Companies are lagging behind consumers in their adoption of mobile financial services (FS) and mobile working practices, believes Sirpa Nordlund, the executive director of Mobey Forum, but this situation will not carry on for much longer. The benefits of mobile working, payments and technology will eventually spread to businesses and to the corporate banking world.
Oh, how we love our toys. As consumers, I believe we are now utterly sold on the benefits of mobility. Mobile devices, apps and services have pervaded every aspect of our lives including, of course, how we pay for goods and manage our money. In the retail banking world and payments arena the mobile FS channel of the future is already beginning to take shape [many of the latest developments can be seen in the Bobsguide show report on the 2013 Mobile World Congress - Ed]. But in the workplace, especially in the conservative world of corporate banking and finance, things aren’t quite so far advanced. Granted, most of us bring our beloved devices into the office and, if we’re lucky, connect them to the corporate WiFi and email server. But many corporates still restrict executive mobility by insisting that only desktop PCs may be used to access company confidential applications and databases. This means that for essential and urgent business actions, such as approving wire transfer payments, for example, smartphones and tablets remain strictly off limits.
Imposing these restrictions is the mobile equivalent of downgrading your desktop and I believe it is having an obvious negative impact on business efficiency. Internal pressure from executives is also mounting; not only do they want mobility, they also want to select their device, or use their own in order to do the work. It therefore seems that the culture of bring your own device (BYOD) is here to stay, so instead of railing against the trend corporates and their IT departments should consider BYOD as an opportunity and take steps to turn it to their advantage.
For IT directors, big questions remain over security: how can they trust that end-to-end security standards are in place? Are the user authentication procedures bullet-proof? What happens to the confidential data if a device is lost or stolen?
The required technology for securing confidential data on a mobile device is already mature, so the IT director’s fears over data leakage, device security and fraud can be assuaged by adopting a modern mobility solution. Authentication tools and access control solutions are readily available for those that seek them out, and encryption provides a further layer of security.
The constant quest for efficiency will eventually drive companies to create a working life where mobility takes centre stage. And when they do, what a difference it will make. As day-to-day operations move beyond the desktop, the use of tailored mobile ‘user profiles’, complete with access rights and tiered powers of authorisation, really starts to make sense. The approval of chief financial officers (CFOs), senior vice presidents (SVPs) and other eminent figures is frequently required in order to process large funds transfers, for example, yet these individuals are hard to pin down; most are constantly moving from one meeting to the next. For international companies it’s even worse. Senior financiers are habitually in transit between offices and countries. Enabling them to stay ‘in play’ via a mobile device when away from their workstation will reduce bottlenecks and improve departmental efficiency no end.
Mid-tier finance managers stand to benefit too. Here, a mobile device integrated with a firm’s back end systems could be used to quickly authorise or nullify requests for lower level operational expenses from different departments. Agility is the key benefit. Tablets especially, by virtue of their larger screen sizes, are well suited to a treasurer’s need to access and review detailed financial tools, such as budget tracking and forecasting spreadsheets. The development of a user friendly environment through which this kind of work can proceed ‘on the fly’ will have a big impact. Traders and brokers travelling into work early of a morning can also use tablets to catch up with the latest financial market news and access graphical displays to help them plan their strategies.
The benefits of mobility extend well beyond the engagement and authorisation capabilities given to schedule-stricken senior executives when they are out of the office. Senior staff must be able to monitor and react quickly to changing circumstances. Real time viewing of a large organisation’s cash position, for example, is vital to safeguarding its financial stability and can be enhanced by using the mobile channel. For international firms, this means viewing positions by currency, geography, bank, legal entity and any number of other metrics unique to its structure and global footprint. This is no job for a traditional smartphone, but is perfectly achievable via a tablet, or even a hybrid ‘phablet’ device, which is securely connected to a treasury system via mobile broadband or WiFi.
One useful by-product of introducing mobility to a corporation or a financial institution is that it provides a chance to review and streamline current working processes which may, over time, have evolved to be needlessly complex. The touch screen interface that characterises today’s smartphones and tablets forces application and system developers to create a simple and intuitive user experience. Just by looking at bank operations through a ‘mobility lens’ can generate ‘eureka moments’, leading to elegantly simple workarounds for notoriously complex procedural issues, which may have dogged operations for years.
In the main, however, corporates can expect mobility discussions in 2013 to centre on resolving problems relating to personal device security and integration. But to write off the topic until these issues are resolved would be a mistake. Change will happen quickly when the tipping point is reached and it will be those that are fleet of foot who will derive the greatest improvements in terms of efficiency and corporate agility, obtaining a competitive advantage over rivals. The consumer space and retail banking apps have led the way but it is time for corporate banking and their business clients to catch up.
Operational procedures do not differ so very much. Making and approving payments, releasing wire transactions between companies, checking balances, viewing analytical reports, managing corporate accounts, charges and spending limits, can all be catered for on the move via a mobile device right now. It’s strange to think that for most finance professionals, their smartphones and tablets currently offer little more than the water cooler equivalent of ‘show and tell’. Thankfully, change is right around the corner as the world moves beyond the desktop.