Banks are gravitating toward a new technology they think can help customers more easily open mobile accounts: allowing customers to photograph their driver's license from their smartphone to help them auto-fill portions of their application.

Equifax and Zoot unveiled a product Monday called MobilityPlus designed to promote this time- and effort- saving technology and remove a key reason why customers abandon trying to open an account — the hassle of filling in all their data on a small screen.

MobilityPlus will help with filling in the application and perform a search-match analysis to help authenticate the customer's identity as well as determine whether the device in use may be associated with fraudulent activity. It can also incorporate knowledge-based identity questions and automated OFAC screening.

"We are meeting the customer where they are at," said Dennis Dixon, president of Zoot.

Last summer, Radius Bank introduced a similar feature to its mobile banking program, allowing customers to take a photo of their driver's license and using it to fill in an account application. It was one of the first banks to test such technology.

But the interest in the technology underscores an important change of thinking in banking: while branches continue to be the No. 1 place where sales are made, some view mobile as the next major customer acquisition tool. It is particularly true for millennials who have grown up on the Internet and won't put up with PDFs or requests to mail in documents when seeking financial products online.

Mary Monahan, executive vice president and research director of mobile for Javelin Strategy & Research, said the promise of the imaging tech is to save the consumer typing and time when they are shopping for bank products.

"People don't want to have to go to the bank," said Monahan. And the younger they are, the likelier they want to do a task through mobile.

Radius is one of only a handful of institutions to use this technology. BankMobile, a digital-only offshoot of Customers Bank in Phoenixville, Pa. that uses tech from Mitek and Malauzai, recently made the photo input feature available through its mobile app.

More banks are expected to follow suit as the tech matures.

Julie Conroy, a research director for Aite Group's retail banking practice, said numerous institutions are looking to capture the data off an identity document to simplify the mobile data entry process. They are also making investments to let people begin an application in one channel and complete it in another.

Radius, for one, thought simplifying the task for mobile was a necessity.

"Our overall mantra is to make everything a really great customer experience," said Rob Landstein, executive vice president and chief information officer at Radius. "It's the biggest branch: the online channel."

It's reaping results. The bank, which made the scanning feature available through its responsive design website, said it has observed a 96% increase in account application page viewing on mobile devices in the five months following the technology upgrade year over year.

Amol Shah, a director in AlixPartners' financial services practice, said banks nationwide are evaluating their distribution models as ever-more consumers are doing banking activities online, including the way they switch their primary banking accounts. The research firm's most recent survey showed that 18% of those polled said they completed and submitted the application online, up from 15% in a survey released six months prior.

Additionally, a number of institutions are evaluating the photo technology and other methods designed to ease the burden of applying for accounts on the mobile device, said Shah.

But consumers are setting the terms of what they want in digital. "What we see and what we hear from banks is innovation and investment in mobile is consumer led," said Shah.

Mary Wisniewski is a reporter for American Banker.

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