skip to main navigation skip to secondary navigation skip to content
Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
skip to content

Consumers and Mobile Financial Services
March 2014


Since 2011, when the Federal Reserve Board's Division of Consumer and Community Affairs conducted its first Survey of Consumers' Use of Mobile Financial Services, the adoption of mobile financial services has continued to increase, along with the range of services offered. As part of its ongoing efforts to monitor rapid developments in the mobile financial services arena as well as gain insights into consumers' usage of and attitudes toward mobile financial services, the Board has continued to conduct the survey annually.1 The third survey, conducted in 2013, included a random sample of respondents to the previous survey in 2012, as well as a random sample of new respondents. The subsample of respondents who voluntarily completed both the 2012 and 2013 waves of the survey allows for the observation of changes in behavior over the past year among these individuals.


Survey Background

The original survey instrument and the two subsequent waves of the survey were designed in consultation with a group made up of key Federal Reserve System staff with relevant consumer research and payments backgrounds. The 2012 and 2013 survey samples were both composed of a mix of a random selection of respondents to the previous year's survey and new survey respondents.

The 2013 survey was again administered by GfK, an online consumer research company, on behalf of the Board. The survey was conducted using a sample of adults ages 18 and over from KnowledgePanel®, a proprietary, probability-based web panel of more than 50,000 individuals from randomly sampled households; the sample was designed to be representative of the U.S. population. After pretesting, the data collection for the survey began on December 6, 2013, and concluded on December 23, 2013. As shown in table 1, e-mails were sent to 1,840 randomly selected respondents to the original survey and 2,239 randomly selected respondents from the remaining members of KnowledgePanel®. The 2,657 respondents completed the survey in approximately 11 minutes (median time). Of the total respondents, 1,409 had responded to the original survey, while 1,248 were new survey respondents. Further details on the survey methodology are included in appendix 1.

The responses to all the categorical survey questions are presented in appendix 3 in the order that the questions were asked of respondents. Tables of summary statistics for the respondent demographics by mobile phone usage are also included as tables C.65 to C.68. Beginning at table C.69, cross-tabulations are presented of consumers' use of mobile phones, mobile banking, and mobile payments by age, race, gender, education, and income.

The following sections of this report summarize key findings from the Federal Reserve Board's survey of consumers conducted by GfK, with a focus on how consumers are using mobile phones to conduct their banking, make payments, enhance information gathering while shopping, and manage their finances. The numbers cited in this report are derived from the Board survey unless otherwise noted. All data were weighted to yield estimates for the U.S. adult population, with a sampling error of ±1.9 percentage points at 95 percent confidence. Only questions pertaining to these topics are discussed in the report; however, the complete survey questionnaire and the results of the entire survey are summarized in appendix 2 and appendix 3.


Table 1. Key survey response statistics: Main interview

  Number sampled
from main survey
2012 re-interviews 1,840 1,409 78.1%
Fresh cases 2,239 1,248 55.7%
Total 4,070 2,657 65.3%

Back to section top


Overview of the Mobile Phone Market

As of December 2013, 87 percent of the U.S. population ages 18 and above owned or had regular access to a mobile phone. Of the mobile phone owners, 61 percent had a smartphone.2 While the percent of the adult population with mobile phones has remained constant over the past year, smartphone ownership increased substantially from the 52 percent found in the 2012 survey.3

Rates of mobile phone usage remain high and consistent across demographic and socioeconomic groups. The prevalence of mobile phones demonstrates the extent to which they have become engrained in modern culture. Mobile phone usage is approximately 91 percent for persons ages 18 to 44, and declines only slightly to 87 percent for persons ages 45 to 59 and to 81 percent for persons ages 60 and over. However, smartphone adoption is higher among younger generations: 79 percent of those ages 18 to 29 who own a mobile phone have a smartphone, declining to 77 percent of mobile phone owners ages 30 to 44, 58 percent of mobile phone owners ages 45 to 59, and only 33 percent of mobile phone owners ages 60 and over.

Mobile phone ownership is highest among non-Hispanic whites and Hispanics at 88 and 89 percent, respectively, relative to 80 percent for non-Hispanic blacks. However, adoption of smartphones is higher among minorities, as 73 percent of Hispanic mobile phone users and 63 percent of non-Hispanic black mobile phone users own a smartphone, relative to 58 percent of non-Hispanic whites.

Mobile phone and smartphone usage does vary with the level of household income. In households earning less than $25,000 per year, 74 percent of adults have a mobile phone of some type, and 44 percent have a smartphone. Use of both mobile phones and smartphones increases nearly linearly with income category, reaching 96 percent and 75 percent, respectively, for adults in households earning more than $100,000 per year.

The relatively high prevalence of mobile phone and smartphone use among younger generations, minorities, and those with low levels of income--groups that are prone to be unbanked or underbanked--makes mobile phones a potential platform for expanding financial access and inclusion (see box 1 for survey results related to the unbanked and underbanked).


Box 1. The Unbanked, Underbanked, and Mobile Financial Services

In comparing results of the Board surveys for 2011, 2012, and 2013, the share of consumers who are unbanked has effectively remained constant over the past few years. In 2011, 10.8 percent of consumers reported that neither they nor their spouse or partner had a checking, savings, or money market account. In 2012, the share of unbanked consumers was 9.5 percent of the adult population, and in 2013, the share of unbanked consumers was 10.5 percent of the adult population.

