KeyCorp and National Interbank are the latest entries in the wireless banking sweepstakes.
KeyCorp, of Cleveland, has announced that it will start a four- to six-month pilot test with 1,500 Key Bank Internet banking customers in the fourth quarter. Internet-only National Interbank, of Indianapolis, said it plans to roll out a wireless service this month.
Only a few banking companies have put their bets on digital mobile phones, pagers, and personal digital assistants to bring in retail customers.
"We believe wireless access is the future of delivery in financial services," said Patrick J. Swanick, president and chief executive officer of Cleveland-based Key Electronic Services.
J. Randall Waterfield, chief executive officer of 7,000-customer National Interbank, said that now "is a critical time to form a partnership and be very focused on how wireless will impact the financial services."
KeyCorp said that nearly half the Internet banking customers it surveyed about two months ago expressed interest in having wireless access to their accounts. And with wireless banking gaining momentum overseas, "we knew it was not too long before the wave came to the U.S.," Mr. Swanick said.
Some of KeyCorp's high-net-worth customers who move around a lot were requesting wireless services, he said.
KeyCorp is working with 724 Solutions Inc. of Toronto to let customers access real-time account information, transfer funds between accounts, pay bills, and get stock information through Internet-enabled wireless devices.
Initially, KeyCorp will promote wireless access to its 220,000 Internet banking customers; it does not plan to give away free devices to encourage people to sign up.
"At this juncture, we don't see the need to stimulate the market to that extent," Mr. Swanick said. "We'll let our customers help design the product. We're going to measure, track, and survey usage patterns, functionality, and navigation."
Paul Graning, vice president of online services at Key Electronic Services, said the corporate banking side of the company is watching to see whether wireless catches on and how to use it.
National Interbank will be the first U.S. bank to use wireless software from Edify Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. - whose parent company, Atlanta-based S1 Corp., provides the bank's Internet banking software. Three foreign banks - Japan's Daiwa Bank, Bank of Greece, and ANZ Bank in Melbourne - already use the wireless software.
National Interbank plans to add speech recognition to its wireless service when Edify makes the enhancement available. The technology will let customers quickly transfer money or leap through multiple screens by speaking simple commands, said Timothy Lerew, senior director of corporate marketing for Edify.
Mr. Waterfield, National Interbank's CEO, said it does not plan to give away wireless devices, though it is talking with some manufacturers about promotional offers.
As early providers of wireless, KeyCorp and National Interbank may face challenges that later entrants will not, said Sean O'Malley, associate principal in charge of financial services at IFsec, a New York consulting company.
The current platforms for supporting wireless have not been ironed out, Mr. O'Malley said, so early adopters may have to switch systems as the technology advances.
The number of banks offering wireless services has been growing in recent months. Last week Bank of America Corp. began a limited rollout of a wireless banking and brokerage service. About a month ago Citigroup Inc. unveiled a service in Singapore. And Bank of Montreal and its U.S. subsidiary, Harris Bank of Chicago, have had their services up and running for several months.
Mr. Waterfield said he is convinced that wireless banking will help National Interbank grow. "The best thing for us to gain new customers is to keep the current ones happy, and word-of-mouth will make a powerful marketing tool," he said.