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06 January 2012

EFMA advises European bankers to bet little and often

You could breathe a gentle sigh of relief at this year's EFMA mobile bank­ing and payments conference. For once the talk was full of energy and enthu­siasm for the future of financial services - all too rare these days where discussion of the future of the eurozone and speculation of sovereign default has dominated the head­lines for much of the last three years.

What's noticeable about "the mobile revo­lution" this time round, however, is a healthy dose of realism - hardly surprising, given the rather more straitened position of the finan­cial sector. The catchphrase for the two days of the conference, led by the McKinsey con­sultants who had carried out a regional sur­vey of mobile banking provision, was "small bets" - spread what money your organisa­tion has around a variety of mobile banking and payments solutions - from peer-to-peer payments to apps to full-blown NFC, instead of one large investment in a technology, application or service that remains largely unproven, untested by consumers and risks being discarded shortly after launch.

This approach was advocated by David Urbano of Spain's La Caixa, largely viewed as a success story in terms of mobile payments and a highlight of the two-day conference. Talking to him at the end of the conference, his view that spending large amounts of" money on an app that might never be used is all too easy, and that it is much better instead to collaborate with another partner to reduce the risk, was widely shared and appreciated. There is no doubt of the challenge ahead for the banking industry. The "mobile gen­eration", much like the "Facebook genera­tion" before it, is something that bankers struggle to get. Whether this is really about technology or simpiy the continuing chal­lenge of understanding younger customers and getting them interested about financial services is unclear.

What it does mean, however, is that banks have to think very carefully about the objec­tives of their mobile activities if they are to avoid the app trap - downloaded, used once, then buried among a pile of other apps and forgotten. The conference was full of innova­tive examples of how to drive use of mobile banking and payments services - from Rovio's rather ugly term "game-ification" -the concept of using games as a means of getting customers to use services, to more anthropological methods to understand how customers live and use their phones, in the case of emerging markets specialist Frog Design.

There's no doubt that content remains king when it comes to mobile internet, much in the same way as it was with the birth of the internet a decade ago. Nor is there any doubt about the opportunities open to institutions with the right approach to help drive aware­ness and usage of their mobile services and, in the process, deepen the connection with customers and reposition their brand. At this early stage, the business case is a little trickier-of course, but banks that combine a cautious approach to investment with a relevant con­tent strategy should win. In a period of high joblessness, particularly among younger consumers, the opportunity should be obvi­ous - how better to prove relevance than with products and services that help custom­ers get more out of their money? 

Payments Card & Mobile  November | December 2011