U.S. financial services companies may lag Europe in the use of mobile devices, but they sound enthusiastic about the channel - especially in detailing their ventures under way in Europe.
Citigroup Inc. is counting on mobile to drive its international expansion, said Alan Young, vice president and executive director of technology at e-Citi. Mr. Young was one of the speakers at a panel discussion presented in New York last week by Ericsson Inc., the Swedish mobile phone manufacturer.
In giving mobile devices' advantages over the Web, Mr. Young said the Internet "is far too PC-centric for our liking. It's a security headache and it's not the most reliable network. Consequently, Internet banking has a way to go."
And while handheld instruments do not lend themselves to browsing, because their viewing screens are so small, they are well suited for executing transactions, Mr. Young said.
Citigroup, he said, wants to give its customers "total access to their finances from any device, anywhere, at any time. They can use the same user ID and password across all devices."
Together with 724 Solutions Inc. of Toronto, Citigroup is making services available through mobile phones and will soon add personal digital assistants, pagers, and a not-so-mobile device: television.
Citigroup's strategy is beginning to play out around the world. In Poland, the banking company is sending messages about account balances to customers daily on their Global Standard for Mobile Communications phones. In Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, it is working to provide access to account balances, bill payments, person-to-person payments, and stock trading.
Citibank Japan, Fujitsu, and DDI, a Japanese telecommunications carrier, have started a partnership to build a mobile consumer payment system in Japan. Citi is testing a similar service in the Czech Republic.
Philip Yen, an executive vice president at Visa International, said he agreed that mobile phones have great potential as transaction facilitators. Eventually, mobile point of sale units could be used in taxis, or with electricians and plumbers, where the point of sale is not fixed, he said.
Phones with good authentication technology could even act as substitutes for credit cards, Mr. Yen said. "We're not saying the card will go away. This is just a different form."
Visa already is involved in various projects in which financial institutions are providing prepaid products to operators. In the United Kingdom it is working with Barclaycard and BT Cellnet to enable Visa Cash card reloads through mobile phones, and in Finland it is working with MeritaNordbanken and Nokia in a mobile phone pilot test.
Executives at Charles Schwab & Co. say they are encouraged by early results from its PocketBroker mobile investing service being offered in the United States and Canada.
The brokerage introduced investing over Palm and Research in Motion devices in June and over Web-enabled phones in September. It has signed thousands of users, said Jonathan Craig, vice president of global planning and business development at Schwab Wireless.
"Don't assume that this new channel only appeals to a niche segment," Mr. Craig said.
David Breitkopf contributed to this article.