Tablets and Banking: A Potent Mix

by Banking.com Staff August 7, 2014   Insights

When we think about tablet computing—and we should be doing that a lot—here’s just one figure we need to absorb and fully internalize: 138 million.

No, that’s not how many tablet users there are now, or might be in the near future. It’s how many individuals will be using their tablet to do their banking by 2018.

Think about it: Just four short years ago, tablets basically didn’t exist (apologies to those with longer memories of the Newton and other attempts to create a full-on mobile computing market). Then the Apple iPad arrived, and the world changed.

Now, according to “Tablet Banking Forecast 2014 – 2018: Design and Deployment Strategies for Mass Adoption,” a new report from Javelin Research, tablets are well on their way to replacing laptops in the standard consumer environment. Adoption has officially hit the 50% mark, a stunning achievement by any measure.

Sure, there are inevitably signs of a slowdown. It was just reported that iPad sales fell by 9% in the last quarter, and the company’s revenue has also been hurt (in relative terms, of course—Apple still has big profits) by the fact that people are buying cheaper models. But on the flip side, Apple is also partnering with previous arch-nemesis IBM to sell industry-specific iPads, starting as soon as this fall. That could have a huge impact on tablet adoption and use.

But whatever happens in the big picture, the most relevant statistic may be that the number of people using tablets to do their banking has increased tenfold in just the past three years. That’s likely a growth spurt we’ve never before experienced in our industry, and we need to take note. It means undertaking a full evaluation of what we’re doing now to cater to this market, and what we should be doing instead.

Here’s the reality: We all acknowledge that there’s been a steady march toward mobile banking—the numbers are undeniable. Bank of America had 13.2 million mobile customers last year; now it’s up to 15.5 million, a 17% rise. Wells Fargo just announced that it’s got 13.1 million active mobile customers, a 22% spike over last year. It’s 23% in Chase’s case, and 21% for Citigroup.

So is that a march or rather a sprint? And if it is a sprint, are we keeping up?

Let’s also acknowledge that this is all a good thing. The practice not only helps save banks money but also offers enormous convenience to those who have accounts but might live in remote areas, and a new level of access to those who are unbanked. By any definition, this is a source of incredible new revenue and profit streams.

But change doesn’t come easy. When the Internet itself first arrived, the sheer level of opportunity caused consternation in many industries, and financial services was no exception—for online banking to succeed, many standard operating procedures had to be radically transformed, which inevitably created problems. Then the move toward company-specific applications, especially as they applied to the mobile universe, brought another transition. That was accompanied by its own high level of discomfort, thanks to the diversity of form factors and operating systems involved.

So that brings us back to the tablet. Yes, it’s one more mobile device, a fundamental component of the larger mobile universe. But is there more to it?

After all, the laptop was the original mobile device—we carried it around in a way that the desktop PC never allowed, and that changed our basic relationship with the computer. It took a while for many companies and their application developers to grasp that fact. As tablet adoption speeds forward at a breakneck pace, replacing laptop usage in the process, should we be developing strategies that are specifically for this form factor, rather than the laptop above and the smartphone below?

It may be a little early to be asking that question. But then again, looking at the numbers, maybe not.

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