Ian Watson, Voice Mobile’s founder and managing director
Ian Watson, Voice Mobile’s founder and managing director

Under the spotlight this month is Ian Watson, Voice Mobile’s founder and managing director. This company is an independent telecommunications business based at the Fort Dunlop building in Birmingham. It has over 30 years’ management experience within the telecoms industry. Voice Mobile has supplied a full range of solutions over the years, from the early radio systems and pagers, to the current expanse of mobile phones, PDA’s and Blackberry’s. It offers all the major networks and is very proud of its high level of customer service and satisfaction.

MB: Everyone is talking about convergence, with many companies traditionally from the mobile industry now looking at unified communications from the mobile perspective, and the possibility of selling fixed line propositions.


What do you see as the positives of pursuing this area for guys in the mobile channel, and also the negatives? Is this an area that Voice Mobile will be going for? And is 2010 the year to make this attempt into fixed line?

IW: 2010 is definitely the year to push into unified communications, from a channel perspective. Particularly for suppliers to businesses, like Voice Mobile, the time is right to offer converged communications; the technology has been in development for a decade and the customer now fully understands the benefits and is ready to adopt, if they have not done so already.

For a mobile supplier, selling fixed line propositions is an ambitious leap, but one which will tie customers in more closely.

Telecoms is a fantastic sector to be in, with mobile at the cutting edge. There is always something new to sell, which puts us in a great position.

However, the channel, like many other areas of business, has been put under considerable pressure over the last 18 months and some businesses will not have survived. Thankfully we do see the telecoms market stabilising in 2010 as we come out of the recession.

Going forward, those of us for whom business has remained buoyant need to focus on customer retention, service and giving the customer what they want and need. The networks will also be focusing on this over coming months.

For the channel, unified communication is part of this. As workforces become more mobile and working patterns more flexible, businesses are equally reliant on fixed and mobile communications and there is greater need to integrate messaging and contact. The provision of a complete communications package is very appealing to new and existing customers. Companies prepared to make the investment will certainly see a return to the business, albeit perhaps not in the short term.

We can see a lot of opportunities in this area for Voice Mobile, both in retaining and acquiring customers. We have already made a commitment to developing this side of the business and will continue to invest in this area throughout the year.

MB: After a tough 18 months in the mobile channel, many businesses are now looking to move forward and make up for lost time – and money. Voice Mobile was listed on the Sunday Times Virgin Fast Track 100, published on 6 December 2009. The company ranked amongst Britain’s 100 fastest growing, privately owned companies, having achieved sales growth of 59% a year, from £1.8 million in 2005 to £7.1 million in 2008. What’s the secret to creating a high performing business in the mobile channel? What has Voice Mobile done to give it its success?

IW: We are delighted to have been ranked amongst Britain’s 100 fastest growing, privately owned companies. It means a lot to us as a company, as we have worked hard, focusing on growing the business and striving to be the best at what we do. Through a challenging year we managed to sustain our growth and this comes from a number of strategies, underlined throughout by our commitment to providing the best possible service to our customers.

We understand what our customers need from their mobiles and are committed to finding them the absolute best deal. All our customers have a dedicated account manager who knows their business and the business of mobile phones. Our customers have a direct link for assistance, never go through to an offshore call centre and never have to contact the networks. This is really important for businesses and we have been rewarded for taking this approach with extremely low churn rates.

Voice Mobile has never shied away from investing in the development of the business, even in lean times. We started this year by doubling our sales force and have just expanded our offices in Birmingham to accommodate a new 30 seat call centre. We have recently invested in a sophisticated new IT and communications infrastructure to support our customer service and sales strategy. We have bespoke software to enable us to undertake a scientific analysis of every customer’s mobile phone usage to ensure they are on the most appropriate and cost effective tariff.

The networks are all important to channel businesses, however, like most companies you have one special relationship and ours is with Orange. We feel they share our drive and ambition for growth and have some fantastic people. Networks need to be more dynamic in their approach to the channel and we get that from them.


Long way to go

Even so, participation rates of existing mobile banking services suggest that the format still has a long way to go to fulfil its potential. The most recent statistics indicate that although one particular service is now available to over half of all UK adults, so far it has just one million users.

Theories abound as to why this is the case. Interestingly, providers themselves admit the first challenge is that customers are still unwilling to give away their bank details to a company whose name they do not recognise. Others cite not being able to sign up from a non-internet enabled mobile phone, general security concerns and the abundance of ATMs as barriers to consumer participation. And as the current economic climate continues to hurt the financial sector and impact R&D spend, surely mobile banking is seen as an unnecessary expense for banks?

Far from it. In fact, there is a dual incentive for financial institutions to offer their own mobile banking service as mobile becomes an important differentiator: given a choice of two bank accounts from similar banks, one with and one without a mobile banking offering, which would you pick? In this way, mobile banking is seen by some banks as a highly cost effective way of attracting new customers. Those banks without a current product will inevitably end up playing catch up in the years to come as mobile positions itself within the consumer consciousness.

Similarly, research on branchless banking has shown that mobile banking is at least 50% less costly than traditional channels. In the coming years, partly as a result of the recession, traditional in-branch banking is set to decline by 0.5% per annum as banks look to cut costs.


Rise of mobile banking

The bottom line is that if the banks want consumers to switch from branch banking to mobile, sooner or later consumers will be eased into making the switch. But it should not be a hard sell.

Consumers themselves are becoming increasingly tech-savvy, and the demand for anytime, anywhere information is now greater than ever before. Internet banking can already count 21 million users in the UK, and mobile banking allows even greater freedom and access to information to create a true anytime, anywhere service.

The future of mobile banking looks bright. Today the services offered are limited to account balances, transaction histories and inter-account transfers. Some progressive providers also offer mobile bill payments and iPhone applications, but in the future we will also see remote deposit capture, increased customer support, anti-fraud alerts, P2P payments and marketing messages. These new services could hasten the decline of traditional branches and attract new customers to mobile banking as confidence is the technology grows.

On this point, banks still have an important role to play in marketing their services and educating consumers to encourage participation. But ultimately, as ever increasing numbers of services are developed and handset technology continues to improve, mobile banking is sure to overtake branch banking.

The value of mobile transactions is estimated to be around £6 billion by 2012, and that is only the beginning. It is no longer the case that financial institutions have to wait for consumers to become comfortable using the technology; rather the banks have to catch up.

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