Although there will forever be newer and newer updates, technology is no longer considered “new.” Technology is already embraced as a routine fact of Calgary business and social life – for ways of gathering information, managing risks, tracking operations, communicating, accessing all things Internet, business Wi-Fi, doing homework, booking vacations and paying bills.
The technology that is an established vital business tool has made a subtle, aggressive and seamless expansion into conventional private-life areas like banking, investing and shopping. Innovative financial institutions, like ATB, continue to tap into the limitless potential of technology with state-of-the-art features like online banking, mobile banking, Interac and Apple Pay.
Most major banks and global financial institutions are carefully monitoring and going head-to-head with a bold, new dimension of technology: fintech (financial technology). Some call it the new economic industry, made up of companies that use technology to offer newer, digital financial services. Particularly in North America, fintech companies are still usually startups, targeting existing financial systems and challenging traditional financial institutions that, so far, are less reliant on software.
“Ultimately, the customer drives the banking industry,” says John Tarnowski, vice-president of channels, payments and card services at ATB, with more than 112,000 customers in the Calgary area. “They always have and always will. And despite the tremendous innovation of technology, customer expectations will always drive the pace of change.
“Technology has been an important factor for banking customers for more than 20 years. We had ATMs in the 1990s, then telephone banking. ATB introduced online banking about 15 years ago, and eventually apps and mobile banking became a preferred option about seven years ago. Now tablet banking is getting increasingly popular.”
While most of the initial exciting newness of technology was getting early attention for record-keeping and information storage and early public exposure to things like Pac-Man and a crude, Jurassic version of emails, banking and the financial sector was already interested and pursuing the potential of technology.
According to Jim Miller, senior director of banking services in the financial services practice at J.D. Power, the iconic and influential global market research company,
“Technology is replacing transactions that had to take place inside a branch during regular banking hours. ABMs have been dispensing cash for years, but now customers can deposit cheques using their mobile device. The result is that branch transactions are declining.
“The less obvious answer is that technology is changing the relationship with the bank. When paper statements were the norm, customers only looked at their bank account information once a month, or else had to call the bank to get their balance or ask about a transaction. Online banking made this information much more accessible, but customers had to be in front of their PC to use it. Mobile banking users look at their bank account information much more often. This is having a big impact on their entire banking relationship,” Miller explains.
Although most things that are past technology are often interesting but relegated to stale nostalgia, and technology is so much a part of contemporary business and social life, that it’s almost hard to believe that one of the earliest staples of the fintech revolution happened more than 30 years ago: the invention of Interac.
“Interac is a solid brand and interconnected ABM network which gave Canadians state-of-the-art access to their money,” explains Caroline Hubberstey, head of external affairs, Interac Association and Acxsys Corporation. “Interac debit cards first happened in 1994 and Interac e-Transfers and Interac Online, with seamless P2B payments, evolved in the past dozen years or so.
“Today, Interac is a respected national payment network that uses the latest technology to enable Canadians to access their money at 65,000 ABMs and use Interac Debit or the newest, Interac Flash, at more than 879,000 point-of-sale terminals across Canada. Last year, Canadians spent nearly $350 billion and made more than five billion transactions using Interac,” she points out. “Just last year, in the Calgary area, Interac had 194,253,158 transactions for a total of $8,176,862,570.”
Another vital aspect of how constantly upgrading technology continues to transform the business world is the development of newer, faster and more functional business Wi-Fi that is targeted specifically at small and mid-size businesses.
“As a large technology service provider in Canada, the journey we are on is to be an adviser to small business,” says Ron McKenzie, senior vice president of business at Shaw. “So much of the Calgary economy is driven by small business, Shaw was committed to design services specifically for the small business customer; especially striking a balance of features with ease of use. A key small business focus is consistency of the customer experience – providing the ability for their customer to easily connect with the business, provide ‘a dashboard’ (a simple way to present a full suite of analytics to the small business owner) and ensure that the business stays seamlessly and securely connected, in the office or on-the-go.”
“The inertia of technology is transforming the banking sector at such a rate that sometimes it feels like it’s going even faster than it is,” Tarnowski points out. “For many ATB customers, online banking is now a routine. Supply and demand recently added Apple Pay to our system. IPhones only came out about nine years ago but they are like an appendage for many people and they are constantly walking around with it in their hand. It’s no surprise that mobile banking has become a routine.
“For banking and so many other uses, iPhones and tablets are enablers of convenience. One way or another, our customers are already digitized.” He mentions a business technology conference four years ago, where the phenomenon of iPhones was called ‘a solution looking for a problem.’ It was no milestone but it certainly accelerated ATB’s hook-up with the warp-speed evolution of mobile banking technology.
“The ATB customer has solidly embraced online banking, has shifted to mobile banking and the next option is tablets and ‘wearables,’ like smart watches. For banking, this is the era of the mobile wallet,” he says with enthusiasm and excitement.
Most technology and financial institution experts agree that, in banking, as in most other aspects of business and personal life, technology is constantly and excitingly evolving and is a proverbial work-in-progress. It is a business tool that is redefining services.
“While ABMs initially made it easier to get cash,” Miller says, “they only served a single purpose and may not have worked when you needed them to. Today’s technology is much more advanced making it easier to use and allows customers to conduct many more activities. One of the big differences is that technology in the past was driven by the banks trying to reduce expenses. Today it is driven by customer demand.
“Customers use mobile to interact with other companies and expect that they can do the same with their bank. Touch screens have become universal and customers expect an ABM to have a touch screen and to do more than just dispense cash. Over the past couple of years, we have seen satisfaction with in-person interactions with the branch remain basically flat, while satisfaction with using the ABM or mobile has increased significantly.”
Tarnowski enthusiastically emphasizes that technology in the banking sector needs one key aspect for success: plugged-in staff. As tech evolves, one of the challenges of the industry, and a big ATB focus, is to ensure a digitally-minded employee base. “We have more than 5,400 employees. We not only develop staff awareness but we make sure our staff understand the customer needs, the preferred uses and the expectations about digital banking.