This article originally appeared in the Summer Edition of Consulting Insights.
Mobile finance has gone from practically nonexistent to ubiquitous in less than ten years. That time period has seen striking changes in mobile technology and its implementation by financial services firms. At first, these firms focused on ensuring that their clients could access basic private site information and transaction capabilities on their preferred device, be it an iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry or Android smartphone. More recently, though, firms are finding new, innovative ways to use built-in smartphone capabilities for tools that do not have an online equivalent.
One obvious difference between a computer and a smartphone is the built-in microphone. While this hardware is most essential for making calls, Apple’s Siri personal assistant popularized the notion that voice commands could replace touchscreen controls.
In April 2012, E*TRADE became the first financial services firm Corporate Insight tracks to offer voice commands. Powered by Nuance, this system helps with navigation through the extensive app, including shortcuts to tools such as quotes and trades. For instance, clients can tap the small microphone icon at the top of the screen and speak commands such as “Can I get a quote on [symbol name]?” and “Buy 75 shares of [symbol name] at limit price 9 dollars and 50 cents.” The latter command would lead to the trade ticket pre-loaded with the spoken details, ready to be confirmed and submitted.
In the last few months, the idea of voice commands has seen renewed interest. USAA started a “virtual mobile assistant” pilot program in March, expanded to all clients in April. Shortly after, GEICO added Voice Assistance personified as “Lily.” Both firms’ capabilities are similar to E*TRADE even though the actual commands naturally vary between brokerages and insurers. For example, these apps offer easy access to services such as bill pay and auto quotes.
Although only a few firms have adopted voice controls, the next generation of this technology may already be on the horizon. IBM’s Watson supercomputer, best-known for dominating Jeopardy! champions, has already been applied in other fields such as health care. Next, IBM plans to use it to power client companies’ phone, online and mobile customer service. According to Forbes, early prospects for this technology include international banks such as Australia’s ANZ Bank and Royal Bank of Canada.
Another feature of the modern smartphone that has caught firms’ attention is the camera. The most familiar implementation of camera phone technology is mobile check deposit. In the last six months, Discover and KeyBank both added the capability, and USAA expanded its Deposit@Mobile capability to be able to scan and upload multiple checks in one transaction. Mobile check deposit is currently available from 83% of the banks Corporate Insight tracks, as well as several investment firms.
Firms are also experimenting with camera integration in a wide variety of other ways. Powerful tools can retrieve details that clients would otherwise have to type in manually on the device’s touchscreen. Recent examples illustrate the breadth of possibilities a camera phone offers.
It’s been over a year since E*TRADE and TD Ameritrade added the ability to scan a barcode during everyday shopping to find a quote for the parent company. More recently, American Express and Chase offered their small business card holders receipt capture, storage and organization capabilities through their apps. USAA now uses camera capabilities to expedite account opening. Eligible clients can use an image of a blank check to pre-fill initial deposit information, or a driver’s license photo to load personal information.
In March, U.S. Bank partnered with Mitek Systems to become the first firm to offer Mobile Photo Bill Pay. The new service automatically extracts relevant information from a picture of a paper bill and auto-populates the fields required to make a mobile payment. To date no additional firms have added similar capabilities, but those who would like to can turn to the established third-party provider instead of designing it from scratch.
Clearly, mobile finance apps can be much more than just simplified versions of the firm’s private site. According to Corporate Insight’s customer surveys, basic account and market information remains a priority for clients, and financial services firms must make sure their mobile platforms present this data effectively. However, firms can make their mobile apps stand out by finding creative new ways to use everything the modern smartphone has to offer.
For more information on this year’s most interesting and noteworthy mobile finance trends, please view our Mobile Finance: 2013 Trends & Innovations presentation by clicking here.