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Firethorn Quietly Adds Support for Thousands of Financial Institutions

2010 February 26
Firethorn Mobile Banking

Firethorn Mobile Banking

I ran into one of the Firethorn guys last night at the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum Mobile Marketing meeting. Firethorn now supports mobile banking for over 3,000 U.S. financial institutions in their carrier preloaded mobile wallet.

Let that sink in for a second.

You can now access mobile banking from a single preloaded, carrier-branded mobile banking application regardless of where you bank. Credit unions and credit card companies are also supported.

Firethorn is building a database of mobile phone numbers, email addresses, ZIP codes and FI login credentials. This is extremely valuable for both mobile payments and mobile marketing.

As a Wachovia customer, I have used the Firethorn application for years (despite working for arch-competitor mFoundry). At one point it stopped working. Rumor had it that Wells discontinued their contract with Firethorn after the Wachovia acquisition. So, I uninstalled the app. Just this week I noticed Mobile Banking back on the Wachovia site, so I reinstalled the app on our phones and was pleasantly surprised to see it working perfectly. Even all my bill pay payees were there.

Last night, after hearing about their support for essentially everyone, I added my American Express card and it worked perfectly. Today I tried adding my BB&T accounts and had some difficulties. BB&T is supported, but I encountered some technical issues. I also tried adding some Canadian banks, but not surprisingly none were supported.

When the database is hits critical mass, we’ll be able to send money to someone using our mobile phone address books containing email addresses and/or mobile phone numbers.

Firethorn (a Qualcomm company) provides mobile banking on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, CellularSouth, Metro PCS, and T-Mobile. (The T-Mobile logo isn’t on their website, but I got an emphatic “Yes” when I asked about the carrier last night.)

Firethorn has also partnered with CashEdge to provide P2P payments. CashEdge also powers P2P mobile payments at PNC Bank, First Hawaii, and Omaha Bank. Presumably Firethorn is using CashEdge’s aggregation capabilities to access all these institutions. I haven’t gotten confirmation on exactly how they’re accessing all these institutions other than the fact that they’re “using a gateway.”

I credit Firethorn and AT&T for starting current rush toward mobile banking in the US. Firethorn sold their carrier-blessed solution to a number of banks over the last few years starting with Regions, SunTrust, Wachovia and Bancorpsouth. Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union (PSECU) signed with them as recently as December 2009. While once ubiquitous in calling on FIs, it seems now they are less focused on selling to individual financial institutions and instead are focusing on providing solutions to the carriers.

Interestingly, the Firethorn mobile banking application prompts you for your email address and ZIP code when you enroll for an institution (in addition to your username and password for that institution). The app also asks you to opt-in to mobile marketing (and defaults to Yes, which is atypical in my experience).

This means that Firethorn is building a database of mobile phone numbers, email addresses, ZIP codes and FI login credentials. This is extremely valuable for both mobile payments and mobile marketing.

Firethorn is preloaded and promoted on the mobile web portals of all the major carriers. They have a good chance of being visible to almost every U.S. consumer. When they can map email addresses and phone numbers to bank accounts they become the “big directory in the sky” that has been missing from mobile payments in the U.S. Currently for mobile payments, there’s no user friendly way for consumers to send money to each other other than PayPal which doesn’t have complete coverage. ACH (Automated Clearing House) is the most common way to transfer funds electronically in the U.S. Routing this transaction requires users to know the bank ID and account number (the numbers listed on the bottom of paper checks). Most American don’t know their account number or even carry paper checks anymore. Plus, sharing these numbers is considered risky and invites identity theft.

Mobile payments needs a way to map a safe, commonly-known, easily-identifiable ID (like an email address or mobile phone number) to arcane ACH bank account information. That looks like exactly what Firethorn and the carriers are doing. When the database is hits critical mass, we’ll be able to send money to someone using our mobile phone address books containing email addresses and/or mobile phone numbers.

Banks, Credit Unions, Card Associations, and Credit Card companies need to think very long and hard about this. Mobile banking solutions in the developing world are often provided by the carriers with only nominal coordination by banks. Firethorn is providing a single, easy-to-find location to manage all your financial accounts and they’re building a key hub for money movement.

Banks need to figure out how they want the payments ecosystem to look or they might just have little influence at all.

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. March 2, 2010

    Did you know that you are granting Firethorn power of attorney when you accept their mobile banking terms and conditions?

    “In addition, you hereby grant Firethorn and its service providers a limited power of attorney, and you hereby appoint Firethorn and its service providers as your true and lawful attorney-in-fact”

    I have the story on my Mobile Banking Blog – http://www.brandonmcgee.blogspot.com

  2. March 2, 2010

    Brandon, I saw your blog post today. Most consumers will miss that fine print. I certainly did.

    It remains to be seen whether consumers will want to access financial information through the carrier portals — which this essentially is. However, if banks and credit unions don’t offer an alternative, users interested in using mobile banking will have no choice but to go through the carrier approach.

    Financial institutions need to provide an alternative. This is undeniable proof that if the financial industry doesn’t build it, someone else will.

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