Of those currently unbanked, 34 percent report that they had a bank account at some point in the past. Using data on those Board survey respondents observed in both 2012 and 2013, 40 percent of those unbanked in 2012 had obtained a checking, savings, or money market account in 2013. Conversely, 4 percent of those who had a bank account in 2012 no longer had an account in 2013.

Among unbanked consumers, the most important reasons for not having a bank account were not having enough money (25 percent); simply not needing or wanting one (24 percent); and being unable to open an account due to ID, credit, or banking history problems (10 percent). A further 8 percent of unbanked consumers don't believe that they would use an account enough to make it worthwhile, and 6 percent simply don't like dealing with banks (figure A).

Figure A. Most important reason for not having a checking, savings, or money market account

Figure A. Most important reason for not having a checking, savings, or money market account

The share of consumers who are underbanked--defined as having a bank account but also using an alternative financial service such as a payroll card, payday lender, check casher, pawn shop, or auto title loan--was 16.9 percent in 2013.

Both the unbanked and underbanked make significant use of mobile phones and smartphones. Among individuals who are unbanked, 69 percent have access to a mobile phone and 49 percent of these are smartphones. Among the underbanked, 88 percent have a mobile phone, 64 percent of which are smartphones.

The underbanked population makes substantial use of mobile banking. Almost 39 percent of the underbanked with mobile phones report using mobile banking in the past 12 months, while 22 percent report using mobile payments.

Return to text

Back to section top


Trends in the Utilization of Mobile Banking and Payments

Services that allow consumers to obtain financial account information and conduct transactions with their financial institution ("mobile banking") and that allow consumers to make payments, transfer money, or pay for goods and services ("mobile payments") have become increasingly prevalent over the past year. In the 2011 survey, for instance, 21 percent of mobile phone users and 42 percent of smartphone users reported that they had used mobile banking in the past 12 months. By 2012, the prevalence of mobile banking had increased substantially, to 28 percent of mobile phone users and 48 percent of smartphone users. In the 2013 survey, the prevalence of mobile banking has continued to increase, reaching 33 percent of mobile phone users and 51 percent of smartphone users (figure 1).

Figure 1. Usage of mobile banking and mobile payments by mobile phone type

Figure 1. Usage of mobile banking and mobile payments by mobile phone type

Use of mobile payments has increased far less rapidly than that of mobile banking. In 2011, 11 percent of mobile phone users and 23 percent of smartphone users reported using mobile payments. In 2012, usage of mobile payments had increased only slightly, to 15 percent of mobile phone users and 24 percent of smartphone users. Mobile payments usage increased among all mobile phone users from 2012 to 2013, reaching 17 percent, but remained at 24 percent of smartphone users. The higher rate among all mobile phone users, but constant rate among smartphone users, suggests that smartphone adoption substantially contributed to the increased use of mobile payments.

Innovation in, and increased access to, point-of-sale (POS) mobile payments services continued through 2013. As a result, using a mobile phone to pay for a retail purchase is no longer an extremely rare occurrence. Between 2012 and 2013, tremendous growth occurred in the share of people who reported making a POS purchase with their smartphone in the past 12 months, rising from 6 percent of smartphone users in 2012 to 17 percent of smartphone users in 2013. This growth in usage is all the more remarkable considering that only 1 percent of smartphone owners reported making a POS purchase with their phone in 2011.

The most common mobile payment at the POS, at 39 percent of users, involves scanning a barcode or a Quick Response (QR) code at the cash register.4 This is being partially driven by the popularity of a single retailer's mobile payment app (Starbucks), which was used by 14 percent of all people who make mobile payments and have smartphones.

The greatest impediment to adoption of either mobile banking or mobile payments appears to be consumers' limited demand for them: many consumers say their needs are already being met without mobile banking or payments, that they are comfortable with non-mobile options, and that they do not see a clear benefit from using either service.

Concerns about the security of mobile banking and mobile payment technologies are also frequently cited as reasons why consumers chose not to adopt these technologies. Consumers again reported less confidence in the security of mobile banking and payments technology in the 2013 survey than they did in either the 2011 or 2012 surveys. Consumers appear to be more cognizant of the need to protect the extensive personal information stored on their phones, as they are increasingly using passwords to protect their smartphones. The share of smartphone owners who password protect their phone increased to 61 percent in 2013 from 54 percent in 2012.

Back to section top



1. See the "Consumers and Mobile Financial Services" reports series for previous years' survey findings; results of the 2011 survey (published in March 2012) are available at, and results of the 2012 survey (published in March 2013) are at to text

2. The figures derived from the Board's survey are nearly identical to the 91 percent mobile phone ownership rate and 61 percent smartphone ownership rate reported by the Pew Research Center in its June 2013 Smartphone Ownership--2013 Update,  Leaving the BoardReturn to text

3. While the majority of banks and mobile financial service providers offer apps for both Android and iOS devices, some apps are only available for one platform. Among the operating systems utilized by smartphone users in the survey, Android is used by 45 percent of respondents, Apple's iOS by 44 percent of respondents, and BlackBerry by 3 percent of respondents. Return to text

4. A Quick Response (QR) code is a type of barcode that has become popular as a means of quickly transferring information to a device when scanned. Some mobile payment applications use QR codes displayed on the user's smartphone screen to communicate the payment credentials to merchants when scanned at the POS. Other QR codes have become popular in advertising because they can be scanned by mobile phones to direct users to a website where they can obtain additional information on a product, service, or company. Return to text

Back to Top

Last update: Apr 15, 2014