The Pokémon Banker

It’s July 2016, and there’s a lot happening in the world. For example, two of the biggest democracies are undergoing major changes at the highest levels: Britain just got a new Prime Minister, and the U.S. is working on getting a new President. After ‘Brexit,” the European Union—the foundation of so much global trade and finance—will likely never be the same again. The Middle East is undergoing yet more upheaval. Even the Ghostbusters reboot is very different, thanks to female co-stars. Just how much change can we handle?

Yet with all this and so much more, the biggest story around is. . .Pokemon Go.

And there’s a lesson in this for the banking industry. Yes indeed, this source of addictive enjoyment for some and irritation for others—as in, “What exactly is Pokemon Go and why do I keep hearing about it?”—has elements that point directly to the future for a host of other industries and disciplines. And it all comes down to exactly one factor: geo-location.

First, let’s step back a bit. Pokemon isn’t just older than what we now call geo-location, it’s basically as old as what we now call the Internet. It emerged in the mid-’90s as a title on the Game Boy platform, and featured fictional creatures that humans (or ‘trainers’) could catch and train to battle each other. The franchise has been enormously popular, spawning books, films, soundtracks and more.

But what we have now is different—and that’s why it’s so instructive.

Pokemon Go, released in the U.S. in July of 2016, is a far cry from ye olde video game platforms. It’s a mobile app, it uses GPS and camera devices, and has a Bluetooth companion coming. It’s augmented reality at its most potent: teenagers in Australia have been caught driving while pursuing those pesky targets, people have been robbed while playing the game, and some have been seriously injured because they were so distracted. Law enforcement authorities are actually issuing warnings. On the plus side, it can be a great travel aid.

Ok, so the game is global phenomenon—it’s racked up nearly 70 million downloads in just a week, and it hasn’t even been released in some countries where it might an even bigger audience. But what’s most interesting are the business implications.

For example, as these players physically walk around real-life locations while chasing mythical beasts, could it be beneficial to the outlets—retailers, restaurants—in those neighborhoods? The early word (and it’s only been a week) is that it’s already happening. And if that’s the story after just a few days, what might happen in the weeks and months ahead? Those consumers will inevitably look up from their phones and see what else is around. They might even get a prompt on screen.

Which brings us back to banking.

Our industry has long known that gold to be mined in geo-location. If we can connect with the customer at just the right time—as they’re passing a branch, maybe—with just the right information, then a simple sales pitch could be much more potent. In money as in real estate, location is everything.

There have been plenty of attempts. Just last year, as one example, U.S. Bank’s ‘Your Community’ app came out featuring local news, advice, branch and ATM locators, with plans to feature offers from local merchants in the vicinity. Many other institutions have launched similar efforts. But the reality is that with major technology trends, it takes a singular release or event to catapult the capability into the mainstream.

Pokemon Go is nothing more than a video game, but it has already gained a massive audience. In the process, it has cannon-balled the virtues of geo-location toward the general public.

We’ve long talked about this critical feature, such as advising consumers where the nearest ATM might be. But we can go much further—knowing when a customer is at an auto dealer, running an algorithm that analyzes his or her financial history, and sending out appropriate advice on leasing.

But even this is just basic. As with online banking, as with mobile apps, as with every kind of technology-driven advance that comes down the pike, the eventual reality often surpasses the earliest fantasy. Geo-location offers virtually infinite possibilities, particularly through partnerships with local merchants in every area of business.

In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll explore banking-related possibilities in more specific terms. But for now, let’s just say that if a silly video game is what it takes to draw the customer to this incredibly interesting capability, so be it. It’s up to us to move it to the next levels.

Written by Jack Dougal

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