From the December Special Report issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Tablets Shape a New Era of Banking and Cash Management

Over the millennia, tablets in various forms have revolutionized communications and commerce. Now, the 21st century’s electronic tablets are redefining how business is transacted and business decisions are made.

Tomasz Smilowicz, CitiDuring the Bronze Age, tablets of clay were used to record trade transactions and daily events. In subsequent millennia, papyrus, parchment and paper evolved as more practical media, even though paper tablets as we know them were not created until the end of the 19th century industrial revolution.

Now, as part of a digital revolution, paper pads are quickly giving way to an array of electronic devices, including a 21st century version of the tablet. These slim touch-screen pads, which can provide anytime, anywhere access to people and information, have evolved from innovations in computing, telecommunications, and networking over the better part of a century.

 

“Must-have” Technology

Today mobile devices are “must have” accessories for on-the-go executives and even heads of state. Barack Obama fought hard to keep his Blackberry® when he was elected president. Now, an Apple iPad, used to review staff reports and stay plugged into the world outside the White House, can be spotted on his desk or under his arm as he boards Air Force One.

Consumers, generally speaking, have been quicker than businesses to incorporate new mobile devices into their daily routines. However, many technology experts agree that today’s business executives are determined not to make the same mistake with tablets as they did with smart phones, which were initially dismissed as expensive toys.

With six out of ten global executives now using tablets according to a recent Doremus/Financial Times1 poll, some analysts say that tablets could become executives’ primary computing device.

Executive computing preferences aside, one thing is clear: a mobile device explosion is underway. Tablets have gone main stream and show no signs of stopping. Gartner, an industry research firm, estimates that tablet sales will outnumber PC sales by 20152, which may further support the notion that executives, and tablet users in general, are likely to transfer their personal affinity for tablets to their workplace.

 

Merging Consumer and Business Habits

From legacy technologies to new technologies, few industries are as dependent on, or have harnessed technology as aggressively, as financial services. A vast interconnected electronic network of correspondent banks, clearinghouses, and payment systems worldwide processes trillions of transactions a day. Internet connectivity fueled electronic banking’s emergence as the “new normal” for businesses and, increasingly, consumers.

Corporate banking portals, introduced just over a decade ago, have moved far beyond providing access to basic account information and transaction capabilities. CitiDirect BESM, for example, provides a single window for services that span cash management, payments, trade, supply chain finance and liquidity management, for instance. It also yields quick access to detailed and consolidated transaction and account data, plus tools for analyzing that data. As such, it serves a wide range of treasury and finance staff—from the data reporting needs of analysts and managers to the strategic cash management, forecasting and risk-mitigation responsibilities of more senior executives.

 

Going Mobile

Banks, in response to the proliferation of mobile devices have been rolling out mobile banking options for both consumers and businesses in recent years, although corporate offerings typically lag somewhat behind consumer sites. A June 2013 report by Aite Group3 revealed that only 37% of the financial institutions it surveyed were live with mobile offerings for corporate clients. Among them, the tendency has been to focus on smart phones first, then tablets.

One reason for the difference in pace is that businesses’ requirements and expectations are significantly different from those of consumers. Another is that the devices themselves present certain development challenges. There also are security considerations.  Businesses expect mobile security to mirror that of their enterprise environment.

 

Solutions That Fit the Device—and Their Users

Some financial institutions, when going mobile, try to simply emulate the online banking experience on a mobile device. Citi’s strategy, on the other hand, is to offer only the specific functionality that users want when they are away from their offices and to develop applications tailored to the type of device.

Citi’s research shows that users do not crave the full functionality of an online banking platform on their mobile devices for a variety of reasons. “Must have” mobile features, according to the research, include, for example, the ability to perform activities such as accessing account balances and the status of transactions, authorizing and releasing payments, initiating pre-formatted payments for domestic and international funds transfers, and receiving event notifications.

Actionable Data at the Tap of a Screen

Smart phones and tablets demand different application-development models and present different opportunities for customizing the user experience.

The small screen size of cell phones, for example, makes navigation trickier and provides limited information visualization. Tablets, unlike mobile phones or even PCs, create a more immersive experience.

Simply “dumping” a mobile phone application on a tablet can degrade the overall experience and fail to leverage the unique information presentation and multi-media capabilities of tablets. Tablets present the chance to engineer a distinctly new banking experience that replicates the interactive appeal of successful consumer apps and differs significantly from that of mobile phones and even PCs.

 

New Cash Management Models

Online banking experiences may differ somewhat on PCs, mobile phones and tablets; however, combined they are shaping whole new models of communication and cash management among treasury staff and senior executives.

Take, for instance, a major corporation that uses an online banking portal such as CitiDirect BE to manage accounts and transactions globally. A financial clerk in Singapore can enter into CitiDirect BE a series of payments for the purchase of heavy machinery in Australia and submit them for approval to the regional treasurer in Hong Kong. The treasurer while on a business trip to India can review and authorize the payments using a mobile phone, only hours after they are entered. Meanwhile, it’s morning in London, where the CFO is preparing for the CEO’s weekly management meeting. From the boardroom, the CFO can use CitiDirect BE Tablet to quickly check the company’s global cash position and see that the series of payments have just been made in Australia. With a few taps, the CFO can drill down on a map or graph to see the resulting balances and then subsequently confirm the execution of the company’s strategy at the meeting.

It’s hard to believe that today’s executive can simply touch the screen of a banking application on an electronic tablet to get answers, almost instantaneously, to questions about market positions, currency risk, funding sources and operating needs, across virtually every part of the globe. It took more than 1,000 years for the technology of papermaking, which could be considered the disruptive innovation of its millennium, to travel from China to Europe.

Admittedly, business applications for tablets are in their infancy but, like the sales of tablets themselves, they are quickly on the rise.

Informed executives realize that tablets, like smartphones, are more than a glitzy toy. They are powerful tools that can transform how they monitor and manage their businesses and make decisions, providing easy and quick access to mission-critical information.

 

1. 2013 “Decisions Dynamics” survey of Doremus and Financial Times
2.“Forecast: Devices by Operating System and User Type, Worldwide, 2010-2017, 1Q13 Update,” Gartner, March 28, 2013
3.“The Corporate Portal Strategies of Large Banks Around the Globe,” Aite Group LLC, June 2013



Read the December Special Report on Technology.

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