Mobile banking still feels pretty new. It's amazing we can deposit checks just by taking a picture of them from a mobile app. But wearable devices from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), and smaller players are pushing banks past their mobile efforts an onto to wearable applications.
Juniper Research estimates 100 million wearable devices will ship by 2017, and that wearable banking and payments via smart watches and smart glasses will be a "key trend" over the next one to two years. Wearables are already making inroads in the banking industry.
Not just an idea
The Spanish bank, Banco Sabadell, has a Google Glass app that lets users make basic transactions and contact customer service from the device. The app also uses augmented reality and taps into GPS to lead customers to the nearest ATM or branch office. And they're not the only ones. Both CaixaBank and Westpac have similar apps.
"By the end of this year, our customers will be able to walk into a shop wearing their Google Glasses, see something they like and instantly check their bank balance, which will be displayed in their peripheral vision," Westpac's chief digital officer in New Zealand, Simon Pomeroy, said earlier this year.
Aside from Google Glass, there's also a big focus on smart watch apps. Westpac, Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC), and others are working on them, and PayPal released an app for Samsung's Galaxy Gear 2 over the summer.
But one device could be the tipping point for wearable banking. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) smart watch will go on sale in early 2015, and paired with its already successful Apple Pay system, it could be exactly what wearable banking needs.
The Apple effect
One of the problems with wearable banking right now is there isn't any standout device that's pushing mass adoption. But noted Apple analyst Katy Huberty expects Apple to sell between 30 million to 60 million Apple Watches in the first 12 months -- estimates that would could clearly change the wearable banking landscape if they come true.
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently mentioned the company has more contactless payment point-of-sales than all of its competitors combined. On top of that, in the first 72 hours of launching Apple Pay, users added 1 million credit cards to the service.
Apple Pay is a huge inroad for getting consumers familiar with using wearables for personal finances and tying their credit cards to a wearable device.
Why all of this matters
Wearable banking may seem like a gimmick right now, but there are two things banks are considering: the rapid adoption of wearable technology, and the pace at which mobile banking took off.
We already mentioned Juniper's estimates of 100 million wearable devices projected to be shipped by 2017. And if the high end of Huberty's Apple Watch projections come true, those numbers will be even higher.
Which leads us to the next point. Banks are planning for that growth now because wearable banking could see a faster adoption rate than both online banking and mobile banking. It took 12 years for Wells Fargo to reach 10 million active users for its online banking service, and just six years for its mobile banking to hit that same number, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Banks are betting customers will eventually start buying wearable devices -- and they don't want to miss out. With the Apple Watch set to go on sale early next year, it's a perfect time for banks to start betting big on wearables.