| SINGAPORE/HONG KONG
SINGAPORE/HONG KONG British bank Standard Chartered is replacing the BlackBerry, currently its standard corporate communications device, with the iPhone, a move that could eventually result in thousands of bankers switching to the Apple device for business communication on the go.
Standard Chartered bankers in Asia told Reuters that the London-based lender was giving its corporate BlackBerry users the option of switching to the iPhone, with the company agreeing to continue to pay monthly billing for business-related telephone and data services.
"It's a group-wide initiative involving wholesale and consumer banks globally," said a Singapore-based spokeswoman for Standard Chartered, told Reuters. The spokeswoman declined to be identified due to company policy.
The process of migrating corporate email services from the BlackBerry to the iPhone started about a month ago, said the spokeswoman, although she did not know how many of the Asia-focused bank's 75,000 employees used company-issued BlackBerries or when the switchover could be completed.
Bankers at other financial institutions such as HSBC Holdings Plc and Morgan Stanley have so far been restricted to the BlackBerry as the standard device issued by their firms for business communications. Despite some indications of change, it may take time for a broader switch to take place, mainly because of security concerns, according to financial professionals and information technology analysts.
"If more companies switch to the iPhone, this is of course bad news for RIM," said Lu Chialin, an IT industry analyst at Macquarie Securities in Taipei. "However, it will take a long time for companies to do their own internal testing before deciding to change, so it will be a while before it has any effect on RIM."
BlackBerries, from Canada's Research in Motion, are the device of choice for bankers and executives who need regular access to email and the Internet when outside the office.
"People are always switching. I saw there were people switching to BlackBerries as well," said Gregory Shea, RIM's China managing director.
"I think the point is it's a very dynamic market. There are many very imaginative companies out there. Service providers, vendors, software application developers, very dynamic," he told Reuters in Beijing after the launch ceremony for BlackBerry services offered by China Telecom, the smallest of China's trio telecoms providers.
RIM had the biggest share of the U.S. smartphone market at 36 percent, ahead of handsets running Google's Android operating system with 28 percent and Apple with 21 percent, according to a recent study by NPD Group.
Singapore's Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp launched an initiative to offer its staff the choice of BlackBerry or iPhone to access corporate email in June 2009. Now the bank picks up the cost of the data plan for its employees in Singapore, Malaysia, China and overseas branches.
"This initiative is not intended to replace the BlackBerry. Rather, we want to provide our colleagues with another option to access their office email and sync their contacts, notes and calendar while on the move," said Peter Koh, head of technology infrastructure at OCBC. "Our colleagues can continue to enjoy the features and content available on their iPhone without the hassle of carrying another device in order to access office email."
Meanwhile, some small, privately-held financial companies, consultancy and law firms have also started allowing employees to port corporate emails to their personal iPhones on request, bankers and asset managers told Trading China, a Thomson Reuters online community for financial professionals focusing on the Greater China market.
The biggest issue for most companies choosing telephone and email hardware is data encryption, said Macquarie's Lin.
"RIM has a system that is more effective than most other handset makers, so if there is a shift toward the iPhone it's not going to happen overnight but rather a slow and gradual change." he said.
(Additional reporting by Michael Wei in Beijing and Kelvin Soh in Hong Kong)