Updated March 25 at 12:28am

Five Questions With: Michael Cleary

Group executive vice president and head of U.S. distribution for consumer banking for Citizens Financial Group talks about the growth of mobile banking.

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Five Questions With: Michael Cleary


Michael Cleary is group executive vice president and head of U.S. distribution for consumer banking for Citizens Financial Group. He is responsible for retail branches, business banking, wealth management, online and mobile banking, contact center, ATM, and distribution planning and distribution support.

Prior to joining Citizens in 2012, Cleary worked for 13 years with JPMorgan Chase in leadership roles including as member of the JPMorgan Executive Committee, CEO of business banking, chief marketing officer and chief operating officer for retail banking, head of Chase Private Client.

Cleary has a bachelor’s degree in geological and geophysical engineering from Princeton University and an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College.

PBN: The pace of mobile banking is progressing extremely quickly, with new apps and enhancements being introduced by banks all the time. One of the most recent enhancements from Citizens Bank is the one that uses the video camera in a mobile phone to take the photo of a check, with prompts that help the customer get a clear image. Does an enhancement like that come from the bank for better quality images needed for accuracy, or from customers, who might have had to keep retaking the photo, if they were using the photo technology instead of the video technology?

CLEARY: All of the things we have introduced in the past year – our $5 Overdraft Pass, our One Deposit Checking account that makes it easy to avoid maintenance fees, and the many enhancements we have made to online and mobile banking – have been driven by a program that we call Bank Better. With Bank Better, we have a very basic goal – to help our customers, literally, bank better by making banking simple, easy and personal. Our use of the mobile device’s video functionality for Mobile Deposit is another example of this. With this technology, depositing checks from your phone is incredibly easy – no more blurry or incomplete images forcing you to take multiple pictures. This technology also helps customers by extending the banking day – if they make their deposit by 10 p.m., we can process and record it as having happened that day. We also now offer this same ability for deposits made at our ATMs, which we also recently upgraded.

PBN: About how often does Citizens introduce a new mobile enhancement?

CLEARY: The timing of new releases varies, but we’ve been pretty busy this year. We launched a new app for iPad and added Popmoney, a person-to-person service that allows customers to make payments using an email address, mobile phone number or account details, in March. More recently, we launched Fast Balance in addition to Mobile Deposit. Different features are developed in different ways – our number one development focus, at the end of the day, is on ease of use and ensuring a clean user experience across all of the app’s features. This is part art and part science, and it’s incredibly important to our customers. I think we have done a nice job of managing that balance between new functionality and usability.

PBN: Does it seem that banks are in a race to get the newest and best mobile technology, and that keeping up with, or ahead of the competition depends on this?

CLEARY: The quality of a bank’s mobile app is becoming one of the most important considerations for consumers when they are choosing a bank, and we are seeing very strong growth in active

mobile banking use among our customers. Knowing how important this is to our customers, we are continuing to invest in mobile as part of our overall commitment to making it easy for our customers to do their banking when, where and how they want.

PBN: How much of the bank’s consumer business is done now by mobile banking? How much of the commercial business is done by mobile banking?

CLEARY: We have experienced 30 percent growth in household penetration year-over-year in April 2013 compared with April 2014. On the commercial side, more than 70 percent of customers using our online solution also use our mobile app.

PBN: How quickly do you see customers, both consumer and commercial, adapting to new mobile applications? Do customers tend to use most of the new enhancements, or do they pick and choose? Do some mobile enhancements just not gain acceptance, while others are surprisingly popular very quickly? Can you give an example of each of those?

CLEARY: The adoption rate for mobile has been much higher than it was for online banking in the early days of the Web, when consumers were still getting comfortable with e-commerce, mobile banking and any kind of online transaction. As we have added functionality, we have seen customers quickly embrace features like mobile bill pay and now mobile check deposit and Fast Balance. In general, customers will naturally use the applications that best meet their needs. Popmoney–our person-to-person payment feature that allows you to pay your friend for your share of the dinner tab via email or text – is an example of a tool that is still being used primarily by early adopters. But, I think more and more consumers are going to embrace this feature in time, too, because it makes it so easy to make payments to your friends or to anyone else on your contact list without even opening your wallet.

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