Banks, personal financial management specialists, broker-dealers and even robo advisors have all come out with Apple Watch applications.
But the prospects for Apple Watch adoption is up for debate among those who believe Apple has the Midas touch and skeptics who feel that it will be difficult for the device to replicate the success of the iPad, much less the iPhone.
Additionally, industry observers ask if investment companies can win over early-adopters by being among the first to release an Apple Watch app, or if it is wiser to wait and see whether or not the Apple Watch is a worthwhile platform to be on. They warn there are perils in embracing an emerging technology or platform too early without thinking though its uses or return on investment.
“I have trouble imaging any investing features that would have any relevance on an Apple Watch,” says Michael Kitces, partner and director of research for Pinnacle Advisory Group.
“It’s not really a platform for investing or trading," he says. "Most of these companies are jumping on the bandwagon because it gets them free marketing, not because they expect a lot of people to adopt Apple Watch.”
That's partly the point, says Mark Schwanhausser, the director of omnichannel financial services at Javelin Strategy & Research, a Greenwich Associates company.
“Wearables are a branding opportunity, as well as a means to develop functionality that will work not only in smartwatches but other channels of banking," he says. “This is not a bet just on whether Apple Watch is the next big thing. It’s about being prepared when the next big thing is more obvious.”
So far, Citi, Discover, Mint, Fidelity, Schwab, E*Trade, Acorns, Openfolio and Personal Capital have all announced Apple Watch app launches. Others first-movers include iBank, MoneyWiz 2, Unspent, BillGuard, Chronicle, Pennies and PortfolioWatch.
The biggest banks are a natural fit for the Apple Watch, says Jim Miller, senior director of banking services at J.D. Power and Associates, because they can afford to experiment with new platforms, possess the scale to test out the technology, and actually have more to lose from sitting on the sidelines.
"For a Citi, Chase or Bank of America, they’re going to have a reasonable number of customers who will adopt whatever the latest technology is, because there is a flat-out expectation that they will be among the first to adopt any new technology," Miller says.
“Citi has a big focus on being a digital bank and for them to play in that space they have to be a leader when there’s new technology coming out,” Miller adds. “I suspect it would be really hard to make a justification to spend the money to build an app based on an expectation that there will be a near-term return on investment.
“From a short-term cost or revenue position, I don’t see an advantage to be one of the first out with an Apple Watch, but from a larger perspective of, ‘What does my brand stand for?’ Having a reputation of being innovative with their mobile app, that’s really the reason they went ahead and wanted to be one of the first to market on the Apple Watch."
Another factor prodding firms into quick adoption of Apple Watch apps: fear of missing out.
Companies across various industries, not just financial services firms, underestimated the popularity of the iPad, says Bill Winterberg, a technology consultant to financial advisors at FPPad.com.
“This is very much a ‘Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’ moment for banks and PFM providers,” Winterberg says. "Most were caught off guard when Apple introduced the iPad tablet and took months or even years to have a functional app for the extremely popular device.
“This time, banks and PFM providers will not be caught again without some kind of app for the brand-new and unproven wearable device from Apple,” he adds. “I don't think there's as much buzz to be gained by having an app for Apple Watch as there is negative buzz for not having an Apple Watch.”
While financial services executives should be following the Apple Watch, analysts say they should not assume that it will have the same degree of impact of the iPhone or even the iPad. The iPhone's innovative swipe interface, for instance, changed user expectations for smartphones and ushered in the market for tablet computers.
The Apple Watch is more of a light extension to companies’ digital initiatives, with a wrist-sized screen and truncated abilities, for now. That said, because companies can leverage their existing iPhone app, it is less time intensive to launch an Apple Watch app.
“There is not a lot you can do with it, so I see limited use cases for financial services companies,” says Christian Glover Wilson, vice president of technology and strategy at Tigerspike, a global technology consulting firm. “I don’t expect a huge [Apple Watch] user volume, but it is a very high-profile user volume [for financial services companies] to participate with.
“Nobody is making strategic or tactical decisions based on a watch, people are not choosing a financial services company based on whether or not they have an Apple Watch app,” he adds.
The most practical use of the watch for financial firms, Wilson says, is that it fits into a shift towards instant notification being a key communication channel in mobile devices.
“I’m much more likely to look at a push notification on my phone rather than check my email on my phone,” Wilson says. “As a hub for notifications, the Apple Watch is a really strong play and a fresh channel to interact with consumers, with two layers of notification closer to your eyes than the phone or computer.”
Companies with an Apple Watch app need to think through which types of notifications are most appropriate for that platform, which might be more appropriate for their smartphone app, and which might be best suited to an e-mail or blog post.
“Notification still holds sway in the investment management world, for example deal settling or being able to put stock orders in and even news alerts,” Wilson says.
Watch apps may be more relevant from a branding perspective, says Josh Martin, the director of analytics research services at Boston-based consultancy Strategy Analytics.
Martin's firm studied mobile device use, and found finance app use represented just 0.5% of all sessions across smartphones and tablets.
“Some of these other utility-type categories such as finance that are lesser used on smartphones might provide greater value to users and get more adoption as a result on the Apple Watch,” Martin says.
“If you can drive value you can drive stickiness from customers,” he says. “Apps are typically not driving profits; rather, they are aimed at boosting consumer loyalty and increasing interaction, participation and, in some cases, transactions.”
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