November 29, 2001 1:25 PM PST
Nokia banks on mobile banking
The world's leading handset maker announced its involvement in a software package that lets banks offer customers mobile-telephone access to checking accounts and stock portfolios.
The four have formed a new company, Meridea Financial Software, to sell the software worldwide.
Thursday's announcement represents Nokia's giant leap into the market, which boasts a documented demand from mobile users but a tepid response from banks when it comes to offering such services.
"Everybody has been working hard to create demand," said Keith Waryas, a wireless analyst with IDC. "But some people have overlooked supply."
Banking on cell phones or other mobile devices was one of the most requested services from cell phone owners, according to a recent survey of 7,000 mobile-device users by IDC. Nearly two-thirds want to check their bank accounts using mobile devices, the survey found.
IDC also projects that by 2005 about 5 percent of all mobile-device owners in the United States will do their banking in the palm of their hand. The current tally is about 16,000, or one-tenth of a percent of all owners of mobile devices that have Internet connections.
Yet, there are only a small number of banks that have actually introduced mobile banking services. California-based Wells Fargo, which has about 3.6 million people using an online banking service, introduced its free service "Wells Wireless" several months ago. But most other mobile banking efforts are in small-scale trials.
Representatives from several banks didn't return phone calls for comment Thursday.
Before diving headfirst into wireless banking, Waryas said, financial institutions may be waiting for a payoff from their earlier efforts to get people to bank using their personal computers and Internet connections.
Most created portals for their customers to use online, but projections for use and revenue haven't been met. That's affected their drive to offer wireless banking, making them more cautious, Waryas said. And without much movement from the banks, there will be little competitive pressure to introduce such services.
"People want it, but banks are slow to roll it out," he said.
Sari Baldauf, president of Nokia Networks, the infrastructure arm of the Finnish cell phone giant, stands by the effort despite the fickle marketplace.
"We are confident that there are good opportunities in the market," he said in a prepared statement.
Nokia's earlier moves toward mobile banking have been baby steps. It partnered with wireless-software makers that have been trying to sell their wares to banks, but that was mainly so Nokia phones could be part of the action.