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Fidelity, Schwab allow deposits by smartphone

Fidelity and Schwab said they have deterred fraud in their smartphone deposit systems. Fidelity and Schwab said they have deterred fraud in their smartphone deposit systems. (David Paul Morris/Getty Images)
By Todd Wallack
Globe Staff / May 25, 2011

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You may never have to deposit a check in person again.

Two of the nation’s biggest discount brokerage companies, Fidelity Investments and the Charles Schwab Corp., said yesterday they are launching new software apps to let customers make deposits with their smartphones. The apps will allow people to photograph checks with an iPhone or Android phone, and zap the image to the broker, instead of having to drop checks off at an office or send them in the mail.

Fidelity and Schwab join a growing number of banks rolling out similar applications to let people do all their banking from home or on the road.

Chase, one of the nation’s biggest banks, last year launched an iPhone app for depositing checks electronically and has promoted the service widely in television ads. US Bank of Minneapolis launched a similar service in March. Locally, Rockland Trust launched such services in February. And Bank of America, the biggest bank in the country, plans to launch its own “mobile deposit’’ service sometime next year.

“It’s all about making banking easier for our customers,’’ said Bank of America spokeswoman Tara Burke. “It’s great for customers who want to bank on the go.’’

But Boston-based Fidelity, which launched its app Monday, believes it is the first major online broker to offer the service, beating out Schwab by a few days. Richard Blunck, an executive vice president at Fidelity said he expects tens of thousands of Fidelity customers to use the service over the next year; Fidelity processed 4 million deposits via mail or in person last year.

“It’s going from an early adopter to more of a mainstream experience,’’ Blunck said. “It’s a just a lot easier than having to mail in a check or go to a branch and make a deposit.’’

Schwab, headquartered in San Francisco, plans to launch its own iPhone feature by the end of the week and add a similar service for Android phones next month. A company survey found nearly seven in 10 Americans between the ages of 18 and 44 said they were interested in using their mobile phone to deposit checks.

“We do believe there will be substantial interest in this,’’ said Diane Russell, senior vice president at Schwab. “It’s a huge convenience to our clients.’’

Russell noted the technology is particularly useful for a company such as Schwab that has millions of far-flung customers, including many who do not live near an office. Most bank and online brokerage customers can use debit cards to make withdrawals from their accounts using other banks’ automated teller machines, but generally cannot make deposits that way.

Until recently, many major financial institutions were reluctant to roll out the technology because of security concerns. But Fidelity executives said they have become comfortable with the technology as they’ve watched other companies use it over time without any major problems. And both Fidelity and Schwab said they’ve put together several layers of security to deter fraud.

“We feel like we’re well positioned to make sure it is secure,’’ Russell said.

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com.