SAN FRANCISCO — Most of us will not consider our bank to be a hotbed of innovation. But banks are toying with various open-source projects and are rapidly developing ways to help you manage and share money from a smartphone.
“For an industry that has been tarred with the brush of being old-fashioned, banks have realized they need to innovate fast and are galloping ahead,” said Mark Curtis, chief client officer for Fjord, onstage today at VentureBeat’s MobileBeat 2013 conference.
Traditional banks like American Express and Wells Fargo are constantly adding new features to their mobile apps and are hiring “digital innovation” teams. But one of the most fascinating examples of forward thinking comes from Turkey, where the country’s second largest bank, Garanti Bank, is adopting a “mobile first” approach.
Garanti is in a unique position as it is targeting a population of young and hyper-connected smartphone owners. Approximately 65 percent of Turkey’s population is under the age of 24.
Deniz Güven, Garanti’s senior vice president of digital channels, demonstrated some examples of how the bank is reaching these consumers at MobileBeat 2013.
Those with the Garanti mobile app can send money to their Facebook or Foursquare friends whether they have Garanti accounts or not. In addition, customers can view a snapshot of their accounts without bothering to log in. QR codes are on receipts, and Garanti customers can scan them to get a snapshot of a payment.
The bank is open to partnerships with developers, who have ideas for innovative financial services apps.
“What we see in Turkey is that the idea of a bank as a service — [in future] this will be an important idea for all financial institutions,” Güven said.
In the U.S., the largest banks are experimenting with new technologies but are taking a more cautious approach.
Brian Pearce, Wells Fargo’s senior vice president of mobile and digital innovation, said the firm is also “exploring the bank open API idea very seriously.”
Pearce said they are working with third-party developers so that consumers can securely store their financial information in other apps. For instance, mobile customers can track the value of their house in real time.
Likewise, American Express strategy and innovation lead Joanna Lambert is working with a team of in-house designers to research consumer needs.
After interviewing thousands of people around the U.S., Lambert said she sees opportunities to disrupt financial “infrastructure” by streamlining the process of billing and other accounting services.
Lambert said she is also excited about opportunities in mobile as customers are walking into branches with “a channel in their pocket.” She added, “We are looking at ways to create new sales experiences” for customers logged in to the American Express app on a mobile device.
Lambert pointed out that the regulatory environment is still very challenging for banks and developers in this space. For disruptive newcomers, security is the biggest issue, as customers need to feel that their money is completely safe.
“You really need to trust the brand to mange your data,” said Lambert. “You need to know that they’ll manage your money effectively.”