That niche web thing

[Dave Birch] Reading a whole series of announcements about mobile banking and mobile payments has once again led me to note the fundamental difference between the US approach and the approach in other countries. In the US, mobile banking and payments are about moving web applications into the mobile channel. Elsewhere, the web doesn’t feature: the products and services are mobile-centric and try to use the characteristics of the mobile channel more effectively to deliver new services. I’m not saying that the US approach is worse, or unsuccessful. Far from it:

The mobile banking race is on. Bank of America has announced that, six months after rolling out its Mobile Banking service to consumers nationwide, it has reached a record 500,000 active mobile customers.

[From Payments News: Bank of America’s Mobile Banking Grows to 500,000 Active Users – November 28, 2007]

That’s not bad: they have 23 million active online customers, so a fair few of them have gone mobile web. I saw Thomas Meyer of Deutsche Bank eResearch give a good overview of the mobile banking situation at a seminar recently. As is pointed out in that research note, 72% of U.S. consumers say that they are not interested in mobile banking at all. I can see where the drag comes from. Banking just isn’t very interesting. You can give me the ability to view mini-statements on my mobile phone, sure, but to me it doesn’t seem enough: I don’t just want to look at my Internet banking through a small window, I want more mobile specific services. Proximity payments, interface with ATMs, location services, text message loads. Hold on, text message loans?

The new legislation covers loans from €200 to €75 000. It does not cover mortgages and charge cards. The lower limit was set to cover quick loans made by mobile phone text messages. This practice, which means money can be transferred to the borrower within 15 minutes, is on the rise and is particularly popular in Sweden and Estonia.

[From Instant small loans via text message « The Bankwatch]

Now that’s what I call innovation: simple text messages can get you a long way. Still, text messages are ultimately limited. To do more sophisticated (and offline) things, and in a user-friendly fashion, one suspects that there’s no way forward other than having a client application on the phone. ANZ, for example, have gone this way in Australia.

M-Banking requires a device that can install Java applications and has GPRS internet access. On its website, ANZ lists 76 phones compatible with M-Banking. After installing the application and activating their mobile accounts, users of M-Banking can view account balances and past transactions or transfer money to an account at another bank.

[From ANZ starts rush to mobile banking | Australian IT]

As an aside, I think that while (as per this discussion) we spend a lot of time talking about mobile vs. web, but I have always thought that TV would have a role to play in the future of e-commerce, and that this will be true even in mobile-centric environments. Together mobile phones and digital televisions will form the mass market online banking platform, not the web. Look at India, which has 250 million mobile subscribers and is currently adding about 7 million every month. India is becoming increasingly connected to the Internet, but desktop computers are not playing much of a role, since only the middle and upper classes can afford them. Laptops are common among the educated classes, but mobiles and TVs – both relatively cheap – will form the backbone of India online. This was brought home recently with news that Microsoft is teaming up with Reliance Communications to launch an IPTV service, which will stream TV, the Web, telephone and other content over the Internet to customers’ homes. The content is not streamed to a PC but to a set-top box. All of these new channels mean new opportunities for payments.

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