Mobile Technology: Banks for Nothing

New e-commerce world to create greater risk and reward for c-stores

By  Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor

C-stores have a unique edge amid today's evolving technologies, according to Gray Taylor of PCATS.
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"The banking system today is going to be totally blown up in the next 10 years.”

That was the prediction from Gray Taylor, someone who’s part technology and petroleum guru and part futurist.

At the turn of the century, Taylor was overseeing commerce systems at Tokheim Corp., a fuel-equipment company that would eventually be acquired during a wave of consolidation in petroleum hardware. But his fascination with technology and consumer engagement has propelled him into a position in which he interfaces with his two passions.

Today, Taylor is executive director of PCATS (Petroleum and Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards), which operates under the NACS umbrella. Against a legacy of closed financial systems, PCATS advocates for open, transparent standards for payment and mobile commerce.

In the session “Commerce in a Mobile Age,” Taylor offered an engaging picture of what the future could hold beyond the present, which is littered with anachronistic systems and bifurcated solutions.

One such example, he said, is the banking system. Bank branches are dying, a bloated patchwork of brick and mortar moving at an elephantine pace toward digital. And that’s a real problem. “You’re going to see growth of the virtual bank,” Taylor said, asking rhetorically when the last time members of the audience went to a bank, other than perhaps to access its ATM.

These new banks will not be a Bank of America or Citi. Instead, they could be major retail brands with extensive platforms. “Walmart is probably the biggest bank you never heard of,” he said. In fall 2012, the world’s largest retailer launched Bluebird, a new financial product that’s an alternative for consumers with traditional bank accounts. The program offers secure depositing services but does not lend and as such is not governed by traditional banking regulations.

Walmart’s solution is but one example of a future in which new currencies and alternative banking vehicles, coupled with more open standards, will “take down monopolies,” Taylor predicted.

Mining Mobile

It’s easy to forget that the first website went live only 21 years ago and that just 16 years ago an audacious online bookstore called Amazon was born. Today, Amazon is among the five largest companies in the world, and the online arena seems more like a reliable old tool than a device just entering its second generation.

The world of e-commerce and mobile communications is now racing toward a dizzying array of mobile devices and apps. By 2015, roughly four-fifth of adults in the United States will have cellphones, vs. only 56% just a few years ago. And coupon usage via smartphones will quintuple from 2010 to 2015.

While some wonder where that will leave the brick-and-mortar space of convenience stores, Taylor believes he knows the answer: “This is an opportunity for c-stores. You guys own the last mile.”

Instead of worrying, seize the opportunity. Instead of fearing Amazon, become its partner. Look at Walmart.com and how customers can order online and pick up their orders at a local store. Likewise, in the world of digital purchasing, c-stores can become familiar pickup points.

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