August 01, 2012

Financial services firms have had a somewhat turbulent relationship with the Internet. In the channel's brief history, Wall Street has reversed its strategy, from initially resisting the Internet (who would want to trade online?) to completely embracing the web. Along the way, the financial services industry evolved beyond denial, to grudging acceptance and cautious adoption (offering limited online capabilities), and finally to total commitment. Today, financial organizations look to offer everything over the Internet, and they quickly are migrating those offerings to the mobile channel. It's actually quite remarkable how quickly firms have adapted and changed their strategies as customers' expectations have changed.


Meet The New TraderThere are more than 6 billion mobile phones worldwide, according to a report from the World Bank, which says the total number of mobile phones globally will soon exceed the human population. So it's no surprise that the mobile channel and the expectations it has spawned are redefining financial services. Wall Street & Technology's August digital issue examines how capital markets firms are transforming their channel strategies to meet users' anytime/anywhere demands and to seize the opportunities mobile offers.

Now the focus is squarely on mobility as consumers are showing a voracious appetite for all things mobile. Whether on a smartphone or a tablet, a company's mobile platform has quickly become the yardstick by which it is measured. Does a broker have an iPhone app? No? Then it's a laggard. Does a firm allow its portfolio managers to view real-time valuations on an iPad? If not, then it's also behind the curve.

[The Mobile Frontier: Next-Gen Apps on the Street]

The popularity and ease of use of mobile are even driving changes to companies' websites. Previously, firms tried to replicate the online desktop experience on a mobile device, but that often failed, as screen real estate on a hand-held device is scarce and full web pages don't translate well to mobile. Instead, firms now are taking best practices, functionality and even the general user experience -- the now-familiar touch and feel -- from mobile and applying them to their "traditional" websites.

In addition to the convenience of the channel, the value proposition of mobile includes easy-to-use functionality and clean and clear design, something that some cluttered financial services websites clearly could benefit from. Citi's consumer banking unit, for example, has taken the look and feel of its mobile apps and applied them to its online web portal, according to the bank's director of strategy for mobile and emerging technology, Andres Wolberg-Stok.

The biggest challenge for firms now, though, is that users -- both internal users and customers -- expect the mobile, online and even offline experiences to be synchronized. With mobile currently driving the design and functionality discussion, firms need to rethink much of their existing online offerings, as well as their offline channels. But providing a consistent user experience across channels is proving extremely difficult. A Forrester Research cross-channel study of 74 financial services company offerings gave no company a "very good/passing" grade; only three firms received a grade of "good," while 27 received an "okay" grade and 44 received either a grade of "poor" or "very poor." Ouch.

Today more than ever before, customers demand a seamless experience across all channels. But how can firms meet these expectations? With many customers anticipating that their financial services interactions all will be as simple and intuitive as navigating a mobile app, firms need to start thinking mobile first, and all other channels will follow from there.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology.