Let’s all get together? Not likely – mobile payments are still a far, far away dream!
In the course of a recent active business day I observed myself carrying a multitude of financial instruments. I had to make a payment from my business checking account to a local government agency and I was reluctant to use my business debit card. Should I have chosen my credit card the agency charged an additional and quite sizeable interest charge to do so!
Here in the US there are lots of layers of protection when it comes to using credit cards, but debit cards? You are essentially on you own. About the only transaction when I use my business debit card is when it serves as my ATM card as I deposit checks.
Walking into the agency office I realised I had on me my billfold with cash, my wallet with cards, my smartphone and yes, tucked in my back pocket, a cheque book. Clearly, I was mobile and just as clearly I had all the bases covered. Even more clearly, I have reached a tipping point – we are either all-in with mobile or we return to cash. The situation now is that I am always anxious as to whether I am carrying the right financial instrument to complete a transaction following activity that is much loved by all retailers, the impulse purchase.
A long time ago I stopped using my Starbucks card. It was a gold card promising lots of perks. I had gone online and set up an automatic top-up that pulled from my credit card. All was going well until the automatic top-up stopped working – the credit card expired, a new one arrived, but no matter how I went about it I failed at being able to get the Starbuck card to return to automatic top-up. So for a while, each time I ran the card down, I would hand over to the cashier both the Starbucks card and the very same credit card so as to manually top up the Starbuck card.
But no longer! Now I just use the personal debit card – a card tied to a cheque account set up for the sole purpose of supporting that debit card, where the funds in the cheque account never amount to more than $250. Think of it as a personal self-protection/self-insurance program. Should someone get hold of my credentials the maximum financial exposure for me would be minimal. Nobody’s going to drain my account and fly to Bali.
I am mobile now but without any of the benefits of mobility. I have a smartphone and a smart tablet but they are Apple so no NFC. Should I now add an Android phone as well – how many pockets do I need? As I read all the material I can find on the topic of mobility it’s all a huge cesspool and I am wary of taking the plunge. The three stakeholders guiding my life are the merchants, the banks and the card issuers and it seems that consensus is about as likely as well, Australia and New Zealand becoming one nation – makes sense on paper. New Zealand’s cricket might improve and Australia’s rugby would definitely benefit but that boat has definitely sailed. It’s just not going to happen!
Merchants, banks and card issuers all agree that with younger generations tied so intimately to their mobile phones, all future transactions should originate and complete via mobile phones. Maybe the younger generation will persist long enough to see this happen but for the more mature in our community, so used to pulling plastic from our real wallets, it is becoming all too clear that the transition to just one financial instrument will not happen in what’s left of our lives so, why bother? The simple fact is that for consumers such as myself there is neither the compelling reason to use a mobile wallet nor a mobile wallet solution that looks like winning the battle.
I was an early adopter of PayPal – used it everywhere. I was able to make sure personal transactions went to personal credit cards and likewise, business transactions went to business credit cards. But then there are all the loyalty programmes – I still have to pull out more plastic to complete the transaction just as there are so many merchants that actually cannot spell PayPal. Apart from the quizzical looks I am given, I win no kudos for holding up the line at the cashier. Returning to Starbucks, they are among the few who do seem to be sorting through the usage of smartphones for payment that tie back to their loyalty programmes as well, but I cannot buy a Big Mac with my smartphone using my Starbucks account!
To quote comedians from another time, “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten us into!” However, none of this should be happening. Either one of the big three stakeholders should take the initiative – give us what we want. AT&T once scored a big win with plastic when it launched the Universal Card. Consumers were promised no annual fees for life and AT&T dominated the air waves as it promoted its card. It triggered brutal competition but in the end, AT&T exited the market becoming perhaps the biggest victim of that war.
So no, I am not harkening back to the programme per se, as much as the world needs a universal card and it most definitely should be virtual. Combining merchant payments with loyalty with mileage and whatever programmes you can think of – and yes, your choice, of course – a single icon on your smartphone or tablet being all you need. Utopia!
Well, not exactly – the fourth stakeholder has to become less partisan, less condescending, and be part of the solution. Along with merchants, banks and card issuers the competing camps of Android and Apple have to be involved. All quite obvious isn’t it – but this is like asking not only Australia and New Zealand to get along but throwing India or China into the mix as well. Again, it’s just not going to happen.
Of course, governments could try and turn to legislation but that’s not something any of us would want. Committees only ever come up with camels and we want a greyhound! So for now, I leave out by the kitchen phone my bill fold, my cards, my cheque book and my mobile phone and wonder – are we all insane? Or is it all a reflection upon our own individuality and our desire for choice and if that’s really the case then, like everyone else I talk to, I will need even more pockets in my trousers!
By Richard Buckle, founder and CEO of Pyalla Technologies, LLC