Europe’s oldest bank comes first with WAP

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Bank of Scotland says it has become the first bank in the UK to offer its customers banking services through mobile phones that run on the Wireless Application Protocol.

WAP is a worldwide standard for providing Internet communications and advanced telephone services on digital mobile phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, and other wireless terminals. Though few people have telephones that are embedded with WAP technology, many telephone makers are promoting wireless products, and in late February Bank of Scotland gave WAP phones to 50 consumer and business customers for a pilot.

The phones let those customers do their banking through Bank of Scotland’s BoSinternet.com service. They can also get news online through an arrangement with BT Cellnet’s Genie Internet portal.

BT Cellnet of Leeds, England, has seven million customers and is a partner in Bank of Scotland’s WAP phone project along with International Business Machines Corp. Gordon W. Sharpe, director of e-business at Bank of Scotland, said the pilot customers have reacted well and have described the service as convenient, easy-to-use, and safe.

“We invited them to join us,” he said. “We're migrating our customers to WAP so they can take up any channel and any device to access us.”

Users can press buttons on the phones to view their accounts, transfer money between accounts, and  order currency and travellers’ checks. The bank plans to add stock trading, bill payment, and messaging to the service. “For instance, we will be able to notify a customer if he is about to overdraw on an account,” said Sharpe.

The 305-year-old bank, based in Edinburgh, is Europe's oldest clearing bank and one of the first to offer new technologies. In 1985 it introduced a personal computer-based program, Home and Office Banking Service. It has offered Internet banking and mortgage lending since the autumn. 

New York-based IBM says that by summer it will have integrated Bank of Scotland's multiple channels – the call centre, automated teller machine, mail, branch, internet, and mobile phone – into one relationship-management warehouse to give the bank a unified view of each customer. When that consolidation is complete, the WAP phone service will become widely available, according to Sharpe. 

“Europe is the epicentre of wireless and the mobile internet,” said Michael Lawrie, IBM general manager for Europe, the  Middle East, and Africa. “We'll see the most exciting                      developments and applications in Europe first.”

Mark Bregman, worldwide general manager of IBM pervasive computing, said “Wireless Internet – particularly in Europe – has caught fire.” He said the web in the United States “comes after television. In Europe, it's more of a tool to do airline reservations and banking transactions.”

IBM began offering services under the pervasive-computing category, which includes WAP phones, two years ago. In October, Svenska Handelsbanken of Sweden and Banesto  (Banco Espanol de Credito) of Spain became the first European banks to offer banking via WAP phones; Bank of Scotland is the third. Bankinter, Spain's fourth-largest bank, will introduce the service soon. All four banks are using an IBM product called WebSphere Everyplace.

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