Editor’s note: It is difficult to envision text messaging being passé when you look at it from our perspective in financial services. The industry is just now beginning to launch solutions that will allow compliant use of texting between financial professionals, institutions and their clients. However, April also provides a reminder that even modern standards for technological change are being shattered with the volume of new products and services. Our reaction is somewhat skeptical (not of April’s premise!) of whether this high-speed pace of change is actually benefiting us. However, one thing is clear if only considering social media in the past five years. Our industry needs to cultivate a more nimble culture of investigating new tech and new ways to communicate with its clients.
Technology is literally giving us whiplash with the rate at which it is changing. Now, even text messaging is in your rear view mirror, and looking nearly as “old” as a dial phone. With WhatsApp, Viber, Kik, Klutch, Snapchat, Skype and even Facebook messenger crowding the horizon, there is absolutely no reason to stick with plain, vanilla SMS (short message service) texting via your cell carrier. Something as relatively new and seemingly mundane as text messaging has been taken to a new level with longer messages, integration of text, videos, and links inside your chats. How can this be, some of my readers might be thinking, and others may be thinking how can this NOT be?
Call me a geek, or a nerd, but I have always had a thing for technology. In some of my previous posts, I have discussed my tech journey, whether from the typewriter to the Wang Word Processor, or from my pink princess dial phone to my “Love Affair With My Blackberry,” with a short stopover in the Samsung Galaxy. With each passing year, the journeys from one technology to the next have gotten shorter and shorter. Even for a tech nerd such as myself, it can be disorienting, but in a way, it’s also liberating. I have finally given up on trying to have a long-term relationship with the technology in my life. No more getting attached to one device or app or piece of software or another. After all, each new tech era brings with it a revolution in both culture and business, and that creates opportunities.
The rise of the chat apps is a clear indication that we are wading deep into the mobile era. As tech culture magazine Wired puts it in its April 2014 print issue (how’s that for an oxymoron), Facebook’s $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp in February made it clear that “the mobile era has challenged the hierarchies of the web. In less than two years, simple messaging services like WhatsApp, Snapchat, Kik, Line, KakaoTalk and WeChat have grown up from nothing to become social lifelines for millions of users.” When announcing the acquisition, Zuckerberg noted that WhatsApp was the only widely used app that had a higher percent of people using it on a daily basis than Facebook. These little apps aren’t just making text messaging obsolete, they represent a threat to social media’s top dog, Facebook.
Young people in particular are flocking to the new chat apps because they combine the best of texting and web-based social media: powerful sharing capabilities with relative anonymity. It makes sense. Facebook’s biggest weakness is its intrusion on user privacy–its claims ownership of user content, forever. Unlike Facebook, many of the chat apps don’t save the content you post permanently and you can choose to share in small groups instead of with every single contact far more easily than you can on Facebook. In the age of oversharing, it seems a little privacy is gaining currency.
This matters not just to tech companies like Facebook, but to every other industry, and especially to financial services. Today’s young people are tomorrow’s wealthy, and you need to know where to go to find them and how they prefer to communicate. The mobile apps young people use today will likely be obsolete not long from now. But those who keep up with the dizzying pace of technology evolution will be much better prepared to engage with clients at their level and in a way they can appreciate.