Living in a wireless wonderland

Canada is a hotbed for wireless activity, says Alistair Rennie, senior vice-president of marketing for Toronto-based 724 Solutions – which provides infrastructure software allowing secure delivery of financial services, at any time, to a broad range of devices.

“We go from being on the phone and paying bills, which is a neat activity, to the whole world of mobile e-commerce – being able to buy anything from anyone and making a secure payment from a computer,” Rennie told executives attending the 11 th annual Executive Symposium on E-Commerce and Corporate Portals recently.

“Whether it’s a cell phone, or a ring pager, (we’re) basically putting infrastructure in place so these transactions can be carried out in a way that’s easy to use and simple to the customer, and cost effective for organizations,” said Rennie.

Worldwide partners for 724 Solutions include The Bank of Montreal, Citygroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

Rennie predicted that by 2003, one billion people will be connected to the Internet via some form of digital wireless service.

Don Thompson, an analyst with Toronto-based Deloitte Consulting, agreed. “To say a billion people are going to have access to the Internet through their phones and other wireless devices is probably bang on the money,” he said. Thompson said that the capability to work with the Internet from a phone or PDA, or more likely a merger of the two, will be pervasive within the next year.

Rennie said that financial institutions have an interesting set of reasons to act on this, with the goal being to deepen customer relationships and increase both revenues and profits.

“If you think about how you approach financial services now versus how you did it 10 years ago, it’s a dramatic change,” Rennie said. “You are now able to compare savings rates across institutions, and move your money in a matter of minutes.”

He added that a client can find a cheaper mortgage or a cheaper car loan from five different sources in a matter of seconds. He also said that a different price is only two or three clicks away. The information needed to make financial services choices is available.

Rennie said better relationships can be built with clients. “It’s an incredible opportunity, and it’s about doing it consistently in a personalized way and thinking about how to leverage the strengths of all of your business,” he said.

He maintained, however, that innovation in these devices goes beyond what the IT business community is normally able to handle. “You need to build something for the device that has yet to be invented. They need to be network agnostic, and it needs to run on different types of cell standards. It needs to run across wire lines,” he said.

Rennie said institutions putting this type of infrastructure in place don’t want to have network selection block service – this has got to become like the Internet world where consumers can get to where they want from any device in a standardized way.

Will this technology render bank branches useless? According to Thompson, it’s just the opposite.

“There’s still the need for people to have contact with people, especially if they have problems,” he said. “[Branches] are going to be problem-solving and customer-contact points, as opposed to cash dispersement and acceptance points.”

Thompson said he can’t wait for the day when he only has one item to carry around. “[When] I don’t have to carry my Palm, I don’t have to carry a Blackberry, I just have my phone and it’s got my PDA and my pager built into it. It’s also got my wallet. I don’t want to carry a wallet. I’m getting tired of it,” Thompson said.

Rennie said wireless transactions are more convenient and simple compared to working on a PC.

“There’s going to be innovation in these types of personal computer devices beyond anything anybody’s ever seen in IT,” Rennie said. “The average consumer will have true wideband communications through mobile devices before they have it on a large scale in their house.”

Rennie told the audience they would be able to get their phones to ring and tell them when GAP khakis went on sale, enter a coupon number in their phones, and press the “buy” button.

“You laugh, but this will happen,” he said.