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Pittsburgh's Dollar Bank gives thumbs-up to transactions by texting

| Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dollar Bank is putting a new spin on telephone banking: Text messaging.

The Pittsburgh bank is the first in the region, and one of the first in the nation, to allow customers to do transactions by sending a text message from a cell phone. The service became active Tuesday.

Dollar customers can transfer funds instantly by using the touch pad on their cell phones. They can also send Dollar a message requesting account balances, including having balance information sent on regular intervals. It can all be done on a 24/7 basis.

"It's not as far-fetched as it might seem. Look at the spread of Blackberries and the iPhone," said Bert Ely, of Ely & Co. Inc., a bank consult in Alexandria, Va. "It's kind of an extension of electronic banking. You're going to see more of this."

Ely said he first heard of bank-by-texting only this year, but that was elsewhere in the United States.

Other banks in this region might follow suit.

National City spokesman William Eiler said the bank is "evaluating" the wireless capability.

PNC Bank is exploring wireless banking, spokesman Brian Goerke said.

Citizens Bank officials were not available yesterday.

So far, Dollar is keeping it simple. It has no plans to expand the bank-by-texting capability to, say, bill payments or investments, Vice President James Carroll Jr. said. But he was enthusiastic about prospects.

"In Europe, you can go to a Coke machine, punch in your telephone number and the Coke comes out," Carroll said.

The market potential is hard to gauge. But 158 million text messages were sent in the United States last year, or nearly double the volume in 2005, according to Cellular News.

"This will appeal to younger folks who do a lot of text messaging," Ely said. "It's a matter of people getting used to it and come to appreciate the convenience of it."

Dollar's bank-by-texting will work with any cell phone carrier, Executive Vice President Jeffrey Morrow said in a statement.

Morrow said texting transactions are "absolutely safe" because customer information, including account numbers, does not appear on the cell phone screen.

But some cyber crooks can intercept wireless messages, Ely said.

"The frequencies are known to criminals (because) they can grab information that's bouncing around in the air," Ely said. "But you can deal with the issues through encryption."

The bank's service is free of charge until January, when Dollar plans to impose "a nominal fee."

Dollar operates 32 branches in Western Pennsylvania and 24 in northern Ohio. It has $5.3 billion in assets.

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