Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Online Banking with a Twist

USAA is an online banking, mutual fund, and insurance provider available to active-duty officers, enlisted personnel, their children, national guard members, officer candidates, and former military personnel. One challenge of running an online bank - with no physical locations - is allowing members to make deposits. USAA's solution to date has been to allow members to scan and fax in checks. With the launch of this new iPhone app (and an upcoming Blackberry app) users can now photograph the front and back of their checks and make deposits without leaving home - or from wherever they are deployed.

Hands on with USAA's iPhone check deposits
USAA has just updated its free iPhone application, adding the ability to deposit checks with just an iPhone camera. The bank had previously allowed members to file deposits with a scanner in a similar manner; you just log in and upload images of the front and back of the check.

I installed the iPhone software and tested out the deposit process. I had to repeat several steps, but everything seemed to work well the second time I tried. Legible handwriting counts again for the first time since grade school.
The software then instructs you to shoot the front of the check on a dark, non-reflective surface. Even lighting seems to help. You’ll snap the photo, approve the layout, and repeat the process on the back of the check.

The software asks you to specifically sign and endorse the check with your account number. (It thoughtfully adds your own number into its example.) I captured that image and then tried to complete the deposit.

It didn’t work. I tried retaking the check images on a black book, and the software still rejected me, saying it couldn’t read the check or my endorsement properly.

I ended up writing a new check, more carefully marking the amount and account numbers, since USAA’s image-recognition software had stumbled. The new check worked the first time I tried the upload. When finished, the program asks you to void the check and file it away, or shred it.

USAA lacks physical bank locations, so this iPhone app could be a perfect match for its customers. The company will also roll out the service for BlackBerry phones this year and other camera-phones in 2010. As long as your writing is clear, the process works well, letting you deposit checks anywhere.

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