Banking goes live on wireless devices

As the financial sector gets ready to embrace the wonderful world of wireless, Canada’s Hometrust Co. is racing ahead of the pack.

The Toronto-based mortgage and loan company has enabled its Web site to offer all clients access to stock, investment and rate information over their wireless devices, according to James Appleyard, vice-president of business development.

“It’s allowing our site visitors the ability to download, in real time, changes in the interest rates of all of our deposit products,” he said.

Hometrust was first approached by EZENET Corp., a Toronto-based company that offers software solutions for financial institutions, as well as trust and insurance companies. Appleyard said this partnership was natural for Hometrust, as EZENET provides all the back-office systems for the company’s mortgage and deposit operations.

“They came to us and told us about the application. They were just launching it and we joined with them to launch our site this way,” he said.

Marc Nicholas, chief technology officer for EZENET, said this was a great way for the company to launch its EZENET One Step Connectivity Platform.

“By complementing our existing back-end solutions with One Step, we can reduce development time of full-service technology and software solutions,” he said. “This is like software Lego for wireless and Internet applications.”

He explained that One Step will plug into and “talk” to existing EZENET legacy systems to bring them to the Web.

EZENET uses Oracle for its database technology and has incorporated a lot of Java and XML into the back office and One Step solutions.

Appleyard noted that a Hometrust client who visits the Web site can go to an investment page and set up a wireless account there. “It’s very simple for the client.”

The Hometrust site has been up and running for two months now, and Appleyard admitted he is not surprised that the wireless function has not been very well used so far.

“This is pretty cutting-edge,” he said. “We know that some people are using it and the system is working well. We’ve tested it and we’re just glad to have it available.”

Appleyard noted that not many of the company’s clients will have WAP-enabled wireless devices. He laughed that his cell phone is not Web-enabled, but noted that his next one will be, and predicted that clients will be thinking the same way.

“As a small financial institution, it’s important for us to be on the cutting edge of developments and not be lagging behind. We feel that having this function available to our customers will help them be more efficient in their dealings with us,” he said.

He added that most small financial institutions have to be at the head of technological advancements to really compete in the Canadian financial market.

“I can’t imagine that other institutions’ customers will allow them not to do this kind of thing,” he stated.

Nicholas said that the world of mobile commerce and Internet banking is precarious.

“We don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We need to keep developing viable applications that meet our customer’s business objectives rather than developing applications that they cannot immediately use,” he said.

Appleyard stated the major block to wireless banking is trust.

“Trust is something that’s learned. I think it’s one of the things that’s going to take some time to build,” he said.

Appleyard likes the way this technology works.

“I really think this is a great idea for all Canadian banking institutions,” he said. “And we’re very excited to be so early to market with this.”