Bank of Montreal had no problem finding participants for Canada's first pilot test to deliver banking and brokerage services over wireless devices, such as mobile phones and palm pilots.
A request on a Web site for volunteers drew "an overwhelming response" of 100,000 hits, said Frank Techar, senior vice president of small-business banking at $144.3 billion-asset Bank of Montreal.
The bank chose more than 400 of its retail, small-business, brokerage, and Internet banking customers to participate. All already had mobile phones and palm pilots. "We found a test group that was willing and enabled with devices," Mr. Techar said.
The volunteers, who were officially enrolled Friday, can use the Veev service to bank on-line, view account balances and transaction histories, pay bills, transfer funds between accounts, request credit card advances, and order checks. Access, which is gained through a single user identification and password, is secured using 128-bit encryption from Certicom Corp.
Through Bank of Montreal's brokerage subsidiary, Nesbitt Burns, customers can request stock, mutual fund and index quotes, view stock charts and personal investment portfolios, create and receive alerts based on specific price targets, and place orders to buy and sell securities.
Initially, Bank of Montreal will aim Veev at technology-savvy early adopters, typically in the 25 to 55 age group. "We're communicating the youthfulness of the product," Mr. Techar said.
It has "fun" features, he said, including daily horoscopes, news from Reuters, sports, weather forecasts, and lottery results. It also will be expanded to include on-line shopping.
"We really like the robustness of the service," Mr. Techar said. "It combines a number of pieces that no one else has at this point."
Others are getting into the act. Royal Bank of Canada announced May 7 that it intends to pilot and launch wireless banking services by the end of the year.
"In the long term these types of services are likely to be ubiquitous," said Don Blue, senior vice president of electronic commerce at Royal Bank Financial Group.
Customers of Microcell Solutions Inc., Canada's provider of the Fido personal communications service, will be able to access Royal Bank's services directly from the display of their Fido handsets.
Customers could view bank and credit card account balances and transactions, obtain financial information, pay bills, and transfer money between accounts. Access to brokerage services will be offered in the next phase.
Microcell is the only one of the four telephone providers in Canada that uses the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard. It will offer a digital smart-card enabled phone.
"GSM allows a roaming capability, and the design of the GSM system allows the smart card to be used anywhere," said Miro Forest, president of Forest Telecom Consultants in Toronto. This contrasts with Bank of Montreal's software-based model.
Microcell's phone can work on 40 networks where it has roaming agreements. Royal Bank has a presence in 36 countries. "In time, our customers could use the phones in other countries," Mr. Blue said.
Mr. Forest said both banks recognized a market opportunity at the same time, "but launched different products for the same function-convenience for customers."
He said he thinks the smart card approach is less flexible than software configured devices. "My own feeling is that the software-driven palm pilot is likely to be the winner in North America. But if you have a large GSM population, like you have in Europe, then that's a slam dunk reason to use it there."
In December, Bank of America became the first U.S. bank to announce plans for wireless banking.
Users of the Palm V11 from Palm Computing Inc., a 3Com Corp. company, will be able to gain access to account information through a wireless connection to Bank of America's Web site. The Palm Pilot V11 will have a limited launch in New York this month, with national rollout in the fall.
"We think wireless is one of the ways a valued segment of our customer base is going to want to access us," said Michael DeVico, executive vice president of business solutions at Bank of America's strategic technology and integrated payments services group.
Bank of America will initially release the palm pilot to its Internet banking customers in California. "They will be able to check their checking and savings accounts, and we will enable them to do additional services over time," Mr. DeVico said.
Mr. DeVico acknowledged that the Canadian banks are ahead of their U.S. counterparts, but he noted: "I think from a technology and strategic perspective, United States banks are considering the same kind of things. We're looking to apply this technology and channel to customers who value it."
Bank of Montreal, which is represented in the United States through Harris Bank of Chicago, is "busily trying to find our way into the United States" with its service, Mr. Techar said. This would mean linking with a U.S. digital network, he said.
Bank of Montreal has been working on its Canadian offering for the past year with 724 Solutions Inc. of Toronto and Bell Mobility, the wireless division of Bell Canada. Bell Mobility is contributing free air time during the 90-day trial.
Greg Wolfond, chairman and chief executive officer of 724 Solutions, said other financial services companies would announce their 724 wireless offerings shortly.