Wearables in Banking: Google Glass

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12 September 2014
Stephen Greer
Not too long ago I was at a client event and had the pleasure of trying on Google Glass for the first time. The presentation used a simulation of how it might work to make a payment using the voice commands of the device. I found the experience to be much less intrusive or distracting as I expected, but the applications within banking were still too immature to be useful. The much-anticipated technology went public earlier this year, and the industry is already abuzz about specific applications. In October 2013, Banco Sabadell in Spain became one of the first banks to create a retail app that allowed users to locate the nearest ATM, check account balances, and use video conferencing for technical support. PrivatBank in the Ukraine released a video in July 2013 previewing some of the features it plans on releasing for its own Google Glass app (see video below). The device is receiving a lot of hype, and it’s a natural fit for functionality that hasn’t taken off through mobile, such as voice recognition or augmented reality. Financial Institutions and vendors like Fidelity,Discover, La Caixa,Wells Fargo,Westpac New Zealand, Intuit,MasterCard,and LevelUp have already voiced interest in Google Glass or other wearables. But should banks take Google Glass seriously as a possible channel? There are two ways to look at it. Google Glass, and more broadly wearables, should be taken seriously inasmuch as they COULD represent what the future of banking might look like. Wearable smart technology is indicative of the growing number of devices and channels. Whether those devices will be smart watches, Google Glass, a smart fridge, or whatever else is anyone’s guess. As banking becomes more digital, however, banks are going to be pressed to meet the customer on their terms, no matter the device. It’s the culmination of customer-centricity that’s so often talked about in the industry, and which forms the basis for most retail banking strategies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwMzg0keYOs Simply put, these devices are not yet worth the investment by banks. As with most new technologies, hype precedes real value, inflating expectations. A TNS survey from January 2014 found that, between August 2013 and January 2014, awareness of wearable technology grew in direct proportion with lack of interest, while adoption hovered around 1%. For head-mounted devices, awareness grew from 52% to 64%, while lack of interest went from 34% to 46%. At a time when many banks lack dedicated tablet or smartphone apps, it would be foolish to rush into a wearable app. Even the largest banks have struggled to keep up with number of smartphone and tablet devices that have much higher adoption. Why complicate the process by releasing or developing functionality for wearables? Banks are better served dedicating time to figuring out and overcoming the challenges of a unified customer experience, or building out existing, proven channels that are popular today. Multichannel banking will assuredly get more complicated in the future, especially as transactions move out of the branch and become more digital. Banks looking to plan for the future, one that may necessitate a Google Glass or smartwatch app, would be wise to design a multichannel strategy that is agile enough to move with the market. For many institutions, this kind of timing will allow them to stay up-to-date with the trends, while not allocating resources too quickly to devices that may become liabilities.

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