BMO launches service allowing people to open accounts through smartphones

TORONTO – The Bank of Montreal has launched a service that allows customers to sign up for accounts using their smartphones, as the lender looks to appeal to consumers’ shifting banking preferences.

“Customers feel more and more comfortable doing things on smartphones,” said Niti Badarinath, BMO’s head of North American channels.

“We’re also starting to see a preference for things that are convenient and fast — speed, ease of use, the ability to do it all from a handheld device from the convenience of wherever you are.

“These were all critical inputs in us saying, ‘We need to build an account-opening journey that is all mobile straight through.'”

The bank (TSX:BMO) says the initiative is the first of its kind from a major Canadian lender and will allow potential clients to open a new account on their phones in under eight minutes, without having to download an app or visit a branch.

BMO collects customers’ social insurance numbers in order to comply with anti-money laundering laws and know-your-client rules that require them to verify customer identities.

The announcement comes as the bank and its competitors have been cutting costs through layoffs, boosting their digital offerings to appeal to young, tech-savvy customers and facing competition from a slew of financial technology, or fintech, upstarts.

Kendra Thompson, who heads up Accenture’s North American wealth management division, says she expects to see similar announcements from all of Canada’s big banks.

“This is the start of things to come and it’s something that’s been proven out in other markets,” Thompson said. “Canada is not ahead of the curve here. In fact, we’re catching up.”

While some have predicted that the growing popularity of mobile banking will be a death knell for physical branches, Thompson said that isn’t the case.

“I think it’s really important not to see mobile advancement as binary. It’s not mobile instead of branch, it’s mobile as a compliment to the human experience.”

Besides, Thompson added, “there will always be a segment of the Canadian population that needs to have that human contact.”

Customers, however, can expect to see the role of branches evolve, said Badarinath — shifting away from daily banking needs and more towards value-added services such as financial advice or help with complex transactions.

“What I think is changing is what people go to the branches for,” said Badarinath.

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