The nation's largest bank seems to have bought into a Toronto company's vision that sales of wireless communications devices will explode in the next three years.
Bank of America announced last week that next year it would begin testing software from the company, 724 Solutions Inc. The software is meant to let users to conduct personalized banking, brokerage, and electronic commerce over wireless devices such as cell phones, pagers, and 3Com Corp.'s Palm devices.
Two-year-old 724 Solutions said it expects that more financial services companies will want to offer access to banking and brokerage account information over portable devices. It has targeted that market exclusively.
Nothing is more likely to inspire customer loyalty than letting customers look at stock and brokerage accounts from wherever they want, said Greg Wolfond, founder and chief executive officer of 724 Solutions.
Bank of America, which has $614 billion of assets, is 724 Solutions' first U.S. customer. The software maker's only other announced customer is Bank of Montreal, which is already testing the software in Canada and plans to roll it out at its U.S. subsidiary, Harris Bank of Chicago, and at Bancomer of Mexico, in which it has an equity stake.
Mr. Wolfond said that one reason he is bullish on wireless is that 20% of the U.S. population use wireless telephones. When markets in Europe and Asia-Pacific hit the 20% point, wireless communications escalated, he said.
International Data Corp. has projected that the number of non-PC devices able to access the Internet will increase to 55.7 million in 2002, from 12.2 million next year.
John Sidgmore, vice chairman of MCI Worldcom, said at a press briefing in New York last week that one reason wireless communication has not yet taken off in the United States is that telephone carriers rarely bundle wireless along with Internet, local, and long distance service. Such offerings are likely to emerge in the next three years, he said.
724 Solutions' software, installed on a bank's server, will let banks deliver information "on all devices and all carriers," Mr. Wolfond said. The privately held company is also developing an electronic wallet so consumers can buy goods and services from their cell phones.
Other providers in this market include W-Trade Technologies, which offers Internet trading to financial institutions over cell phones. Fidelity Investments' InstantBroker lets customers get investment information by pager, e-mail, or personal digital assistants.
724 Solutions employs 85 people and is hiring about six a week, primarily for sales and marketing. The company is opening offices in New York and San Francisco.
Before forming 724 Solutions, Mr. Wolfond, 38, was founder and chief executive officer of Footprint Software Inc., a branch automation software company in Canada. Footprint was bought by International Business Machines Corp. in May 1995.