Bankers, take note; Wearable computing is becoming more of a reality.
And it's not just Google's foray into wearable, Glass (though it is also rumored to be in the late stages of developing a smart watch). Several vendors — including Recon Instruments — are already producing wearables at lower costs for the mass market today.
The speed at which these innovations are making their way to bank customers — either already or in the beginning of next year — warrants attention.
"You start thinking about what that technology can mean for financial services," says Bradley Leimer, who leads digital channel strategy for Northern California-based Mechanics Bank. "It's really changing and shifting the conversation with our future customers that are going to be leveraging this type of technology for not just financial services but everything they do."
Leimer likened wearables to the iPhone, which has changed the way banks interact with people. "[Wearable computing] is really changing the dynamic of the expectation for consumers."
Both Leimer and Jim Marous, a senior vice president of corporate development at digital direct marketing agency New Control, took part in a talk about the new device type in late October at the ATM, Debit and Prepaid Forum in Las Vegas.
(Full disclosure: I moderated that panel.)
Admittedly, when attendees were solicited for opinions on wearable computing, few raised their hands to signify they thought it would take off in financial services.
The technology is far from proven. Few have access to the category's currently most popular piece (Google Glass). And even fewer companies have built software aimed specifically at wearable users.
But that doesn't mean bankers can just sit this one out.
"You need to place bets in the payments roulette," says Marous, who also authors the Bank Marketing Strategy blog, apropo because of nearby casino. "If you don't put some moderate bet, either in money or time, you are falling behind."
Iindeed, already both banks and payment giants are developing software for these new devices.
"Right now innovation in the banking industry is lackluster at best," says Marous. "There are a lot of priorities that are just standing still."
Perhaps sensing the shuddering from bankers in the audience, he assured that the mistakes that banks and others make early on with Glass and other wearable devices will help inform innovation later on.
Marous is right, banks are behind, says Leimer.
He goes on to estimate that less than a quarter of banks are developing specialized software (apps) for mobile devices. "We need to move beyond that," he says, emphatically.
There is nothing stopping banks and even credit unions from partnering with design and software development shops in order to create the type of software that could push them past their (larger) rivals.
"We are spending so much time developing very, very minimal mobile platforms that just allow you to look at transactions," says Leimer. "Just keeping up with the Jones. But we are not differentiating ourselves at that level, so we can more than compete."
That could be the seed of a potentially smart move for the prepaid card company, given the success Disney is already having with its MagicBand system — which it has recently employed at its theme parks.
Leimer chimes in.
"The coolest thing about that is Mickey knows your name," he says.
Imagine: a teller knowing your customer's name whenever they walk into a branch, even if that person rarely does.