Wearable Technology for Banking


Current Tech

By Kathryn Jackson Fallon

The ultimate in hands-free tech is technology that you wear. It’s called augmented reality technology, and it’s already changing the way some people communicate and manage personal tasks, including their banking.

Apple’s new smart, Internet-connected wristwatch isn’t the only wearable technology on the block. A variety of consumer smart watches are made by Samsung and companies called Pebble Tech, Qualcomm and Artefact. There are smart eyeglasses made not just by Google Inc., but also a company called Vuzix Corp. in Rochester, N.Y.

In addition to allowing people to access the Web unobtrusively, today’s wearable devices—most of which operate in tandem with a smartphone—allow consumers to send email and text messages and take pictures or video. Most also enable online banking transactions or even retail payments.

Moreover, banks in New Zealand, Spain and Australia are already experimenting with wearable technology for some of their customers. Westpac, a New Zealand bank, is piloting a banking app on Google Glass that allows users to check their account balance, transfer funds, and receive alerts and notifications. Banco Sabadell in Spain is trying an app that allows people wearing Google Glass eyeglasses to connect with the bank’s contact center and conduct transactions using voice commands. Heritage Bank in Australia is testing its mobile technology with business suits made of the finest merino wool that has a built-in contactless payments chip and a near field communication antenna allowing a person wearing the suit to make retail payments by brushing a POS terminal with his or her wrists.

Technology consultant Raj Patel, with Plante Moran PLLC in Southfield, Mich., sees wearable technologies mostly as user-friendly and instantaneous extensions of smartphones, but not as replacements for smartphones. However, Angela McIntyre, research director for Gartner Inc., a technology research firm in Stamford, Conn., predicts that banks soon will distribute smart glasses to their customer greeters and service representatives. The technology could help employees quickly look up information to assist both assist and cross-sell individual customers.

“Wearable technology will enable customer interactions to potentially be more fluid than they were in the past because the information will be more immediately available and viewable,” she says. “You might have had conversations with this person six months ago. It’s certainly nice to be able to jog your memory with what the latest conversation you had with that person was.”

While a few of the largest banks are in the forefront of testing wearable technologies for banking uses, Dan Cui with Vuzix says community banks shouldn’t be too far behind. “It will take an innovative community bank looking for better ways to service their customers before others jump in,” he suggests.

However, Jacob Jegher, a research director with the technology research firm Celent, points out that using wearable technologies for banking is still in its very early stages. For some time to come the best use for such technology likely will be simple alerts or tapping quick-glance information, not for detailed banking transactions, he says. “I’m hesitant to think that this is going to be a big deal for banking when it comes to anything that goes beyond notifications.”

Kathryn Jackson Fallon is a writer in New York.