Call Me On My Cell; Bill Me There, Too

Cingular Wireless and a small company called Firethorn Holdings think it’s time to bring banking to the cellular world. The two announced a deal today to bring online banking to mobile devices.

Firethorn’s online banking application for Cingular is currently in a testing phase, but both companies expect a commercial launch in early 2007. This is a specialty of Firethorn, which provides a platform for linking financial institutions and mobile payments.

When it does launch, the service will allow Cingular customers to view account balances, transfer funds, and receive and pay bills. Because Firethorn is a cached application it works even when the device is offline, the company added.

That’s not quite enough to sell Avivah Litan, a Gartner Research analyst who writes extensively about online payments and security among her coverage. “I really don’t see any demand for that. Not in the United States,” she told

Online banking is not even considered in consumer demand. How will this fire up users? And even if it does get a look-see, Litan added, “who’s in such a rush to pay a bill online that they can’t get to their PC?”

Another question she raised is whether wireless devices are secure enough for online banking. But Firethorn CEO Tripp Rackley dismissed both concerns.

If e-mail on mobile devices is replacing e-mail on PCs, he said, the same can happen with online banking, Rackley told As for security, mobile online banking is “easily” as secure as traditional online banking, Rackley asserted. He said Firethorn’s encryption techniques were industry standard and that stolen phones are as manageable a problem as a stolen ATM card. Like calling the bank to cancel the card, you call the company to erase the application on your phone.

He should hope he doesn’t get customers like Gartner’s Litan, who called the security measures “BS.”

Oh sure, she added, “‘we’ve got all encrypted communications. We control all the points. We have authentication.’ Trust me. It’s not as good as he says.”

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