Title: Chief Wireless Officer

Institution: Fidelity

Latest innovation: Fidelity Anywhere

 

Joseph Ferra rattled off the same three words - discoverability...accessibility...and usability...at least three separate times during a twenty-minute phone conversation, much like a coach whittling a complex playbook to its bare essentials.

The game in this case, wireless financial management, is only in its opening minutes as institutions and users alike sift through myriad device and tech options available in the nascent channel. Fidelity's chief wireless officer has spent the past year expanding usability, flexibility and device ubiquity to cement Fidelity Anywhere's strategy to claim early mover advantage. It's a focus that's helped the product - which enables wireless access to personalized investment information and trading via a wide range of mobile devices, including Blackberrys, PDAs, iPhones, Palm Pre and Google's Android operating system - enjoy triple digit growth across trades, logins and users over the past two years.

To sustain that success, Ferra recently help lead a migration from browser detection to device detection, which allows the institution to identify what type of mobile device a consumer is using to tailor what Fidelity puts on the screen. "[Browser detection] may not sound like much, but you get to know the screen size, keyboard layout," he says. "You can do certain things with that knowledge, such as pixel count and screen appearance, and rendering the appropriate charting capabilities."

Fidelity Anywhere's drawing board includes adopting a 4G network, which would improve the "DSL" speed of the 3G network to "cable" speed. "You can then take advantage of multi media, multi modal voice and data. And you can get into electronic compass [advanced GPS technology]. So there would be a lot more capability on the device," Ferra says.

Ferra's strategy to achieve "discoverability," "Accessibility" and "usability" also depends on making a user 's experience on a mobile device consistent or superior to what consumers enjoy across mobile commerce verticals.

"Consumers look to their experience outside of financial services and measure against what you're offering. If consumers are using Google Mobile [which is available on iPhone, Blackberry, Nokia and a number of other devices] the expectation is you will be a good as them in terms of user experience," says Matt Bienfang, a senior research director at TowerGroup.

That's not lost on Ferra, which is why Fidelity stresses wide accessibility among mobile devices as a means to gain adoption.

"The wireless industry is fragmented and there are lots of choices. Not everyone will use the same device," says Ferra, adding his background in computer science (a BS in accounting and computer science form Boston College in addition to taxation studies at Pace University) and as a systems auditor (he joined Fidelity in 1990 as a manager in the operations auditing and analysis group) has given him a baseline to navigate the complex ecosystem that's involved in today's development of wireless. "You have to have in place measuring capabilities that allow you to understand everything you want to know...what type of device are people using? Over what network? What frequency?"

Fidelity will have to continue to innovate to remain competitive in a wireless investment space that's filled with well-heeled competitors, including E*Trade Mobile Pro, which is available for Blackberry or iPhone; TD Ameritrade, which has apps for iPhone, Blackberry and mobile phones supporting Java applications; and Schwab, which has apps for Blackberrys, smart phones and PDAs.

The battle among these firms is over early adopters now, but will likely broaden in scope in the coming years to other segments, heightening the importance of usability. David Schehr, a research director at Gartner, says the current market is still pretty small for wireless broker transactions - about three percent of the overall automated trading market. "This is like talking about online banking in the mid-90s," he says. "There's a tech adoption curve, the number of people that are doing it now aren't the number who would be doing it in ten years."

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