Partnerships offer banks an important degree of flexibility, says Brad Adrian, senior research analyst for Gartner Financial Services. "If (banks) can manage this process through partners, as opposed to simply trying to create everything from within their own organizations, they are going to be able to tweak some things and make changes on the fly."

This group effort among banks, software companies and carriers is an important trend, TowerGroup's Virginia Philipp says. "I think we'll see more and more (partnerships), as we have seen in Europe, and that's probably the way that adoption will be driven in the next few years."

Take iAnywhere Solutions, a subsidiary of Sybase Inc., based in Emeryville, CA. It's teaming with Swedbank, one of Sweden's largest, along with Ericsson, to develop mobile banking applications for Ericsson's R380 smart phone. Swedbank will supply high-end customers with models of the R380, a combination PDA/phone embedded with iAnywhere's technology. Swedbank has established mobile banking applications, but the company is working with iAnywhere to address coverage concerns, says Brian Vink, iAnywhere's vice president and general manager. The decision to partner with Ericsson involves the R380's impressive capabilities, he says.

Although she views partnering as vital, Philipp cautions banks to maintain control over customer relationships. "Obviously," she says, "(financial institutions) have to rely on the carriers for infrastructure, but banks have to be very careful about not relying on the carriers for anything but infrastructure."

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