According to a new survey from research consultancy KAE, about 10% of U.K. and U.S. citizens questioned would actually lodge their precious money with Apple, were the firm to spend some of its $100 billion in cash to build an iBank. Financial institutions of the world: Commence quivering in your (Ferragamo) boots!
The percentage of iBankers who’d leave their existing banks actually numbered higher, at about 43%, for survey respondees who already own an Apple product. Two thirds of those surveyed said they’d bank with Apple because they trusted it, and 50% said that they thought Apple’s systems would make it easy for them to access and manage their iAccount (which kind of implies their existing banks aren’t necessarily trustworthy or good at enabling access!). And before you ponder if these questions were posed to a group of people lining up to buy iPads outside an Apple store, it actually covered 5,000 people across the U.S. and U.K.
Just let those figures settle in your mind at the moment. If you extrapolate them up to the entire U.S. and U.K. populations, then that would mean Apple would instantly have around 37 million individual customers for its banking service in just two nations. For context, Bank of America (one of the largest companies in the world) operates in the U.S. and over 40 other countries, and had “approximately 57 million consumer and small business relationships” as of 2010. And if Apple actually did launch an iBank, because there are so many hundreds of millions of iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches out there (to say nothing of Macs) we can imagine that very swiftly the attractions of an iBank would bump Apple’s potential customer base up by tens of millions more.
These figures are so extreme that KAE noted “it wouldn’t take long for Apple to become one of the most profitable consumer banks in recent times.” The move would be enabled by a hugely positive opinion of Apple that suggests the computer company could fit in a sector that seems incongrously tangential to its main business. That fact means Apple could be “a truly dangerous animal to a startling array of sectors.”
Forget for a moment the other ways Apple could “think different” about its enormous cash pile–the iBank has the markings of a very important idea. For example, Apple could choose to be an ethical bank, perhaps setting itself apart from the traditionally questionable antics of long-established banks. It could bring its own innovative ideas to a sector that would benefit from some truly 21st-century thinking, and develop financial products that may be both better and surprisingly more clever than the very samey financial services that existing high-street banks push out. Assuming it was successful, it could even use its iBank as a politically powered lever to influence the government, and non-governmental bodies like lobbying groups, for the benefit of its customers–by firmly opposing overly restrictive laws framing the future of the Internet and copyrighted content, perhaps.
And since it would have such a big influence on the whole financial sector, Apple could very quickly move to innovate the payments industry, pushing its clever mobile payments solutions out without having to partner with anyone really–existing credit card firms, payment processing companies, and banks wouldn’t need to be part of Apple’s plan.
Would Apple ever do this, though? It seems very unlikely. It’s just not in the company’s DNA, and investing efforts in this direction would both distract its highly successful and tightly focused team onto things not in its core business and also expose it to significant risk. We’re not saying the idea hasn’t been knocked around in Apple’s executive meeting rooms, mind you–it’s a lateral thought that may have tickled Steve Jobs. But if Apple ever does make a move toward an iBank, we think it would be primarily as a mobile payments vehicle–not a bank in its own right. It’s already giving us hints of a disruptive iTunes “pay channel.”
On the other hand, you can bet iDollars to iDonuts those would be the best-designed bank notes you ever did see.