Wearable banking: the next steps

After the introduction of Google’s Explorer programme for the ubiquitous Google Glass.

Fintech developers found themselves amongst the scores of software engineers joining the hottest tech bandwagon in recent years.

The Explorer programme, intended as a springboard to help develop Glass into a product for the mass market, was launched in 2013. The aim was to give software developers the chance to stretch the capabilities of the device – indeed the concept of wearable technology – to its limits.

The fintech industry was among the first to jump at the chance. It soon began experimenting with how to bring this leading wearable into the retail banking space and exploring how it could help banking customers better manage their finances.

The first ever retail banking app for Google Glass was released by Spain’s Banco Sabadell in October 2013, and came with a host of features allowing users to view their accounts, locate the nearest ATM and video conference a customer support agent using Glass’s voice-and-touch interface.

The American bank Wells Fargo was also noticeably active with its innovations for Glass, via its dedicated R&D lab based in San Francisco. The ideas ranged from simple scan-and-pay apps through to facial recognition capabilities whereby customers in-branch could be identified and authenticated.

Despite this early progress and the proliferation of banking software solutions for Glass, the users and developers who were captivated at first by the novelty and apparent promise of the product soon found themselves falling out of love. So, just over 6 months ago, Google sounded the death knell for the Glass Explorer programme by ceasing public sales of the product. So, what does the future hold for wearable banking?

Undeterred by the discontinuation of Glass, banks are showing no signs of stopping innovating software for wearable technology – and for good reason. According to our recent research, 36% of consumers would like to manage their finances via wearable technology, and 31% have been more interested in digital banking thanks to wearable technology.

It’s because of this rapidly increasing consumer demand for wearable solutions that we launched the world’s first smartwatch bank in 2013. This allows users to view their live bank balance and recent transactions, effectively receiving alerts on their wrist.

Perhaps we were ahead of the curve too, since the same research indicates that 34% of consumers can’t believe their bank hasn’t yet launched a digital banking app for wearable technology. Banks should remain alert to opportunities afforded by developments in the wearable technology space, especially as consumers are growing increasingly hungry for new ways to interact with their bank. When Apple Watch launched in April this year, Nationwide Building Society did just that and responded to consumer demand by launching the first banking app designed specifically for the Apple Watch.

The integration of banking software with wearables brings with it numerous benefits – users feel more connected to their finances and the sheer convenience afforded is undeniable, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Existing apps for wearables have largely addressed consumer demands for more convenience, connection and efficiency in personal digital banking, so in order to continue the momentum set up by the introduction of Glass, banks must remain as innovation led as ever.

As much as the Apple Watch has dominated the news in wearables this year, the technology that kicked it all off is not yet out for the count. Last month it was revealed, in a surprising twist, that Google has developed a new version of Glass designed for businesses rather than consumers. Could this development prove to be the biggest opportunity yet for banks?