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Let the iWars begin

Inspired by three events this week, I focused on apps for my panel discussion today … and got shot down in flames for talking bollards.

Harrumph.

Here are the events, the logic, the proposal and why it got shot down.

First, the events.

Event number one: my first iPhone

My Blackberry has just been switched for an iPhone. Now, not knowing the beauty of iPhone apps personally until I made the switch, I am so in love with the new phone. It’s not just the ease of everything, the thousands of choices of apps from flight and traffic alerts to currency values to imitating noises your bottom makes, it’s something else that really amazed me. The ease of setup.

You see I am used to programming things, like the PC and Blackberry. With the iPhone, you just plug it in and it automatically synchs all your contacts, calendar, email accounts, music etc. No setting up involved, it just does it. Fantastic.

Event number two: bank bloggers unite 

This week, James Gardner kicked off a debate about iPhone apps and the lack of one at HSBC. A good debate is always a great way to resolve an issue, and between James and Brett King’s entries on this, I think it’s obvious that the iPhone and iPad have some potential in banking.

Event number three: apps are for dummies

Number three event is the front page in the business section of the Straits Times today, which has headlined with an interview with Philip Yeo.  Mr. Yeo heads up the Singapore government’s innovation and enterprise
programme, Spring Singapore, and has managed to incur the wrath of Apple's fanatical followers by saying that they buy 'useless applications' for Apple's products as 'gullible customers'.

In fact, he goes one step further and calls them ‘dummies’. Tut-tut.

He did clarify later on that he meant dummies as in ABC for dummies, the books, rather than being idiots although, listening to the interview, I think he meant the latter.

Anyways, these three events inspired me to outline a vision of the future based upon this logic.

The logic is that banks are being componentised, as mentioned many times before.

As banks componentise their services into little pieces of functionality, my original proposal is that they would then offer these as widgets to customers who could build them back into any form of integrated service they wanted.

Now, my view has gone a step further with the belief that the banks will actually wrap them into apps.  I should say that my use of the word app here, is in terms of the ease-of-use of Apple apps but it does not mean that has to be Apple based. 

Just so you know I'm not an Apple fanatic, just someone who can see the ease-of-use of apps is a revolution.  So where I talk about apps, think about Google's Android phone or any other phone that makes mobile interet access easy, as these are the new generations of phone that are revolutionary.

Y'see first there were SMS and WAP-based phones; then there were mobile internet access smartphones; and now there are intelligent mobile internet phones with apps.

That's the revolution.

The first phones were mainly for just that – telephone calls.  The second wave allowed us to pull information to the phone, but push internet services were more difficult.  Push began with the Blackberry, but that was just for push email.  The iPhone revolution of apps gives us location-based push services that users download to gain such usability.

That's the revolution.

It gives us the ability to create location-based components of functionality that are relevant at the point of action.

It gives users the immediate access to pieces of functionality on demand.

It makes using the internet on the mobile as simple as touching a screen.

That's the revolution.

Now, back to banking and treasury services (note: the only reason for the focus on treasury, corporate and B2B is because that's the conference I'm attending this week).

If banks are component-based, and each bank offers different treasury apps and usability, you will soon end up with a million banking apps.  There will be a liquidity risk app, an e-invoicing app, a supply chain app, a cash management app, an accounts payable app, a foreign exchange app … and so on and so forth.

Corporates will then take these apps and select those that work best for their businesses.

They will download the apps to their corporate treasury iPads, iPhones and Androids (Google), and roll these out to their  ‘dummies’: the employees who need to look at days sales outstanding, inventory, supplies and logistics, etc.

These dummies will be used to the interface and service – a bit like folks got used to using PC’s and keyboards to access the internet in the old days – and will take to this easily.

Similarly, the users, the corporates and the banks will be in continual ‘synch’ because, just as my iPhone automatically synched with my iTunes and Outlook, it will automatically synch with my corporate treasury processes, data and content.

In other words, you end up with treasury being redefined as we move to banking-on-demand 24*7 through treasury-in-the-pocket.

The critical point in this logic is that, by making treasury app-based, corporates will be much more efficient:

  • They will be able to mix and match the apps and the app providers – banks – to best fit their business model;
  • They will be able to ensure that even the most unskilled member of staff, associate, player, employee or whatever can use them;
  • They can be easily adjusted to suit business changes over time through centralised control;
  • They can be a mix of in-house created or bank provided and operated or collegiate, open source apps; and
  • They will always be secure, up-to-date, controlled and managed in real-time 24*7.

All of the above will give the treasury ops incredible flexibility, agility and speed to adapt to changing circumstances.

Now ok, I said a lot more than that, but this was the gist of it.

So here’s the proposed treasury operations future.

The corporate treasury runs on SAP today, and will in the future probably. However, the CFO will have consolidated all treasury ops onto SAP as a single platform and determined that a small number of bank partners will be selected to integrate with it.

Those bank partners will be selected on the basis of the beauty, ease, adaptability and refreshment of their component-based bank app functionality, and its fit with the business needs of the corporation.

To me, this is a simplified future as we have turned a tipping point from proprietary bank lock in and lack of standards in the past, to very easy and flexible developments that are open sourced and simple in the future.

And here’s where I got shot down.

“Oh, but treasury is far more complex than your simple consumer view of the future.”

“Oh, but this won’t work because our processes and infrastructures are too difficult to change to this vision.”

“Oh, but technology is expensive.”

“Oh, but oh but, oh but, yea but no but yea but no …”

I was really disappointed with this reaction.  Of course, I had views on these points which have been explored on this blog before, but the disappointment is that I expected more buy-in for such a vision in visionary Asia.

Then I got it.

None of these guys use iPhones (double click image to enlarge, and note Chinese and Indian iPhone users):

Mobile-market-share

Sourced from icrossing

Note: Japan and Australia don’t count in this context as these are developed economies versus emerging markets

The thing that really sticks in the throat is that by omitting to view these developments, corporates and banks will miss the whole trend towards business simplification that such tools allow.

Luckily some banks are not so short-sighted in Asia, as the announcement of the iPad coming up for sale from July in Singapore was underscored with the news that OCBC and DBS have both developed specific apps for this service, amongst the first.

Meanwhile, and to put the record straight, HSBC and First Direct are on the case with these technologies as they are sponsors of this conference and have told me some of their plans.

Finally, and the real underline of this blog entry, is that it now explains why, when the Chair of the panel I was on asked: "Chris, what are the new things you see happening?  Do you think, for example, that we could use the iPhone for Treasury one day", he got a big laugh with that opening question.

Like Philip Yeo, these guys think the iPhone is just a toy.

It's not.

The iPhone, Android and, more importantly, the app is for business use as much as it is for consumers.

Get real.

Postnote: it's a shame but I suspected this at the time.  Apparently many folks in the audience thought that I was some Appleite with iPhomania because I kept referring to 'apps'.  To be honest, I meant apps as an interchangeable idea with widgets and gadgets to refer to the componentised bank functions. 

It actually doesn't matter that much if folks did interpret this as being Apple-based however, as the PC-age was Microsoft-based, the internet-age is Google/Firefox/Explorer-based and the mobile internet is now Apple-based.

With 100 million units shipped in just three years, a further 58 million this year, the iPhone is becoming the de facto standard for the mobile internet.

Ah but wait, what's this?

Android tops iPhone: Google's Android operating system edged out Apple's iPhone operating
system for the No. 2 spot in the U.S. consumer smartphone market in the
first quarter, according to research firm NPD Group.

Whatever.

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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