Though the current impact of the iPad on financial services may be more incremental than monumental, financial institutions would be wise to keep it and similar touch-screen tablet devices on their radar.
Advances in connectivity, mobility and user interfaces embodied in these devices are creating possibilities for how financial products may be delivered, adopted and accessed — making touch-screen tablets part of a larger trend that is remaking financial services.
Early users gained access to the Internet intermittently through dial-up connections. Today, people are pervasively connected. Always-on connectivity lets people interact with services and store their data "in the cloud" rather than locally, facilitating remote management of our financial lives.
Because tablets offer uninterrupted Internet access, people can use them to bank pretty much anywhere. This ever-present connectivity, combined with screen size, touch capabilities and processing power, may eventually make the iPad the world's best mobile banking platform.
Though these attributes do position the iPad to become a banking game changer, it is consumers' evolving mind-sets that will determine the true impact of "touch banking." As with most technologies, changes in consumer behavior will be incremental. People who bank online will continue that behavior, and the iPad will initially be just another access option. For the most part, banking on the iPad will initially take place through the Web browser rather than through custom mobile applications.
Consumer perceptions of security are another important consideration.
If users think of tablet devices as being as secure as their personal computers, then they will use them for banking. If not, concerns will arise.
Tablets will be used by many as a "lean back" device, intended for consumption of information and entertainment. Others will look at them as a "lean forward" device, one that can be used to create content such as presentations, documents and spreadsheets.
For the first group, providing online banking services through your existing site may be more than sufficient. For the second, custom applications that provide not only banking services but also financial planning and goal tracking may be more useful.
How consumer use patterns solidify during the coming months will be worth close attention because these patterns will have a profound influence on the delivery of financial services via the iPad and other tablets.
Independent of the method by which banking services are delivered through the device, the key to success will be, as always, user-centered design. People can personalize their experiences on today's iPhone or Google Android-powered phones without a degree in software engineering. With connected application stores, these devices have become platforms for financial institutions to facilitate commerce, deliver customer service or market and sell additional financial products.
In a similar way, banking services delivered via touch-screen-enabled tablets should take advantage of their unique attributes to empower users to accomplish tasks, not just be first to market with "me-too" solutions.
When it comes to any such solution, banks should always keep consumers' needs, mind-sets and emerging use patterns in mind. Doing so will let banks evaluate the potential return on investment for banking services designed for the iPad and other tablets, while delivering services people will actually use and when they are ready to use them.