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 2016

Use of Mobile Phones in Financial Decisionmaking

Account Monitoring and Decisionmaking

As the use of mobile financial services increases, mobile phones are increasingly becoming tools for managing personal finances and controlling spending. For example, 62 percent of mobile banking users with smartphones reported using their mobile phone to check account balances or available credit before making a large purchase in the 12 months prior to the survey. Of those who checked their balance or available credit, 50 percent reported that they decided not to buy an item because of the amount of money in their bank account or the amount of available credit.

Many consumers have near-constant access to their mobile phones, and these results illustrate that these devices have the potential to provide "just-in-time information" that can influence consumer financial behavior.

In addition, mobile phones can provide readily accessible and timely prompts that may help consumers make different, informed, and perhaps smarter, financial decisions. The actions consumers take in response to the receipt of text message or e-mail notices from their financial institutions demonstrate some of the potential effects of this technology for encouraging consumers to engage in informed financial behaviors that may prove to have beneficial outcomes.

More than half (52 percent) of mobile banking users receive alerts from their bank, and low-balance alerts are received by the majority of this group (figure 12). Most mobile banking users who received a low-balance alert from their bank reported taking some action in response: transferring money into the account with the low balance (43 percent), depositing additional money into the account (36 percent), or reducing their spending (32 percent). Twenty-one percent reported taking no action in response to receiving a low-balance alert.

Figure 12. Do you receive each of the following kinds of alerts?

Figure 12. Do you receive  each of the following kinds of alerts?
Accessible Version | Return to text

Note: Among respondents with a mobile phone and bank account who used mobile banking in the past 12 months and who receive alerts (n=437). Respondents may receive alerts from their financial institution via push notification, text message, or e-mail.

Back to section top

Shopping and Mobile Financial Management

In-Store Product Research and Price Comparison

Consumers are using their mobile phones to comparison shop and obtain product information while in retail stores. The prevalence of smartphones with barcode scanning software and Internet access has altered consumer behavior in the retail environment. With this technology, consumers can compare prices across retailers while in a store or online, or locate an item that is out of stock.

Among smartphone owners, 45 percent said that they have used their mobile phone to comparison shop on the Internet while at a retail store, and 28 percent have used a barcode scanning application for price comparisons, a 5 percentage point decline from the 2014 survey. Consumers are also using their smartphones to obtain product information: 29 percent have scanned a Quick Response (QR) code in a newspaper, magazine, or billboard advertisement to obtain information about a product, and 41 percent have used their phone to get product reviews or product information while shopping at a retail store.

Many consumers who use their smartphone to comparison shop reported that they altered their decisions as a result: 69 percent who have comparison shopped in a store reported that they changed where they made a purchase after comparing prices, and 79 percent reported that they changed what they purchased as a result of reading product reviews on their smartphone while at a retail store.

Interest in Mobile Services

Mobile financial management is an area with potential for consumer benefit. While many mobile phone users already use their mobile phones for tasks such as tracking purchases and expenses and comparing prices when shopping, mobile phone users expressed interest in expanding the range of functions they could perform with their phones.

Consumers were asked to select the types of activity they would be interested in performing with their mobile phones, assuming the functions were made available to them (figure 13). Some consumers appear to be open to greater use of their phones as a tool to get the best prices in their shopping activities: 23 percent expressed an interest in using their mobile phones to compare prices while shopping; 25 percent indicated that they would like to receive and manage discount offers and coupons; and 22 percent would like to receive location-based offers. Mobile phone users also expressed an interest in using their phones to store gift cards or track loyalty/reward points (22 percent) and to manage their personal finances (14 percent).

Figure 13. Share of respondents that already do or would like to use mobile phone for any of the following purposes

Figure 13. Share of respondents  that already do or would like to use mobile phone for any of the following  purposes
Accessible Version | Return to text

Note: Among respondents with mobile phones (n=2,244).

Back to Top

Last update: February 14, 2017