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Mobile banking will soon become wearable banking

By Evan Wade / March 7, 2014

Mobile banking will soon become wearable banking

The upcoming transition from mobile banking to wearable banking doesn’t seem all that remarkable on its face. We’ve been able to check balances, transfer money and even make deposits via our smartphones and tablets for a long time now. Doing the same stuff with a pair of glasses will be cool, but will it really be that much different?

The answer is (tentatively) yes. Google Glass and other nose-mounted smart devices offer several features that fit hand-in-glove with the needs of mobile banking customers. A lot of banks — the smart ones, anyway — will also put an early focus on the devices due to the industry’s progressive attitude towards web-based self-service options, which could result in some cool new features not yet seen on other computing devices. As hardware improves and banks get more chances to learn exactly how their customers use wearables to conduct transactions, things will get even better.

The expanded standard experience

Standard wearable banking features alone should be a big draw for wearable users. While traditional mobile banking is quite useful, there’s still a pretty large disconnect between some institutions’ mobile features and their full browser counterparts. Wearables, on the other hand, will be able to copy mobile banking point-for-point and offer quick, easy browsing without sacrificing functionality.

However, banks and other businesses with big wearable plans should make sure their initial designs don’t lose basic functionality before they add a bunch of Glass-specific features into their designs. Add-ons designed to take advantage of a new form factor are great and all, but when it comes to banking, people are worried about having safe and speedy access to their account above all else.

…and the other features

As odd as it is to praise wearables for their contributions to the world of personal digital security, that’s exactly what they have the chance to do in the banking world. If you’re surrounded by nosy curious types who like to sneak glances at your screen — a big enough problem that “privacy” screen protectors continue to sell despite their tendency to degrade touchscreen performance — wearables could make accessing your account around others a less stressful situation.

Another big feature to come out of wearable banking will probably be the devices’ scanning capabilities. Companies are already experimenting with facial-scanning software as a proof of concept, according to a Planet Biometrics article. While the banking industry may not be the sole reason hardware manufacturers are tinkering around with this modern identification method, there’s no doubt that tellers will find it useful. Bank employees wearing Google Glass could identify approaching customers and pull up their information just by looking at them.

This same type of security feature could be implemented into phones, tablets or smartwatches, giving users access to their bank accounts once their identity has been verified via camera. To add further validity to these claims, Google recently acquired patents for an eye-tracking “gesture” and full-on eye-scanning technology last year, according to Mashable and SEO by the Sea.

Mobile banking outside the screen

Mobile payments could also play into the features wearables offer. The term “wearable” doesn’t just mean products like Glass. Smart watches are quickly becoming a hot commodity on the tech scene, and any smart device that close to the user’s hand would have huge potential as a digital wallet.

Google has a bullish attitude towards mobile devices as physical payment tools. The Nexus 5 comes with Google Wallet preinstalled, and the launch of Android 4.4 KitKat allows devs to make alternative wallet apps on any NFC-enabled device. If retailers buy into the trend, it’s almost certain we’ll see mobile payment become a standard wearable feature within a hardware cycle or two.

Mobile beacons, a topic we’ve covered quite a few times in the past, could help bridge the gap between mobile apps and brick-and-mortar locations. The extra privacy of smartglasses could allow users to see their balances and other account info immediately upon entering a bank or walking near an ATM with a corresponding beacon. Really, the same scene could play out anywhere banks are able to install these discrete transmitters: car lots, shopping malls . . . the list goes on.

Early adopters

It’s no surprise that several banks are getting in on the wearables craze well before it officially kicks off. They are financial institutions, after all. While developing and maintaining apps of this complexity can be quite expensive, especially for new form factors, they make up for it by allowing bankers to do their job more efficiently. Encouraging customers to handle their requests via mobile device is mutually beneficial: The customer saves time and the bank saves cash.

As we previously mentioned, Spanish bank Banco Sabadell was the first financial institution to offer a Glass app. Several more banks have joined in since then, and you can bet the list of businesses and supported hardware will only grow as the number of wearables on the market expands.

So far, the feature list is pretty small (and similar) across branches. Users can check accounts, look for ATMs and, in Banco Sabadell’s case, initiate a video conference with a dedicated 24/7 support center. As with the number of banks supporting apps, you can expect the amount of features the average wearable app carries to balloon as the trend fully takes hold. We wouldn’t expect anything less from the industry that created mobile check deposits, one of the coolest applications of smartphone tech in recent history.

Banking: mobile and wearable

Banks already have the experience of creating and optimizing mobile apps, making a wearable launch significantly easier to undertake. Do we expect every local credit union to offer a full suite of mobile products? Probably not, but you can bet the industry leaders are planning a full-scale entry when Glass launches and the floodgates open.

It’ll also take a while for everything to come together. Mobile payments still aren’t a huge part of the average smartphone experience. When that changes — and it will — expect more and more institutions to start offering compatible services. The same can be said for beacons and other location-specific technology.

Just like smartphones and mobile banking, it won’t be long until wearable apps are an unofficial requirement for any respectable financial institution. It’s sink or swim, and banks without the foresight to plan for the trend will start to suffer the consequences.

Learn more about mobile devices in the banking industry with the mCommerce Trend Report.