The Bold War

Glass Half Full

The Google Glass phenomenon has got the whole tech world in a flutter over the last year.  The last time the geek community got this excited was in 1997 for the launch of the original iPhone.  Whilst it is difficult to predict the future, Glass has a pretty good chance at success.  Glass allows users to do everything they can do on a mobile today, without the need to stop and stand still.  It offers an immersive experience instead of intrusive.  So will banks take a glass half full approach when it comes to the nascent technology? 

Glass is the brainchild of Google co-founder Sergei Brin.  The once secretive project has garnered plenty of recent press coverage because it is undergoing its first major consumer trial.  The glasses are unique in that they present information through a small display in the top right corner of the frame.  Through a series of basic commands and widgets the technology allows the user to augment what they are seeing through their very own eyes.  Based on early reviews it appears to offer a wickedly good experience. 

Glass represents the amalgamation of five major consumer and technology trends; mobile, social, location, cloud and big data.  It also represents the next logical step in the evolution of how consumers interact with information.  Instead of surrounding ourselves with multiple display screens (the average UK home has over ten through a combination of televisions, mobiles, tablets and computers), why not just wear one. 

This is in fact the unique selling point of Google Glass.  The disorientated walker, the digging around in the hand bag and the crouched back can all disappear.  Glass removes all the hassle that we have trained ourselves to live with when using a mobile.  This is why Glass is likely to succeed.  Sure Glass has all the standard features of a mobile - camera, phone, email and social networking - but it is really all about speed and access.  See something you like – take a photo – instantly.  Heading somewhere and need directions – don’t look down – look straight ahead.  So what does Glass mean for banking? 

In the past banking was something we had to go somewhere to do.  Until very recently banking required us to be at a certain location.  Even internet banking meant we had to be at a desk.  Because of this we relied on a mixture of memory, receipts and sticky-notes to keep track of our finances.  The very reason the receipt was invented was for this need.  Mobile banking is the first service that allowed us to bring our finances with us everywhere.  Glass will take this a step further.

We also know that in the 4,000 years that humans have traded goods, every major innovation in banking has succeeded in increasing the speed of the transaction.  We went from bartering, to coins, to cash, because at each stage it made commerce quicker.  Over the last century the introduction of plastic cards, cash machines, internet and mobile banking has made money even quicker and easier to exchange.  Glass should tick the box again.

On each occasion banks have doubted, debated and then tentatively moved forward with the new technology.  They often misunderstood the consumer’s insatiable desire to stay informed of their finances and do things faster.  This is likely to be the same again with Glass.  The reason is that these new technologies offer such fundamentally different experiences that banks find it difficult to adjust.   Google Glass represents the next such wave of technology that banks will need to cater for.

If Google Glass is to take off as expected, banking can only really go two ways.  If you were to take an optimistic view, Glass could create a much closer relationship between banks and their customers.  It could allow a customer’s finances to be interwoven into their day-to-day activities.  Through Glass every transaction can just be calculated and an up-to-date balance presented every time we shop.  It could increase the scope of the role a bank plays when purchasing goods as banks could offer services that assist in the journey from discovery to post-purchase engagement.

On the other hand Glass could further disintermediate banks and further relegate them to the role of back-end utility services.  For younger consumer segments the banking relationship has been diluted to the point of a few clicks in an app. The only role the bank plays is behind the scenes acting as the store and transfer of value. Think of the role a bank plays when you purchase music through iTunes.  You don’t see it, it just happens.  It really could be as stark as that.  Especially when you consider the role Google Wallet could play.

Based on everything we have seen before us, and the news coming out of the consumer trial, Google Glass could really be something special.  For the banking industry this technology represents a really critical period.  If you take the glass half empty view, banks, along with a variety of other industries, risk becoming back end utility services.  If you take the glass half full view, they need to embrace the opportunities afforded by this new technology and use it as a way to bring themselves closer to their customers again.  If they can get this right they will ensure they are always in eyes view.

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