I had a conversation with one of my marketing colleagues last week regarding the latest technology craze that was going to hit the world of financial services – m-commerce.M for mobile that is.
In terms of how the industry has embraced and failed to embrace in some respects e-commerce initiatives over the last few years, it was something that raised my eyebrows.
Clearly, the introduction of consecutive new generations of information and communication tools – phone, mainframe computers, fax, PCs, laptops, etc, all have had a significant impact on the way that we do business. Not to mention the reductions in the cost base that has gone hand in hand.
The use of wireless phone messaging systems again takes us into new territory and, using the above examples as our yardstick, something that could be destined to become very much the norm in terms of our daily activity.
Of course, wireless applications are already in use from personal text messaging (my sons like to present me with some fancy bills to show me the popularity and effectiveness of this) in support of management functions and as an aid in streamlining certain administrative processes.
But how long before we can achieve a full sales process using the mobile phone? Take a straightforward case of a client seeking some protection cover. Illustration, agreement, product choice and selection and underwriting all rapidly ach-ieved. It is certainly an interesting application for some simple products. Mobile applications in savings accounts will enable the customer to perform transactions and track account balances.
Nice stuff or so what?
This spins into a number of key issues. The initial scepticism and aloofness that some companies were guilty of regarding e-commerce can now be looked at in two ways. First, to continually prove to your customer that you are not stuck in the dark ages and have the power, flexibility and willingness to embrace and support new age initiatives to the benefit of your business and their business.
It should not be forgotten that the keenness of some companies to embrace e-commerce capability has been their downfall. Conversely, many have gained substantially from not joining the craze of telephone-number expenditure, chasing after lost causes which did not deliver a business case. however much the technophiles among us would have it.
It is one thing to take on board the exciting applications that are around but another to remain focused on your customers' needs as they change. It is vitally important to achieve a balance between these relationship-centred and technology-centred business models. If the customer does not really know how or does not care to take advantage of technology initiatives, where does that leave you in terms of your business model?
Continuing mutually beneficial relationships with an ever-growing number of clients (with diverse technology and relationship needs themselves) is a key priority ), the key thing that must not be lost sight of is the importance of relationship management, whatever the preferred medium.
Does the customer of today want m-commerce? Probably not. But how many people are now addicted to the internet for a wide range of services and information who still struggle to operate their video recorder?
For the provider and the intermediary, there is a balance to strike between being the very first to learn or having the patience (and financial capability) to become the very best. Long-term reputation, let alone competitive advantage, is at stake.
Peter Dornan is director of group businesses at Aegon UK