Financial institutions must ignore problems of limited bandwidth and platform confusion and begin developing mobile applications now if they are not to be left behind by their more adventurous peers.
This was the view of panellists focussing on mobile financial strategies at TowerGroup's annual Financial Services and Business Technology Conference held in Boston this week. The discussion was led by Robert Landry, vice-president of research, TowerGroup, and the panellists were Berge Ayvazian, CEO, The Yankee Group, Jacob Goldman, global head of sales and marketing, bank and finance, Ericsson, and Joseph Ferra, chief wireless officer, Fidelity Investments.
The panellists acknowledged the challenges facing US financial services players in developing a wireless channel but felt that fragmentation of devices and protocols as well as infrastructure issues was not enough to delay market entry.
Bandwidth and device adoption/ubiquity are critical factors, says Goldman, but the next essential steps are the development of service platforms and applications.
Ferra noted that Fidelity, one of the first financial institutions to offer personalised content over a wireless interface, grappled with this same question before introducing its wireless platform in 1998.
"We asked ourselves a lot of questions about whether we should wait for better and cheaper devices, wider bandwidth or better network coverage," he recalled. "The answer for me was always emphatically 'no.' We made the decision to take a leadership position and evolve with the technology. Because of that, we now have nearly 90,000 subscribers and are in a position to move to new levels, such as exploring telematics through a collaboration with OnStar."
The Yankee Group's Ayvazian emphasised that corporate America - and established financial services institutions - have a critical role to play in reaching the potential of the mobile interface. "Getting to the real value of mobile, location-related information, and embedded intelligence, is going to be a critical backdrop to other key factors like wider bandwidth and screen size," he says.
"And it will take a substantial commitment from corporate America, not a handful of start-ups, to get us there. Ultimately, there will be an increased blurring between personal and business use, where your wireless device or car will support both your mobile office and your lifestyle."
The group predicts that workline applications (mobile applications serving employees or enterprise users at financial firms) will be a key focus for financial services institutions over the next three to five years, particularly in North America. TowerGroup data shows North American financial services institutions are currently leading other world regions in the development of workline mobile applications by 8-12 months.
Landry says: "Its portability, immediacy and flexibility, offers the potential to go beyond the simple transactional or informational services common in early wireless offerings.
"Financial firms will have more control over the type of device and infrastructure deployed when implementing workline applications, as opposed to the fragmentation of the mobile retail landscape," he says.