A Look Inside PNC Bank's Personal Wallet Tool
By: Brian O'Connell

Online and mobile-based money management tools are all the rage these days, though some are better than others. One mobile application worth looking into is PNC Bank’s “Virtual Wallet,” which just added new features that may help bank customers avoid making overdraft errors and minimize fees.

Mobile banking applications are white hot right now. IDC Financial Insights, in a study released July 12, reports that mobile banking usage has nearly doubled from 2009 to 2010, noting that texting is the favorite mode of mobile banking communications for consumers.

PNC (Stock Quote: PNC) is aiming to stay ahead of the crowd with some new additions to its mobile banking program. The bank rolled out Virtual Wallet in 2008, and learned a thing or two about what customers really want from the technology. Thus the “new and improved” version that PNC hopes will resonate with technology-savvy customers. It certainly has boosted PNC’s fortunes so far – the bank reports 3,500 new accounts opened weekly via Virtual Wallet in 2010.

“People want more control over their money and Virtual Wallet can help them take charge of their finances,” says Thomas Kunz, director of payments and e-business for PNC. “Since Virtual Wallet was introduced in 2008, we have used input from our customers to make innovative enhancements for real-time information and resources to help them avoid financial mistakes and achieve their financial goals.”

Kunz adds that PNC solicited customer feedback on the Virtual Wallet via the product’s blog site and the bank’s Twitter account.

So what’s new with PNC’s “Wallet”?

According to the bank’s website, the technology has improved three key features based on customer demand:

Budgeting and Smart Spending: Customers can consolidate their spending methods (e.g., debit card, credit card, online bill payments, etc.) and create budgets for their spending categories (e.g., education, groceries and entertainment) – all in one view. Graphic indicators and opt-in alerts keep them informed about spending and help stick to their budgets. A yellow icon shows when the budget is close to being overspent, and a burst one shows the account is overdrawn.

Credit Card Tracking: Customers can now add eligible PNC credit cards to Virtual Wallet so they can see a complete picture of this spending in one place. The card balance, available credit and monthly spending history will appear together. Transactions will appear on the calendar function with a “payment due” reminder.

More Alerts to Avoid Mistakes and Fees: New alerts help customers keep track of their debit and credit card usage with e-mail and text messages while adding security, e.g., notification when the card is used for online purchases or overseas. They include “$pendometer,” which tracks dollars like an odometer tracks miles — monitoring total spending over a chosen timeline, and “Threshold Amount,” which flags overspending on a single transaction or the total for a day/week/month.

PNC also held on tightly to some its popular features introduced in the 2008 rollout. For instance, the product’s “Danger Day” indicator (which warns customers when they’re checking account is in danger of being overdrawn). The bank has also kept intact the Virtual Wallet for college students, which was introduced in 2009.

The Virtual Wallet is available on most major cell phones, although PNC has introduced versions specific to the Apple (Stock Quote: AAPL) iPhone and the Apple iPod Touch.

It’s an interesting concept – using customer feedback via technologies like Twitter to improve existing mobile banking applications. If PNC succeeds wildly with the Virtual Wallet – and it seems to be on such a path – expect other banks to follow suit.

Or risk being left behind.

—For more ways to save, spend, invest and borrow, visit MainStreet.com.

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