And then there were three. Lots of big news on the mobile bankingfront in the last few weeks, starting with the fact that Qualcomm-owned Firethorn is finally giving up the ghost after struggling to find its way as a carrier-centric mobile banking venture. It's been a fairly ugly ending, but you've got to give a load of credit to BTN Innovator Hall of Fame member Tripp Rackley. Firethorn-which he sold to Qualcomm in 2007 for $210 million in cash-was Rackley's second big score; he took Internet banking pioneer nFront public in 1999, and then sold it to Digital Insight in 2000 in a $439 million stock deal. No word on what Rackley's next move will be, but he spent the years between nFront and Firethorn as an entrepreneur in residence at a Georgia-based VC firm. Stay tuned.
Firethorn's demise leaves mFoundry, partners with FIS; M-Com, partners with Fiserv; and ClairMail, which caters to the big banks; as the major players in the US mobile space. Don't discount Monitise, MShift, Sybase, S1 and other smaller players, but the big three are solidifying their hold over the U.S. market.
The other big news with ramifications for mobile banking is the imminent availability of a Verizon iPhone. Pundits say a Verizon iPhone will allow Apple to regain its growth-leader status in the smartphone market, slow Android's high-paced adoption rates, and further eat at RIM's marketshare. Some predict that Verizon will add as many as 10 million iPhones to the market this year, something that banks who rolled out mobile banking iPhone apps first are sure to benefit from.
Serge Van Dam, who heads marketing for M-Com, says the arrival of a Verizon iPhone parallels iPhone availability in his native Australia. "Australia has by far the highest penetration of iPhones in the world, the reason is you can get it on any network," Van Dam says.
The Verizon iPhone is also likely to accelerate the device race. Google and RIM won't willingly hand the growth race back to Apple. Look for increased rush to get near-field communication chips integrated into non-Apple handsets, as competitors look to leapfrog Apple by offering real mobile payments capability. Also in the race is ISIS, the joint venture between the carriers, Discover, Barclays, though the sheer size of the endeavor and number of partners argues against much actual progress in 2011.
But enough about the vendors, let's talk mobile bankers. BTN will award its first ever "Mobile Banker of the Year" award in the June issue. We're looking to honor a banking executive who spearheaded a successful mobile deployment marked by innovation, high adoption rates, and customer satisfaction in the past year. Check BTN's Website for the nomination form.