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Bank is tough (Barbie, C. Maxine Most, and a van down by the river)

This post will talk about a plastic doll, an expert in international emerging technology market development, and a memorable image from a Chris Farley Saturday Night Live sketch. These three things are very different – C. Maxine Most is certainly not a Barbie doll, and I seriously doubt that she lives in a van down by the river. But before we get to Most’s thoughts on technology and solutions, let’s talk about something that Barbie used to say.

Over twenty years ago, Mattel created a talking Barbie doll that uttered 270 different phrases. After consumer objections, that list was trimmed to 269. The phrase that was removed from Barbie’s vocabulary was the phrase “Math class is tough.” At the time (and even today, 20+ years later) there was a concern that females were not being encouraged to pursue scientific careers; if Barbie (who, admittedly, is primarily a toy for girls) was saying that math class was tough, it was feared that the small number of women in the sciences could continue.

But that piece of plastic had a point – not just for women, but for everyone. Math class is tough. So we develop all sorts of learning methods, as well as all sorts of technologies, to make math class easier.


(picture source, license)

I was in one of the first generations of students who had calculators in math class. While there are arguments that calculators serve to atrophy our ability to perform calculations ourselves, the calculators do allow us to concentrate on learning mathematical theories. The calculator is not a way of life (as I have often said, “a tool is not a way of life”), but is just one component that solves a problem for someone.

The point about pursuing solutions, rather than tools, was emphasized in an early morning presentation by C. Maxine Most of Acuity Market Intelligence. The presentation was part of a webinar sponsored by findBIOMETRICS. Most, along with Frost & Sullivan’s Brent Iadarola, was speaking on the topic of “The Future of Mobile ID – Mobile ID Industry Update.” (DISCLOSURE: the webinar was sponsored by several biometric companies, including my own employer.) Most made the point about solutions by talking about her first impressions of the iPhone. From Most’s point of view, smartphones were tough before the iPhone. It was hard to get applications for the smartphone, and it was hard to use applications for the smartphone. However, when the iPhone arrived, it was designed to be used by a person, and it was easy to get apps, and it was easy to use apps. Once smartphones were no longer tough, they could be applied to solutions.

Solutions such as mobile banking. “Bank” is another thing that is tough. But if you look at what has happened in the banking industry over the last several decades, you can see that many things have happened to make banking much easier.

A few decades ago, you had to go to the bank on a weekday, and “banking hours” were a synonym for “not all that often.” Now you have ATMs, and banks in grocery stores, and the ability to scan checks with your mobile phone to deposit them.

Even when ATMs were introduced, ATMs were tough. You had to put your account number on the checks you wanted to deposit, and you had to fill out the deposit envelope, and you had to insert your bank card, and you had to type in your personal identification number (PIN). Today – if you don’t avoid the ATM altogether by having your checks deposited electronically – you can throw your checks into the ATM machine without an account number, signature, or deposit envelope. As as for the bank card and the PIN – why do you think that my employer and our competitors were sponsoring this little chat?

Now we’ve even removed the next “hard” thing – the need to go to a bank, or to an ATM, or even to your home computer, to conduct banking. I alluded to mobile deposits earlier – as long as you have a cell signal, you can be anywhere – even in a van down by the river – and you can deposit checks to your heart’s content. You can also pay bills, transfer funds, and do all sorts of stuff that would require a visit to a teller a few decades ago.

As I previously mentioned, there are a number of banks in the Fortune 100. They’ve embraced a number of technological changes over the years, all in the name of making banking easier. But if changes continue to occur at more rapid rates, it’s quite possible that the bank customer in 2023 will laugh at the days when you had to memorize PINs and carry cards to perform banking.

Before the findBIOMETRICS webinar began, the hosts conducted a quick survey to ask the 300+ participants when they thought passwords would go away. Some people, such as myself, thought they would be around for ten years or more. The majority of respondents, however, thought that passwords would disappear much sooner than that.

There is one thing that I am certain of, however – my predictions for the future, and Acuity Market Intelligence’s predictions for the future, and Frost & Sullivan’s predictions for the future will all end up being somewhat wrong. Maybe banks will be in trees. Maybe banks will be owned by oil companies. Who knows?

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