The Wearable Bank: A New Frontier for Banking Technology

As experience designers, we’re always on the verge of giving customers more of what they want across physical and digital experiences.

wearable bank

At the dawn of the on-demand banking age in the early 1900’s, customers enjoyed the convenience of the first drive-up tellers. By the 1980’s, technology advanced to automated ATMs that gave us access to cash on-the-go. In the 1990’s, debit cards and internet kiosks allowed us to check our bank balance without going through teller lines.

Today, we’re closer than ever to wearing a full branch experience

While technology will always be ahead of traditional banking environments, implementation doesn’t happen overnight. That goes for the Apple Watch, which bankers and experience designers are diligently testing in order to fit practical banking behaviors that complement both context, content, and environment. 

When it comes to wearables, bankers should know that information doesn’t flow the same way as it does on tablets and smartphones.

Instead of purposely seeking out information, information travels to the user based on contextual queues like location, time of day, and activity. An updated account balance, news of a recent deposit or withdrawal, or alerts regarding suspicious activity are all ‘moments’ that make it to wearable devices without the user’s prompting.

This new context-driven, customizable, and mobile method of banking has the power to change the relationship customers have with their banks, but banks should understand that a new digital content strategy is in order to ensure right time, right place messaging.

Wearable technology won’t replace bank branches, but it will complement it

With the rise of wearable heart monitors and activity trackers like FitBit, the health and fitness industry has ushered in an era of on-demand access to personal information, while minimizing the need for face-to-face time in a physical location. Wearable technology in healthcare now means video conferencing with a doctor halfway across the world, or access to personal (and paperless) medical records. 

This movement of moments is opening up a whole new avenue for banks, especially for branchless banks like our client BankMobile. Branchless banks have a particularly strong strategic advantage in this space. By attracting mobile-first customers who enjoy banking independent of branch experiences, the brand will find a natural evolution into the type of wearable devices that users are already familiar with. Video conferencing, remote financial advising, and on-demand customer service all mean that new opportunities of connecting with customers where and how it’s most comfortable to them are just around the corner.

As demand for wearable banking technology rises, what does that mean for the trust that comes from more traditional banking experiences?

Banks will reinvent what trust looks and feels like to their customers

To instill trust in the age of wearable devices, it might look like the removal of tedious logins and the introduction of ‘smart’ branches that recognize customers instantly by way of their devices. Gone are the days of cumbersome customer communication.

One thing remains certain, however: security is defined by how well private information is kept private. No matter how advanced technology becomes for the banking industry, security is at the core of everything, and banks must become fluent in what security looks like across a growing ecosystem of new and more personal devices.

Wearables will require banks to confront the reality of customer age differences

The irony of emerging technology is that younger generations are influencing the way banks interact with people, but older generations have more money to spend on big-ticket gadgetry. As younger age groups adopt the new model of wearable banking, they’ll also be communicating their preferences to banks, which will need to listen and adapt accordingly. At the same time, banks will need to be careful not to turn a blind eye to its older customer base, which will continue to rely on branches and paper communication. Wearable technology presents an interesting case of one foot in the present, and one foot in the future – something we haven’t seen in banking before.

Wearable technology will give banks access to a new array of customer insights that inform when, where, and how customers want to bank

Bankers must be aware that “spray and pray” strategies, especially when it comes to emerging technology, are not really strategic at all. It’s not enough to introduce a technology. It must meet customers and users where they already are, and help them to get where they want to be.

Banks must be willing to think like technology companies and act like startups

Wearable technology offers access to a feedback loop of customer insights that reveal more about their lifestyle and interactions with other apps, services, and technology. Embracing technology crossover, for instance, is one key method of achieving this. Delivering statement updates to a customer’s Apple Watch or allowing them to make transactions with voice commands while driving are two examples of how banking can trickle into the everyday interactions customers are already used to, without being an intrusive presence.

Wearable devices are joining smartphones and tablets in the next wave of mobile banking technology

Over the next few years, wearables will transition from “whiz bang” technology to the “new normal”. Just as smartphones very quickly became an all-in-one device for just about everything, wearables will carry the torch and extend the possibilities of what we can do. Now is the time for banks to become familiar with what wearables mean for their customer experience. 

The future is bright for wearable devices, but only if we train our eyes to see the opportunity.

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