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It’s official: Our industry is back with a vengeance.

For the first time since credit debacles entered the headlines toward the end of the last decade, financial services companies are seeing the fastest earnings growth in the S&P 500, and potentially preparing to become the market’s biggest vertical industry. (For the record, according to Bloomberg, the technology sector still leads with 17.6% over 16.8%.) But guess who’s got the momentum.

That’s what’s happening at the top of the ladder. Further down, it’s a slightly different story. Every company and every professional working in it is acutely aware that huge changes are taking place, the whispers of unease are getting louder. Some of the concerns got publicly expressed at the American Banker and Bank Technology News’ seventh annual Mobile Banking & Commerce Summit earlier this summer.

To be clear, the industry as a whole has reason to take pride in its accomplishments thus far: exceptions notwithstanding, financial services institutions have been in the forefront of adopting innovations ranging from documents imaging to social media integration. Yet there remain some uncomfortable questions: Do even the sweeping changes go far enough? And are some institutions being left behind not through any lack of desire but because they don’t have the resources to overhaul their infrastructure?

A new report from Javelin Strategy & Research provides a startling view of the scope of the changes taking place, and the breadth of the adjustments needed to keep up. We all know that digital interaction has radically transformed banking practices, but the numbers still come as a surprise: Javelin says “88.5 million Americans attempted to open an account online or with a mobile device in the past 12 months,” but emphasizes that the full market potential remains mostly untapped.

It’s not just about the technology, of course. The truth is that the ubiquity of digital apps, both mobile and otherwise, is fundamental redefining what we know as ‘personal banking,’ and this revolution-as-evolution still has the market ahead of the industry. In other words, the changes may run deep, but not deep enough.

Take mobile, by most accounts the single greatest area of change. Despite the staggering numbers cited by Javelin, it’s also estimated that there’s a glass ceiling of 15% to 20% for mobile adoption among online banking customers. This isn’t because not enough customers have smartphones, or don’t wasn’t to use them—as with many other uses, there’s an initial resistance (particularly when there’s money involved) followed by an inevitable shift. Instead, it’s at least partly because at least some institutions, even those that may have devoted considerable resources to the effort, haven’t done their part.

In this context, “Consumers and Mobile Financial Services 2013,” the study released this spring by the Federal Reserve, is worth another look for gauging where we are in the move to mobile. There, too, we see a similarly substantial gap between adoption and practice.

Again, the industry seems to be doing fine—in particular, banks, brokers and insurance companies are posting much better numbers than they have in a while. But putting the broad brush aside for a minute, it’s also clear that the market is moving faster than some of us are, and in the long run that could be a huge problem for everyone.



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Compelling voices and contributed content from around the web

Andy Brown

Andy is marketing director for payments at NCR. He has nearly 30 years' experience in e-payment systems from the delivery and support of systems in the Far East and Europe, from both the product management and marketing perspectives. Based in the UK, Andy is responsible for marketing NCR payment solutions.

Dena Hamilton

Dena is NCR's Director of Enterprise Fraud & Security Software Solutions. She specializes in fraud, risk, compliance and security, with over 35 years of experience in the financial services space. Her focus is the development and deployment of enterprise financial crime solutions optimized in prevention, detection and back office efficiency.

James W. Gabberty

Gabberty is a professor of information systems at Pace University in New York City. An alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University Polytechnic Institute, he has served as an expert witness in telecommunication and information security at the federal and state levels and holds numerous certifications from SANS & ISACA.

Neill Harris

Neill Harris is product marketing director for ATM solutions at NCR. He travels extensively to many of the world's leading banks and financial institutions, articulating how self-service technology and innovation can inform and support strategies and solve challenges.

Marisa Mann

Marisa Mann brings over 15 years of experience in consulting and financial services industries to the Solstice team, working on large scale enterprise initiatives across many technologies, including specializing in the digital space – Internet and mobile. Mann is passionate about mobile and the endless possibilities for the enterprise, delivering business value through strong brand recognition and driving to excellence in the consumer experience. Prior to Solstice, Mann worked at JP Morgan Chase, Diamond Management and Technology Consultants, Washington Mutual, Inc, and Accenture.

Zachary Ehrlich

25-year-old writer, and as a native San Franciscan, I am unreasonably loyal to Bank of America, if only for their superhero-like origin story, involving the 1906 earthquake and Italian fruit vendors.

Brad Strothkamp

Cleopatra Mavredis

Cleopatra is NCR’s Global Marketing Manager for Channel Solutions and has more than 20 years of experience in the ATM industry. NCR’s channel solution portfolio is comprised of APTRA Vision, Inetco Insight and OptiSuite solutions.

Edward Wade

Edward is a freelance writer from Sheffield. Now living in London, he focuses on business and finance.