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Commentary: Where's the tablet banking for business?

The recent announcement that Microsoft plans to launch Surface is driving consumer awareness about the proliferation of tablets. Tablet computers are becoming the device of choice for banking on the go. Occupying a sweet spot between a phone and a PC, tablets bring together the ubiquity of a phone with a bigger keyboard and screen, intuitive interface and computing power much closer to that of a laptop—not to mention the camera, geo-location, and several different interaction channels (push notifications, apps and browser). Tablets that are 3G-enabled (about 10 percent of those in the U.S., according to this GigaOM article) also provide GPS, SMS and connectivity almost anywhere they go.

The downside is that online banking web sites, designed for mouse and keyboard, and native mobile apps, designed for small screens, don’t always translate well to tablets’ touch interface and larger screens, creating a poor user experience.

Forward thinking banks (less than 20 percent of the top 25, according to 2012 Tablet and Banking Report, by Javelin Strategy & Research) have already recognized the issue and responded by creating tablet-specific apps for iPad and Android tablets.

Today, most tablet banking apps are for consumers. It makes sense for the moment, as iPad owns the tablet market and consumers are the dominant buyers. But tablets are only getting more popular, and it’s only a matter of time before they’re standard-issue among executives, complementing or completely replacing laptops. There’s a big opportunity right now for banks to differentiate themselves to commercial customers by building web-based or native apps specifically for tablets. Freeing treasurers and CFOs from the PC-based interfaces they’re tethered to today is the promise of tablet banking for the corporate market.

In November 2010, RBS Citizens liberated its corporate banking customers, allowing them to authorize transactions from wherever they happen to be. The bank’s accessMOBILE corporate mobile banking app uses the Sybase 365 Corporate Mobile Banking solution, and runs on iPhone and iPad. Through accessMOBILE, commercial customers can get balance information, check on transfer status, approve and release wire transfers, receive alerts, and receive secure messages. The treasurer or CFO of a small or medium-sized business now doesn’t need to delegate authority for wire approvals. Now, they can perform approvals even while traveling. Enthusiasm and satisfaction have been high enough that RBS is currently planning new versions for Android and BlackBerry.

Although banks have typically been slow to embrace new technology, mobile banking solutions for consumers have been coming out at a good clip. With the advent of tablets and their popularity among the executive set, we should see an even faster movement to mobile for corporate banking functions.

And this is the time for banks to think not in terms of single-point mobile solutions, but instead of a comprehensive mobile platform strategy to mobilize their entire business.

Haridas Nair is Vice President of Mobile Commerce Product and Strategy for Sybase 365. Mr. Nair manages Operations for mCommerce. He is responsible specifically for driving strategy and solutions for mBanking and mPayments. 

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