Technology - Banking Industry Hops on Wireless Bandwagon

The banking industry continues to shed its staid image, with one financial institution after another rolling out leading-edge wireless services to both its internal sales force and business customers.

New York-based financial services giant Chase Manhattan Bank recently unveiled a wireless service that will give traders in its Global Markets division real-time market updates. At the same time, North Carolina-based Wachovia Corp., the nation's 16th largest financial institution, launched a two-way wireless banking solution for its retail and commercial customers.

"The financial industry is one of those areas where the data needs to be very timely in nature. It means money to them to receive information both immediately and wirelessly," said Rob Enderle, vice president and research leader at Giga Information Group Inc.

The technology that Chase is using -- developed by DataLink.net -- will work on multiple wireless platforms that traders may be using, such as cell phones, the Palm Inc. operating system, and the Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM) 950 handhelds.

DataLink licenses the electronic market feeds from the exchanges, and combining the raw data with parameters set by the traders, pushes the filtered data stream down to the wireless device.

The system allows the traders to set up a portfolio based on market conditions that they indicate, and send queries back through the system, according to officials.

"The service makes our traders more productive. It keeps them in touch, and they are no longer tied to their desks," a Chase representative said.

Hosted by DataLink as an ASP (application service provider) solution, the service currently will not allow for two-way trading transactions. But according to DataLink, that will be rolled out in the next phase.

Like most companies, Chase does not have a single cell phone standard for employees, so DataLink created the system for five standard cell phone displays.

"There was no way we could modify it for every single cell phone-type viewer, but we made it to be a consistent format so that the technology knows enough to format and keep appropriate data together," said Pamela LaPine, a DataLink vice president.

Wachovia's two-way wireless service will aggregate bill payment and give banking customers access to real-time account information. The service will also let consumers transfer funds between accounts and monitor selected stocks.

The system was developed by 724 Solutions Inc., in Toronto, and will work on multiple platforms, including cell phones, pagers, and PDAs (personal digital assistants).

Commercial customers will also be able to access treasury functions such as balance and transaction reporting, payment approvals, and account notification, according to Wachovia officials.

According to Enderle, the banking industry's embrace of wireless signals a maturation of the market. "It is becoming less about the device as we get more wireless capability and more about the content and the way it is delivered," he said.

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