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Mobile Doesn’t Matter

Strategically Speaking
Sep 5, 2012

Kevin Moland Author: Kevin Moland,

Banking’s “line of service”—the imaginary marker denoting the physical or virtual boundary where financial services and consumers meet—has been pushing deeper into customers’ and members’ lives for at least fifty years. In their turn, ATMs, telephone banking systems, personal computers, and the Internet each brought users into closer proximity with financial services. Now the mobile device—the logical convergence of telephones, computers, and the Internet—is bringing yet another sweeping revolution. In the midst of this latest technological watershed, there’s an important question your financial institution should be asking: What’s next?

Like most service industries, bankers have been running for years, chasing the technology train. By the time financial institutions can get solid solutions to market for the latest emerging delivery channel, their increasingly savvy client base is already asking about the next technology wunderkind. And it isn’t like the pace of change is slowing. On the contrary, the speed with which new channels are emerging is increasing, and the sophistication and rate of adoption for each new revolutionary tool dwarfs the previous technology by a greater margin.

In the midst of these seismic shifts, it may be hard for financial institution executives to recognize that each technological revolution is actually part of a broader evolution—one driven by reasonably predictable forces. While some innovations—like the iPhone, for instance—seem to hit the market from out of the blue, these technological breakthroughs are actually the culmination of a series of incremental, publicly visible steps. Futurists, a name ascribed to those who study emerging technological trends, can predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy what the next wave will be and when it will hit the shore. These experts see today’s mobile devices for what they are—another step in the ongoing evolution of service delivery channels.

So, strategically speaking, mobile devices are not the end game. They are—like all the technologies before them—a bridge to whatever is next. The time and resources you spend “getting mobile right” could be wasted three to five years down the road unless you design and build these solutions to evolve with and ultimately transcend the platform itself. Should banks and credit unions build the best mobile apps they possibly can? Absolutely! But to thrive in the years ahead, financial institutions and service providers have to build today’s solutions with tomorrow’s technology in mind.

How can financial institutions see into the future and leverage the knowledge they gain to build more sustainable, adaptable products? Following the two suggestions below will go a long way towards “future proofing” the FI and ensuring a more effective, efficient adoption process for new innovations.

Identify and Articulate Your Principles

Rather than focus exclusively on the gadget du jour, banks and credit unions need to search their souls in an effort to distill the principles that drive their technology-based service offerings. By defining service goals and addressing concepts like data security and privacy concerns, institutions can create a foundation upon which future digital services can be designed. In short, FIs need to be intentional about their strategic approach to technological innovations. Bankers could even create a Technology Services Manifesto to lay out the underlying principles governing how—and how quickly—the institution will leverage future innovative platforms. This document would act as a blueprint, predefining the broad parameters for adopting new technologies. Without this understanding, FIs may find themselves re-inventing the wheel every time a new service channel is born, remaking policy and design decisions that should stand independently above the nuances of particular channels. As English business journalist and writer Adam Tinworth puts it in his piece titled What is Digital Service Design?, “Instead of fretting over your mobile strategy, you figure out how to express your service principles through a mobile device.”

Use Strategic Foresight as the Foundation for Strategic Planning

Your manifesto will govern your financial institution’s strategic approach to the future, but what tactical steps can your FI take today to prepare for tomorrow’s advancements? Strategic foresight is a term that describes the process of basing today’s actions on informed assumptions about the future. Because futurists have already identified impending technologies—like fully functional speech recognition, ubiquitous computing and t-commerce—that could impact financial services in the next three to five years, your financial institution can incorporate the impact of these advancements into your planning efforts. As part of this process, FIs need to brainstorm about how new technologies will change consumers’ financial behavior. Simply put, your institution needs to make an informed, insightful attempt to envision what the financial services arena will look like, say, three years from now. Once you are comfortable with your vision, you can plan backwards to identify the steps your FI must take today in order to reach the place you need to be at that point in the future. This type of planning doesn’t require a crystal ball or mystic powers, just research, reasoned thought, and a commitment to looking ahead instead of just looking around.


Banks and credit unions that want to be better prepared for the future can be, but it takes a commitment to finding and following the right road. By determining the underlying principles that drive your product offerings, and by working backwards to today from an intelligently formulated vision of the future, your financial institution will be ready when the next “next big thing” comes along.

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