Are Wearables Just a Bad Sequel to the Smartphone? Part Two

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Editor's Note: In part two of our blog series discussing smartwatches, we dig deeper into the digital banking piece specifically. Financial institutions have a great opportunity to take the smartwatch from novelty to necessity but it's going to take a different perspective from developers, just like it did for the smartphone.

Part one of this two installment blog series touched on the recent decline in the adoption of fitness trackers and asked if this trend was an indication of a flawed approach to the role of wearables in general, especially concerning smartwatches. Part two expands on this theme and discusses if banking could make the smartwatch a best of breed channel for delivering contextual actions and advice. If so, does this mean that bankers must be "cool?" Let's hope not.

Bankers and the Cool Factor

The statement that the word "banker" is almost never preceded by the word "cool" is seldom seen as controversial, even among those who apply the trade. Banking, the activity that bankers are tasked to provide, is something few people look forward to doing. It is a necessity for most. There are accounts to be opened, funded and checked regularly. There are people, companies, and organizations to be paid or funded. If we are fortunate, there is a mortgage, car loans, college savings accounts, and even small businesses to fund. Banking is a means to an end and not the end in itself. It is not something that anyone considers "cool."

This means that tools and services that help make banking easier to do will become invaluable to those who regularly have to endeavor in such. Mobile banking is a good example of how a technology - the smartphone- has changed how banking is done. Consumers can now do their banking whenever and wherever they like. However, for the most part, the consumer is the one who has to "make it happen;" i.e., open an app to check a balance, find an ATM, pay a bill, et al. This is where the smartwatch has the potential to make its mark as an example of how one device can offset the limitations of the other sufficiently enough to make it worthwhile for consumers to adopt it. 

The specifics about what this means are still not clear, at least to me. I have suspicions that contextual actions might be an area where the limitations of the smartphone could be addressed with a smartwatch (more on that below). Banking would be an ideal area in which to exploit such enhancements but it seems unlikely that it will happen suddenly, as most financial institutions are quite comfortable with the concept of consumers having to "ask" (or query an app) when they need something from their bank or credit union. Bankers are used to having their customers or members come to them rather than vice versa. This mindset is changing at some of the largest banks and credit unions but the same sort of progress has not been made among regional and midsize institutions.

Back to the Future

Let's assume for a moment that my financial institution has decided it does want to be proactive in deepening my relationship to it. Let's assume one of the ways they want to do this is through interactive push notifications that let me know my card may have been compromised or I need to approve a transfer for my small business scheduled by my office manager or that I have a bill that is due today or an account balance that is too low, then the smartphone may be the better than a letter via snail mail or even an email but it is far from perfect. I have to be near my smartphone and it has to be near me. Alerts must be enabled to make a sound that I will associate with an alert from my bank and differentiate it from all of the other sounds I have selected for other alerts I have set. Then I have to search for my phone, open it by utilizing my passcode or finger print and find the messaging application - among the fifty different apps I have installed - then open it, read the alert and respond accordingly. Not exactly a slam dunk when someone's finances may be at stake, right? 

However, a smartwatch would be on me and nearly impossible not to hear - plus I can set it to alert me with a haptic feature so I know there is something requiring my attention - making the wearables location on my wrist an opportunity for it to become very useful as a tool that makes it easy for me to act in a timely way (pun intended) when it is important to do so as concerns my money and matters related to it, as well as in other areas of my life when such responsiveness is required. However, to accomplish this, there is another shift in mindset that must be changed. Those who dream up the next big thing are going to have to abandon the approach of cluttering the smartwatch with apps that amount to a smartphone redux.

The preponderance of what we have seen from the development community for the smartphone thus far is precisely that. The smartphone required a wholly different mindset about the user interface and experience. There has been none of that with the smartwatch. It has rather been like a poorly made sequel. Can that shift in mindset be achieved in some of the areas where making such gains could be a game changer?