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Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System
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Consumers and Mobile Financial Services
March 2016

Executive Summary

Mobile phones have increasingly become tools that consumers use for banking, payments, budgeting, and shopping. Given the rapid pace of change in the area of mobile finance, the Federal Reserve Board began conducting annual surveys of consumers' use of mobile financial services in 2011. The series examines trends in the adoption and use of mobile banking, payments, and shopping behavior and how the evolution of mobile financial services affects consumers' interaction with financial institutions.

This report presents findings from the latest survey, fielded in November 2015, which focused on consumers' use of mobile technology to access financial services and make financial decisions. Where applicable, the findings from the current survey are also compared with the findings from previous surveys. Topics include consumer access to bank services using mobile phones ("mobile banking"), consumer payment for goods and services using mobile phones ("mobile payments"), mobile security, and consumer financial management and shopping decisions facilitated by the use of mobile phones. Details about the survey, its methodology, and limitations can be found in the body of the report and in a methodological appendix. Survey data, as well as reports and data from previous years of the survey, are available on the Board's website at

Key Findings

Key findings of the 2015 survey include:

  • Mobile phones, particularly Internet-enabled smartphones, are in widespread use.

    • Eighty-seven percent of the U.S. adult population has a mobile phone, the same as in 2014 and 2013.
    • Seventy-seven percent of mobile phones are smartphones (Internet-enabled), up from 71 percent in 2014 and 61 percent in 2013.
  • Adoption of mobile financial services continues to increase. A majority of consumers using these services cite convenience or getting a smartphone as their reason for adoption.

    • Use of mobile banking continues to rise. Forty-three percent of all mobile phone owners with a bank account had used mobile banking in the 12 months prior to the survey, up from 39 percent in 2014 and 33 percent in 2013.
    • Fifty-three percent of smartphone owners with a bank account had used mobile banking in the 12 months prior to the survey, up from 52 percent a year earlier.
    • Consistent with previous years, the three most common mobile banking activities among mobile banking users were checking account balances or recent transactions (94 percent), transferring money between an individual's own accounts (58 percent), and receiving an alert (e.g., a text message, push notification, or e-mail) from their bank (56 percent).
    • Use of mobile payments continues to be less common than use of mobile banking. Twenty-four percent of all mobile phone owners reported having made a mobile payment in the 12 months prior to the survey.
    • Twenty-eight percent of smartphone users made a mobile payment in the 12 months prior to the survey.
    • The three most common mobile payment activities among mobile payments users with smartphones were paying bills through a mobile phone web browser or app (65 percent), purchasing a physical item or digital content remotely using a mobile phone (42 percent), and paying for something in a store using a mobile phone (33 percent).
  • Use of mobile financial services varies across demographic groups.
    • Higher shares of younger adults, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic blacks reported using mobile banking and mobile payments than the overall survey averages. Smartphone ownership among those with mobile phones is higher for Hispanics than for non-Hispanic whites in this survey.
  • The main impediments to the adoption of mobile financial services cited by some consumers continue to be a preference for other methods of banking and making payments as well as concerns about security.

    • Of those not using mobile banking, the primary reason respondents cited was a belief that their banking needs were being met without the use of mobile banking (88 percent).
    • The primary reason non-mobile-payment users gave for not using mobile payments was that they believe it is easier to pay with cash or credit/debit cards (80 percent).
    • Concern about the security of the technology was a common reason given for not using mobile banking or mobile payments (73 percent and 67 percent, respectively, of non-users).
  • Most consumers with bank accounts reported using a mix of online and offline channels to interact with their financial institution. For those who have adopted mobile banking, use of the mobile channel appears to complement their use of other banking channels.

    • Among all respondents with bank accounts, the share using mobile banking is higher than the share using telephone banking but lower than the shares that have visited a branch, used an ATM, or used online banking in the last 12 months.
    • Among mobile banking users with smartphones, 54 percent cited the mobile channel as one of the three most important ways they interact with their bank, below the shares that cited online (65 percent) and ATM (62 percent), but above the share that cited a teller at a branch (51 percent).
  • The security and privacy of personal information remain common concerns for mobile phone users, and many smartphone users reported taking steps to guard against possible risks.

    • Among those with a mobile phone, 42 percent think that people's personal information is "very unsafe" or "somewhat unsafe" when they use mobile banking, and an additional 15 percent "don't know" how safe these activities are.
    • The majority of smartphone users reported taking actions that can reduce harm in case of a security incident. The most common actions were installing updates (84 percent), password-protecting the phone (70 percent), and customizing privacy settings (58 percent).
    • Consumer awareness of security threats may influence behavior: 78 percent of smartphone users reported they do not download or install apps from sources outside their primary app store, and 76 percent reported they do not send or access sensitive data over public WiFi networks.
  • Consumers use their smartphones to inform financial decisions.

    • Most mobile banking users who receive low-balance alerts from their bank reported taking some action in response, such as transferring money into the account with the low balance (43 percent), depositing money into the account (36 percent), or reducing their spending (32 percent).
    • Sixty-two percent of mobile banking users checked their account balance on their phone before making a large purchase in the 12 months prior to the survey. Half (50 percent) of them decided not to purchase an item as a result of their account balance or credit limit.
    • Forty-one percent of persons with smartphones used their phone to browse product reviews or get product information while shopping at a retail store, and 79 percent of them changed the item they purchased based on this information.
  • Mobile phones are prevalent among unbanked and underbanked consumers.

    • Nine percent of consumers were unbanked at the time of the survey. Forty percent of the unbanked had access to a smartphone, 28 percent had access to a feature phone, and 32 percent lacked access to any type of mobile phone.
    • Twenty-two percent of consumers were underbanked, meaning they had a bank account and had used one or more alternative financial services (typically from a nonbank) within the past year. Seventy percent of the underbanked were smartphone owners, and 17 percent owned a feature phone.
    • Among the underbanked with mobile phones, 55 percent used mobile banking.

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Last update: February 14, 2017