment, which is driving demand for new mobile options for business owners, Gifas said.

"That ease of use, that flexibility, he wants in his business life," he said.

Mobile banking grew significantly in recent years, banks analysts said.

Citizens Bank had 73 percent of its customers download its mobile apps within the first few months of its launch in October 2010, Gifas said.

Susquehanna more than doubled its mobile users in 2012, for a total of 40,000, Hoffman said. Of those, about 10 percent are business customers, she said.

Mobile banking use among businesses and consumers is expected to continue growing, said Mary Monahan, executive vice president and research director on mobile technologies for California-based Javelin Strategy & Research.

In 2012, a third of all consumers nationally used mobile banking, a jump of 13 percentage points from 2010, she said. More financial institutions are offering mobile options, too.

"(In 2008,) we had to interview 135 institutions to find 23 that did it," Monahan said. "Today, you look at the top 25 to find 24 that offer mobile banking."

While mobile banking spread quickly in general, options for business lag behind the consumer side, she said. Still, nearly a quarter of the top 25 banks in America offered mobile options for companies. Smaller banks lag larger ones because of technology costs, staff limitations and the type of clientele, but many of them are innovating, Monahan said.

Increased tablet ownership, decreased security concerns and a younger generation more familiar with technology are factors expected to increase the number of businesses and consumers using mobile banking, she said.

"Businesses need to have access to their finances all the time," Monahan said. "It's a lot easier to do that with a mobile phone than to carry around a computer."

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