At first you might think how can any bank allow no-login access to your bank account. However, it’s not as unsecure as it sounds. Bank of the West has just launched its new free mobile banking apps, and one component of the banking apps is called Quick Balance. It allows customers to quickly view their balances without logging in. According to the bank’s press release, Quick Balance is:
the fastest and easiest way to check account balances and the first of its kind for a North American bank. The opt-in feature, available to Bank of the West online customers, allows users to check their balance with just the slide of a finger, without logging into their account.
This NetBanker article has a good visual overview of how Quick Balance works.
There are several reasons why Bank of the West considers Quick Balance safe. First, it only gives read-only access to the customer’s balance. Second, the customer’s smartphone is used as an authentication factor. Third, customers must go through the normal login process to enable it within mobile banking. It’s disabled by default.
This type of read-only access to your bank account reminded me of how services like Mint.com are used to access your bank accounts to aggregate balances and transactions of all of your financial institutions. Mint.com only needs read-only access. However, there is more risk with these services since most banks only have one level of access. There’s no read-only login. So Mint.com will likely store login information that allows full account access.
Capital One 360 (formerly ING DIRECT) is one exception. It offers read-only logins for personal financial management tools like Mint.com. If some PF management tool makes a mistake and is hacked, the hackers will only get read-only access. Capital One 360 calls this login your Personal Finance Access Code. I did a review of this in 2011 when it was first made available.
What Bank of the West’s Quick Balance and Capital One 360’s PF Access Code have in common is a read-only type of login that is intended to give customers an easier view of their balances. In both cases, the service is optional. Customers can choose not to use these logins.
This read-only type of login is just another advancement of banking technology. Just like online banking, it’s intended to give us easier and quicker access to our accounts. And like online banking, it requires some trust.