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Banks May Not Be Able to Resist 'Bring Your Own Device'

User-friendly consumer devices such as Apple's iPad increasingly are infiltrating the enterprise and transforming workforce expectations. Despite security concerns, employee demands and the productivity gains powered by bring-your-own-device initiatives are forcing banks to embrace BYOD.

Although the consumerization and bring-your-own-device, or BYOD, trends aren't new concepts, a shift has occurred recently in how banks are approaching them. While CIOs and other bank executives remain wary of security issues surrounding the use of employee-owned mobile devices for work, they're increasingly embracing consumer IT within the enterprise as an opportunity to drive efficiency and innovation, as well as to increase employee (and customer) satisfaction.

"A major sea change has occurred in the past two or three years" regarding BYOD initiatives at financial institutions, says Gary Curtis, chief technology strategist at New York-based consulting and technology services firm Accenture. "Rather than having an initial reaction of, 'How many problems is this going to cause?' CIOs are now saying, 'How do we make this work without putting the company at risk?' There's no longer a question of whether they should make it work -- it is happening in just about every major financial institution."

Bank of America ($2.13 trillion in total assets) is among the institutions that are embracing consumerization in the workforce, reports Cathy Bessant, head of global technology and operations at the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank. Noting that consumerization will continue to pervade the culture of financial institutions, she says Bank of America is "moving increasingly toward" bring your own device. Bessant explains that while many BofA employees already use their own tech devices for work purposes, an official BYOD policy has not been instituted across the entire organization, yet.

But, "It's not all or nothing," Bessant notes. "BYOD is something our associates have been asking for and is a huge positive. We're moving strongly in that direction."

BYOD programs aren't limited to large banks, adds Ross Feldman, chief technology officer for U.S. financial services at Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP. "We're seeing innovation in these areas from the community banks and credit unions, not just the multinational powerhouses," he reports. In fact, Feldman adds, some smaller financial institutions are farther along in their BYOD implementations than bigger banks because the implementations are occuring on a smaller scale relative to market size.

Needham, Mass.-based Needham Bank (about $1.2 billion in assets) and Ogden, Utah-based America First Credit Union ($5 billion in assets), for example, have proven to be innovative leaders in the BYOD field. Both institutions began by issuing Apple iPads to some employees, then eventually changed their policies to allow employees who didn't qualify to receive one of those devices to bring in their own.

Workforce Relevance

So what's driving the recent shift among CIOs toward the acceptance of consumer devices and BYOD in the enterprise? Accenture's Curtis says the trend largely is due to pressure coming from two directions — the Millennials, the young, tech-savvy generation moving in as new employees; and existing senior executives.

When the pressure to adopt new devices and BYOD comes from an existing senior executive, says Curtis, it's often because that executive's child or grandchild introduces him or her to a device such as the iPad. "The next day the executive comes in to work and calls the CIO and asks, 'When can I have what I need on this type of device?'" Curtis relates. "I can't tell you the number of cases where I've personally heard from the CIO that that's how it happened."

Curtis also points to recent research by Accenture on the Millennial generation's use of technology. "One of the key messages we received from them was that being able to use their own devices and applications with which they're already familiar was a major factor in their choice of where to work," he says. "And it will become an even greater factor."

In fact, a bank can't be assured of hiring the right tech-savvy talent without considering BYOD, Curtis asserts. "They don't want to know a world without their own devices, even at work," he says.

According to Thayne Shaffer, VP of finance at America First, the credit union's use of iPads and its BYOD policy "keep us competitive as an employer. It makes us current and more appealing than we otherwise would be." Although an operational decision related to tax reporting started the BYOD ball rolling within America First, Shaffer continues, the institution also wanted to make sure it stayed relevant with the workforce by keeping up with current technology and not limiting its employees too much in that area.

James Gordon, VP of IT at Needham Bank, says that while no one has cited BYOD as a reason for seeking employment at the bank, current employees have expressed gratitude for the program. "I've had more than one employee tell me how thankful they are and how much more in-tune with work and responsive they can be because they are able to use their own devices at work," he comments.

HP's Feldman stresses that banks shouldn't forget that employees also are customers. Allowing employees to use the latest consumer devices and applications for work, and asking them for feedback, can provide institutions with valuable insight into customer needs and wants, he says. "That insight enables institutions to deliver advanced tools faster," Feldman insists. "That's true innovation."

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