To say that I am an evangelist for mobile financial services would be an understatement, but I confess to experiencing purely personal delight at the pace of mobile financial services.
That pace is slow. I've recently had a quick African immersion and have seen that the real story on the ground is far from rosy for the current mobile financial services players. Africa is a good example because the popularity of the mobile far exceeds the
capacity to provide services. In reality, pretty well every network is incapable of providing large numbers of customers with access to the much heralded new features. Consumers report difficulties in developed nations where mobile penetration is peaking.
Nigeria is an example of where service is so poor it is hard to hold a decent conversation and many users have several phones on different networks in an effort to overcome service limitations. SMS's can sometimes take days to arrive. Difficult conditions
for SMS based transacting. Data and mobile internet appears to fare worse, so those 3G and mobile internet based solutions are really up against it.
It is all well and good living say in Norway where mobile service conditions are close to ideal, but it is totally irrelevant and unrealistic when dreaming up a real world solution in the here and now, certainly the African here and now.
While this is all good for me, many mobile financial service providers are severely limited by poor infrastructure, incompatibilities and lack of an all encompassing solution which will actually work in the real world. This handicap has probably saved the
budding industry from the next and bigger risk - security and fraud.
In the current climate there will no doubt be more mergers in the mobile industry, but I fear these will be to survive, rather than significantly extend service quality. I have serious doubts about the viability of some mobile operators, and consumers will
need little to send them stampeding in another direction at the merest sign of financial insecurity, so I don't see them leading in financial services.
This doesn't bode well for the success of mobile financial services in the short term, unless of course they can work out a way to get around the appalling service quality that exists in the highly populated developing world. Then there will be security
issues to face.
Consumers in developed nations have as I predicted, reduced their mobile spend and are increasingly opting for no frills and no contract. In the coming year many consumers may not upgrade their handset when their contract runs out and could switch to prepaid.
It will be hard to promote mobile financial services based on smart phones and premium services and most providers will be fighting for a share of a minority market. High transaction costs will not help dislodge card providers who seem hell bent on ramping
up contactless RFID.
I had a serious think about it long before we developed a strategy and am pleased to see we chose the right path, and hope we can get it out there before the less well thought out offerings scare consumers away from mobile financial services.
Of course the odd bank will dabble and achieve limited success, if not profit, but these will eventually fail facing competition from far more broad service offerings in which financial services will be just one facet.
It's not rocket science to figure out that most people would like an assistant to do their bidding and simplify the tedious tasks currently offered by financial service providers and the everyday mundane things we deal with. Trust will be a big issue - or
a non-issue, after the bank's latest efforts, you may as well trust anyone with your money. Enter community lending?
As for banks getting together and rebuilding trust, they're all keen on customers trusting them rather than the other bank so a broad system of identity, security and trust is unlikely to be delivered by banks.
Unfortunate really, because the banks need some way to 'save the world' and regain the lost trust, and securing peoples identities, reducing fraud etc is an excellent opportunity to do so. In the long term their survival is at stake and trust will add more
to the balance sheet than identity theft insurance fueled by poorly designed services.
It will take a revolution in thinking outside the bank box to reap the fabulous potential offered by mobile services, but at the moment the smart phone revolution is still a long way off for the vast majority of people.
Just like if you get the timber merchant to build you a ship, it'll have a lot of wood, getting the telco's to design a financial solution is guaranteed to involve a lot of dead wood in the shape of fees. Mobile financial services is no business for those
faint hearted or short sighted. Surviving past novelty in the long term may require more than just waiting for the world to catch up to your smart phone app. It is also unlikely that any particular bank's system will achieve a profitable scale.
Perhaps phones are already smart enough, and it's the developers who are lacking? Ubiquity is not yet to be found in a smart phone alone - not for quite some time yet.