Citibank, the fifth largest U.S. bank in deposits, recently launched a mobile web site. Read more about it on the bank’s promotional page. This should be good news. Most of the other big banks launched mobile web based online banking sites a couple years ago. Citi initially chose to go with a Java app which only supported a few handsets and was further restricted to specific operator, device combinations. I can’t imagine Citi’s application gained much traction with all the restrictions and all the hoops users had to jump through to install apps before the iPhone. But the mobile web should be different, right? Virtually all phones have a browser so virtually all phones should work. And they do with the mobile web sites of other banks like Chase, Wells Fargo, Wachovia and USBank.
Unfortunately Citi doesn’t seem to have learned from their mistakes with the online banking application. They’ve managed to make a web app that’s loaded with restrictions and gotchas that will prevent most customers from ever using it. First Citi’s mobile site is ostensibly only for “Smartphones”. I’m not sure why, mobile web based online banking requires no more from the browser than the ability to make a secure HTTPS connection, display text and handle simple web forms, all of which can be done by the dumbest of phones. But that’s OK, lots of people have smartphones, I’ve got a few myself; a Nokia N95-3, a Google Ion Android phone and an old BlackBerry 7100i.
After much trial and error I found that citi.com/mobile seems to be a working URL for the Citibank mobile web site. At least it worked on the BlackBerry and I was able to see the Citibank mobile webpage. Fail number two was that the Android phone was redirected (after a security warning that Citibank’s Verisign certificate expired in 1999!) to the desktop page ABOUT Citibank’s mobile services with no apparent way to actually use any of them. Fail number three was when the N95 got a charming page “recommending” that I use the downloadable version of Citi Mobile with no option to ignore the recommendation and proceed to the web based one. There are a couple of problems with that. For one I’d actually prefer an easy to use mobile web site to the relative hell that is downloading, installing and configuring a Java application on Symbian particularly one that requires multiple SMS exchanges to “activate” like Citibank’s does. Plus Citibank won’t actually let me download the application because my N95 is on T-Mobile and they only support N95’s on AT&T! How stupid is that? I doubt that security on T-Mobile is any worse than on AT&T. In fact Citibank supports other phones on T-Mobile, just not the N95, a phone that was never sold by AT&T and as an unbranded, unlocked phone is as likely to be on one network as the other.
If you are a Citibank customer and have a supported phone, which appears to be limited to iPhones, BlackBerries, Palm devices and maybe some Symbian phones, provided they aren’t ones that are supported by the Citibank Java app, give the new Citibank Mobile Site a try and let us know what you think. According to Citi, it lets you view balances, pay any person or business in the U.S., transfer funds between your Citi accounts, find branches and ATMs and call customer service with a single click.
Citibank, please find someone to run your mobile department who understands that the web browser is a universal client that will let you support mobile banking on virtually any phone. It’s easy to blame usability issues like the ones I found in Citibank’s mobile site on security concerns. Security is and should be a major consideration for any financial web service. But other banks have managed to build highly usable mobile sites that work with all browsers. And why not, direct mobile browsers are as secure as desktop browsers thanks to the use of the same HTTPS protocols, the extreme rarity of mobile viruses and spyware and the ability to use SMS for two factor authentication on mobiles.
Ratings: Content Usability
Ready.mobi Score: 3 “Fair”
Mobile Link: citi.com/mobile/