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17 December 2013

Financial services re-imagined: "Ok glass, make a payment."

Ok glass...

This may sound like a nonsensical way to start a sentence, but I would put money on it establishing itself firmly in our daily lexicon within the next year. 

"Ok glass" is the syntax used to prime Google Glass to get ready for your next command. For the past three years Google has been developing a new form of mobile device that is to be worn on your head like a normal pair of glasses. It contains a forward-looking camera that can capture and transmit images and video of what's in front of you and a tiny 'heads-up display' that acts like the display in any other mobile device.  Glass can be controlled using a combination of voice commands and swipe gestures against a touch-sensitive surface on the side of the device.

Living services

In the most basic sense, Google Glass is simply another form of mobile device such as a phone or a tablet, which just happens to be wearable.  But when you look at it closer you realise that it is much more. When it is launched Glass will bring us a giant step closer to the advent of “living services". 

Currently, we access services and interact with the companies that provide them through actions and channels that are distinct and separated from the rest of our daily lives.  We pick up the phone, fire up a website, or walk into a branch when we need something done.  Living services are made possible by digital processors, wireless connectivity, and user interaction devices such as touch sensitive surfaces and motion sensors being embedded into the objects around us.  This growing Internet of Things offers an increasing number of opportunities for services to be brought into the heart of our day-to-day activities.

A simple example of this kind of living service might be an interactive screen embedded into a fridge door that tells you the inventory at any given time and lets you order additional supplies with a single tap.  The service of ordering groceries from your supermarket would be embedded in the activity of making yourself a sandwich.

As a further indicator that this is the direction the technology industry is moving in, earlier in November Apple announced it had acquired PrimeSense, a technology company known for providing motion-detection software in Microsoft's gaming sensor Kinect.  The company produces three-dimensional sensing and machine-vision technology that enables consumer digital devices to 'see' the environment around them.  Apple declined to comment on the underlying purpose of the acquisition but it supports the view that the leading technology companies recognise that the way we interact with technology will change significantly in the future.

Combining increasingly sophisticated technology in the objects around us with a wearable device such as Google Glass opens a whole new world of opportunity for living services.

Use your re-imagination

To try to bring this all to life in relation to the financial services industry it is worth trying to imagine what the future might look like in a world where consumers are walking around wearing Google Glass:

Scene 1: You're out shopping for a new car and as you enter the dealership forecourt Glass location awareness recognises that's where you are.  You pick out the car you like and say "Ok Glass, google car finance."  Recognising the make and model of the car in front of you, Glass brings up pre-approved car finance deals for the specific model you are looking at.  You ask Glass to call the finance company.  As the agent fills in the form you are able to follow and check the information they are keying in on the screen in Glass.  You sign the papers there and then with a scan of your iris using a biometric device built into Glass.

Scene 2: you return home from a weekend away to find water pouring through the kitchen ceiling.  A pipe has burst and there is water everywhere.  "Ok Glass, call Acme Insurance claim helpline."  Your insurer answers and you notify them of the loss.  They ask to see the damage as you walk around the house through the in-built camera in Glass.  They give you advice on how to help reduce further damage, and make an initial assessment of the damage there and then, storing the footage for future reference.  With a clear picture of the damage, a loss-adjuster won't be needed and the insurer promises to arrange repairs.

Scene 3: you walk into a branch and are greeted by name. The facial recognition app built into the Glass device that the customer service agent is wearing has recognised who you are, and has also pulled up your customer record, including what products you hold and how profitable you are for the bank.  The agent whisks you away into a private room and offers you a cup of coffee while you wait.

Scene 4: you're out for dinner with a friend and they pay the bill.  You look across the table at your friend, and give the instruction “Ok Glass, make a payment."  The in-built camera in Glass captures an image of your friend, identifies them using facial recognition, looks up their mobile phone number, and creates a peer-to-peer payment instruction in Pingit.  It asks you to authorise, and you do so using the built-in biometric iris scanner that verifies your identity.  You haven't touched a single thing with your hands.

These are just a few ideas but the opportunities are infinite.  But what should be obvious is that there is an urgent need for financial services organisations to re-imagine the way they serve customer needs through traditional channels.  It is vital that they ditch old ways of thinking and accepted norms and instead look at how customers will want to interact with their organisation three or five years from now, building their services and channels around this.

This isn't about the distant future

Glass is already available to select users as a beta version (called the Explorer Edition), and is expected to launch to the mass market in 2014.  Some organisations are already starting to think about how they might employ the new device.  Banco Sabadell announced last month that they had developed an app for Glass that displays the nearest ATM, allows the viewing of accounts and supports 24/7 video conferencing.

The launch of Google Glass should be seen by organisations as a prompt to start re-imagining themselves, their products, service and how they serve their customers.  The alternative is to face the risk of being left behind as the way customers interact in the Digital world takes another great leap forward.

Of course, in a year's time you might just be able to sit back and say "Ok Glass, tell me what the future really looks like."